Gartner identified ‘The Ambient User Experience’ as one of the top Strategic Technology Trends for 2016. Merging the digital and physical worlds has become a primary focus of improving customer experiences to produce effortless engagement and happier customers. “The experience seamlessly flows across a shifting set of devices and interaction channels blending physical, virtual and electronic environment as the user moves from one place to another.” Torch-Bearer CMOs focus on enriching ‘the arc of engagement’ with customers by blending physical and digital channels. E.g. Amazon’s brick-and-mortar shop.

As customers we don’t tend to personally think about channels, we are in fact channel-agnostic, but we do notice when dealing with a brand feels particularly effortless and also to the contrary when they somehow fall short of the mark and disappoint us. I think we can all relate to this and it was in my mind when I recently went shopping before a recent vacation.

My Disconnected Journey

Here’s a personal story to illustrate what happens when brands are not trying to blend physical and digital channels.

My family and I like Ralph Lauren, we’re Polo customers. However even with this iconic brand I could be a happier customer. Even a fantastic brand like Ralph Lauren could make some improvements for customers like me.

About a week before we were going on vacation, my son asks if we could get him a few Polo shirts for the trip. He’s 14 so it’s a 50/50 shot on whether or not he will wear something we pick out for him. That’s a potentially expensive waste if we get it wrong so we’d like to get something he’s already chosen. This is what happened:

  1. My Son goes to Ralph Lauren’s website on the home computer and chooses four shirts, adding them to the checkout shopping bag so my wife and I could go to the store and buy exactly what he wanted.
  2. I pull up a browser on my phone and go to Ralph Lauren’s website so I can see what he’s interested in, but of course I don’t have access to the same shopping bag as my Son’s on my phone.
  3. I quickly and easily set up an account (thumbs-up Ralph Lauren!)
  4. Now I could access the items placed in the shopping bag across any device on the desktop or the mobile version of the site.  (Kudos to Ralph Lauren!)
  5. About an hour later my wife and I head to the local Ralph Lauren store to pick up the shirts for my son.
  6. We walk into the store.
  7. The very friendly greeter (big smile) tells us there is an opportunity for us to save an additional 15% with the purchase of five items.  We do some shopping, grab the shirts my son put in the shopping bag and a $15 tee-shirt to get to the required five to be eligible for the 15% discount.
  8. We then head over to the register and the very friendly kid (another big smile) behind the register asks if we have shopped at the store before and for our name.

[So far, so far – I’ve had a good experience online (web and mobile) and a good experience in the store (friendly associates).]

  1. Although we have shopped at that store before he can’t find our name, I think the only thing I bought the last time I was in was a bucket hat, so I probably didn’t care much about an additional discount for a low cost item like that.  However, I am a bit surprised that he can’t find my name because it was only about two hours ago that I’d created the online account and have some items in the shopping bag associated with my account. Clearly there is a disconnect between the online experience and the in-store experience.
  2. I bought the five items and got my 15% discount but couldn’t help feeling something had been missed, for Ralph Lauren as a business, and in recognizing me and making me feel a bit more appreciated.

How could this have been a more valuable journey for me and Ralph Lauren?

What if Ralph Lauren were taking Gartner’s advice and merging physical and digital channels? Here’s an alternative story with a happier ending for me and Ralph. Let’s pick up the journey again at step 6:

  1. We walk into the store
  2. Ralph Lauren were able to quickly identify me as a person with a Ralph Lauren account, through an iBeacon, scanning a QR code, or my email address.  I am an identified user with an online history at one of their stores, they can now show they know me by understanding my previous purchases and preferences.
  3. The greeter now has access to my account, my shopping bag, and my online browsing history, right in front of him on his device, with the 4 items in the shopping bag.
  4. The greeter tells me if I buy these and one more item I can get an additional 15% off, but is also able to deliver me a personalized experience, through a Next Best Conversation, delivered to them based on my online browsing history.  The greeter says, “I see you were looking at ties and belts on our website earlier today”, points me to the accessories section of the store and tells me “by the way ties that are normally $125 are only $30 today”. A personalized offer just for me.
  5. Ralph Lauren is almost guaranteed that I spend more time in the store and increases the chances of me spending more money has just gone up exponentially and I get a tailored and relevant conversation that’s right for me as an individual. I had no idea that my son was interested in ties, but he wears them every day for school so it makes sense that was part of the browsing history.
  6. We pick him up a new tie since he will definitely get some use out of it. And while I’m looking at the ties my wife finds some sunglasses she particularly likes and gets those as well.

We went there to buy 4 shirts and came away with five, a tie and a pair of sunglasses. My wife and I felt the experience was effortless and Ralph Lauren were an amazing brand who really valued our custom. It’s a total win-win.

Businesses need to build joined-up and location-aware customer conversations as they can now trigger location events based on geo-fencing and beacon technologies. Brands can then take real-time action based on these proximity triggers. Insight is fed back to the customer’s mobile device and this allows the brand to have continuous, contextual and relevant conversations across all customer touchpoints – whether that’s on the web, in the shop, restaurant, in the call center or in-person. The customer conversation can be tailored to include proximity to specific locations and therefore be even more relevant. Mobile technology enables customers to buy and browse at their convenience. This results in a truly engaging, personalized interaction between businesses and their customers, based on where they are at that particular moment..

By paying attention when customers connect to the brand in-store, in-hotel, in-restaurant, for instance through Wi-Fi or i-Beacon, the brand could learn even more about their preferences and crucially join up the customer journey across their website, email and physical channels. Furthermore, the captured data could work much smarter. By measuring how customers used an app when they were in-store, feedback they gave to store staff, or reacted to emails sent to them, or what they interacted with on the brand’s website, future interactions could be even more tailored to their habits and preferences. For example, serving staff could make menu suggestions based on customer insights, like “We have some new pies today, for our dedicated pie fans.”

Or, in my case, we have some new ties in-store today and on discount, and we went home with a really nice surprise for my Son. RESULT!

If you thought that was good, these will blow your mind…