How to Create a Seamless Online/Offline Shopping Experience

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In the beginning, brick-and-mortar retailers approached online sales fatalistically. They assumed that online would only poach from in-store sales, but with Amazon rapidly taking over, it was better to do the poaching themselves.  So, they treated digital as basically just another store.  But it’s become increasingly clear that the two cannot remain siloed. Online and offline must be integrated for retailers to offer the kinds of one-to-one omnichannel shopping experiences that consumers have come to expect. 

Consumers don’t think in terms of channels. They expect seamless options that make it easy to buy what they want, when they want it, and how they want to buy it. On this front, Amazon is shaking up the status quo again, showing us what this seamless experience can look like with Amazon Go — the store of the future now open to the public.   

Retailers have scrambled to keep up with Amazon in the digital arena, some making great strides in personalizing the digital shopping experience. They’ve put technology in place that identifies website visitors and captures behavioral data to deliver true, people-based marketing that’s not limited to media buys. When done right, the resulting personalized content – based on up-to-the-minute browsing and purchase histories integrated with real-time inventory trackers – drives conversion rates sky-high.  Customer expectations have been reshaped by this digital experience, which has made personalized content, offers, and recommendations the norm. 

As retailers continue to play catch-up online, it’s been difficult for them to achieve a seamless integration with the in-store experience. A key challenge lies in identifying customers when they walk in the door, a practice that can unlock a wealth of data about customers’ interests, preferences, and past purchases.  According to Boston Retail Partners, 70% of retailers indicate that identification and personalization constitute their top customer engagement priority. Another challenge lies in finding the right in-store vehicle to deliver personalized product information, offers, and recommendations.

Retailers are embracing a variety of approaches to address these challenges. One is training sales associates to assist shoppers with a tablet in hand, asking for an email address or other identifier to provide personalized offers and recommendations. Another is turning to technologies such as kiosks, “interactive mirrors,” and “smart shelves” that shoppers can sign into for personalized content and offers.

With nearly 60% of shoppers using mobile phones in-store to look up product information and prices, mobile-based identification strategies are rapidly gaining traction. In-store apps are a great vehicle, as are wi-fi based approaches that enable personalized content without the app-install requirements (but wi-fi users, beware: Amazon just patented technology to prevent comparison shopping in-store). Some stores are even using facial recognition software that alerts staff members when a member of their loyalty program enters the premises. Whatever the method, once an in-store shopper is identified, the same real-time data that powers personalized digital content can power personalized in-store content.  

Another great strategy for integrating the digital and physical worlds is the purchase receipt. Every brick-and-mortar store should be emailing their receipts. Because the email address links online shoppers to a persistent identifier, capturing this link in the physical store lets in-store shopping data instantly become part of the personalization ecosystem. Email addresses captured at checkout can also be used to personalize the checkout process, offering personalized rewards based on customer loyalty.

To reach their full potential, emailed receipts for both in-store and online purchases should be leveraged in conjunction with dynamic offers and recommendations. Emailed receipts can also be used to drive customers back to the store, and when linked to store inventory, can provide real-time information about available sizes and colors (e.g., “try this on at our X location”). Other great ways to increase foot traffic include ship-to-store, in-store returns, and special offers for customers within a certain radius.  For example, JC Penney recently reported that 40% of customers using its in-store pick-up option made an additional purchase of more than $50 when picking up their orders.

To be effective, data-driven selling strategies in the physical store can’t operate with yesterday’s information – they need real-time data, context, and analytics that form real-time insights. Thanks to advances made in the digital world, in-store identification can be linked to existing digital identifiers and unlock sophisticated, real-time personalization that is seamless across channels. When these insights are integrated across a wide spectrum of channels (in-store, website, email, direct mail, paid social, etc.), personalization at scale can become a reality.

Bob Gaito is CEO of Albany, New York-based 4Cite, the only consumer identification and data insights company with a centralized interaction hub that uses innovative web visitor identification technology and advanced data and analytics to identify previously unidentifiable customers and influence purchasing activity. For more information, visit

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