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Providing consumers with a rewarding and successful digital experience can be tricky given integration hurdles that come into play.

But as several retailers explained during this past week’s South By Southwest Interactive Festival there are some best practices to adopt and also some questions yet to be answered.

Mobile integration has different meanings

There are several ways retailers are integrating mobile and digital with the in-store experience.

So far, the most common ways are pushing notifications via SMS; offering mobile shopping apps to deliver coupon bar codes, special sales reminders and storing customer wish lists.

The most loyal customers will use the retailer app. Mobile users must decide on an ongoing basis, what’s worth the space on my phone? This means only your most dedicated shoppers will keep and use the app on an ongoing basis, and the retailer must prove its value over and over again.

Defining what’s most important to customers is a key to designing apps that work. Express has developed a streamlined Apple Watch app for those customers, as explained by Eric Gohs, VP of digital marketing at Express. The only functions include displaying the bar code to use for rewards in-store and understanding the points available within their loyalty program. Deciding what’s most important and what’s worth the intrusion of a notification on someone’s wrist is a critical discussion.

Local matters and why

Understanding what customers want from apps and notifications means understanding where they are — literally. This point is especially relevant for retailers like REI which focus on outdoor and community experiences, a point emphasized by Jessie Morris, mobile program manager for REI. Value through community experiences can mean very different things to customers in Texas in August versus those in Denver in December.

Asking for permission to use location is a big deal to customers. Nordstrom’s Kerry Borland, product manager, mobile, commented on the “scary” approval notice on iPhones. To combat the fear of that notice, Nordstrom uses a pre-approval description of what the customer will receive by agreeing to provide location. Customers will receive store notifications and promotions based on where they are. They can also see real-time inventory of stores closest to them. Describing what’s in it for the customers increases the likelihood of approving the discomforting approval request.

My experience is different than yours

REI has introduced a way for customers to select their REI store, as opposed to assuming when a customer opens the app in a different state they must need the local store. REI is known for knowledgeable help in their stores, so translating that to personalized experiences on the app is essential to bring the brand experience throughout the customer journey. They do this by offering ways for the user to have control.

What’s next? More questions

REI is exploring the trend of wearables and connected devices. How do you explore connecting customer devices without becoming too intrusive or repetitive?

GPS tracking for hikes and trails could be content useful to the larger REI customers community. Pushing this type of information to those who opt in, many via wearables, might be an added value to customers. Perhaps an REI customer who shares a hike with the community can earn loyalty points or benefits in real-time?

Beacon technology has seen lots of experimentation but there are no real use cases yet. It seems this hasn’t been adopted on a large enough scale to show value to either retailers or customers.

Nordstrom is bringing the human experience into the digital channels. In-app chat ties into in-app concierge for personalization. Algorithms are great but customers want a trusted advisor so human-to-human touchpoints are still vital. Just because you aren’t going into the store doesn’t mean you don’t want to deal with a human.

Bigger questions

The biggest question around using these exciting technologies is how to use them responsibly. Customers must understand and see the value and feel safe enough to participate. Privacy concerns are a real challenge as customers must provide permission for these tools to be the most effective. Nobody has solved this yet, and there will be more questions around this as customers become more aware of what’s available and more retailers begin to experiment with this technology.

Communication with customers in a cohesive and consistent way is also still a challenge. Rohs, from Express, defined what he called “frequency caps” on how often to communicate with customers. He describes it now as a manual process, meaning using a calendar to map out the communication on various channels and have conversations to make decisions.

Deciding what messages are valuable to the customer and how to incorporate the best features into a mobile app will continue to push retailers to think outside the norm. A retailer like Nordstrom knows customers are shopping within their mobile apps, but they also know customers like to touch and feel the merchandise before purchasing. This means offering an elegant combination of both “buy now” options via mobile and “find this in a store near you” using real-time inventory. For a retailer like REI, community connections and valuable product information may be more important. Each organization must think carefully about what they are offering to their customers with the appropriate context.

Given the trends with mobile phones and wearable technology it’s clear customers are looking for ways to get the most value out of their relationship with retailers. They want personalized, valuable offers to make their lives easier. The questions for retailers are how often and with what context? There is no one size fits all here, and there will likely be a few hiccups before this type of highly personalized integration becomes the norm.

Jeannie Walters is the CEO and Founder of 360Connext, a global customer experience consulting firm dedicated to creating fewer ruined days for customers- improving loyalty, customer retention, and overall customer experience.

Reprinted with permission from

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