An etailers guide to the most missed connections in the ether.

Even as a bastion of online retail it has to be said there is as much to abhor as there is to love about the experience of buying over the Internet. From grocery baskets that empty themselves, to pages that hint at complimentary products and services guiding your every click without you even realising it, buying online is as likely to leave you feeling like you’re stranded in unfriendly waters without even a glimpse of Roy Scheider as it is to delight you.

While online retail may be a mere infant compared to its’ offline parent, a large proportion of etailers still ignore the common factor - the consumer. The notion of building a shiny new department store and then putting all the stock on the bottom shelves, not building any roads or signs directing people to it and worse still, if a customer happened upon your shop floor your staff ignoring them, is surely ridiculous. Well it would be, if people weren’t doing it everyday online. If they don't know where you are and you don't tell them what you have on offer…as far as the consumer is concerned, the lights are off and no one is home. Added to this, is that our common factor is supercharged online. Their expectations are higher on almost every level. They want to browse all stock, want it to be less expensive and want it delivered quickly at no charge. So despite the industry’s relative infancy, etailers need to work even harder than bricks and mortar retailers to deliver a good experience.

There is no doubt that technically and creatively the online retailer has to make light of the decisions consumers go through in the process of making a purchase. But getting it right and supporting a visitors journey as they pass through your shop is a relative art in my opinion - and one that requires a variety of skill sets just as it would in the physical world.

Thinking about the whole experience this simply, we can see the direct correlation between offline and online transactions. Indeed there is no chicken and egg conundrum here, one clearly started first and has certainly influenced the other, regardless of how little attention some etailers place on that connection and so it evolves. But what about a technological influence that drives a supportive connection between the two? One that forces etailers to rethink this connection.

We have heard all the arguments about cannibalisation of sectors from online retail and the often tightrope-esque counter arguments. But the modest mobile app is changing all that. Developers in the US behind a reward based mobile app called Shopkick have made the digital and physical world of retail collide by tackling the physical retailers’ greatest challenge. Footfall. With physical retail conversion rates between 20% and 95% depending on the sector, compared to just 0.5% - 3% online, it was a worthwhile challenge.

Shopkick asks; what if you could turn an offline store into an interactive world and reward people for visiting a store to increase footfall? The usual retail formula is to reward people after they make a purchase. Shopkick turns this on its head and incentivises app users to visit stores by rewarding them just for walking in the door, giving them ‘kickbucks’ to redeem against product. CEO and co-founder of Shopkick Cyriac Roeding said: "It's the physical equivalent of an online click" …being incentivised by information and presented a doorway to go through. It’s simply paying for traffic and as Roeding says, Google have made a successful business out of paying for clicks.

Empowering the consumer with pre-purchase incentives is good marketing. Doing it direct to their mobile is great but not earth shattering you might think. But, couple this combination with delivering them to you via your mobile only when you are in the store, certainly is and it requires ‘presence technology’. We’ve all heard of ‘vicinity technology’ (GPS) that provides a location accuracy of 50-1000 yards…great? Well no, not if you end up rewarding a potential customer for being in the shop next door. Presence technology is far more accurate. Retailers signed up to Shopkick install a small box into their store that emits an inaudible audio sync that your phone can receive in the store but not outside of it - making sure that the feet come to you.

On and offline harmony that’s in tune with the consumer at last.