Five ways to make contextual data work for you this Christmas

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Many retailers seem to be oblivious to the role e-commerce and specifically contextual marketing is set to play in Christmas spending this year, with 40% of physical sales digitally influenced and click-and-collect almost doubling to £2.5bn, boosting sales over the festive season to £42.2bn, according to new research by Deloitte.

If you are a retailer, this time of year signals the start of a high-volume, high-stakes opportunity for your business and one in which your customers will no doubt label you as ‘naughty or nice’ and you only have a couple of weeks left to make the most of it for another year.

Understanding the mobile user experience is vital for every marketer to maximise their Christmas campaign’s effectiveness. Most consumers now have constant connectivity - whether this is by smartphone, tablet or computer, and they are ‘always on, always connected’. At this moment in time, 1.75 billion people in the world own a smartphone with the US having 173 million smartphone users, making up almost 72% of the mobile market there (comScore).

Online shopping on mobiles has recently overtaken desktop for the first time - 52% of website visits are now made via a mobile, while 36% of UK online sales are now completed on a smartphone or tablet. 84% of multi-screen experiences involve smartphones, and most interactions start with them [IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report].

It is important not to forget how important tablet users are too. 72% of tablet owners make purchases from their devices on a weekly basis [Google]. 52% of tablet users say they prefer to shop using their tablet rather than their PC [Alexander Interactive] and tablet users spend 50% more than PC users and are 3x more likely to purchase than smartphone visitors [Adobe].

Brands need to remember that context is king. Context is gained through location, through proximity, through weather and through likes and dislikes. Context is a big data mobile play and is the differentiator that makes mobile marketing the perfect medium for truly relevant messaging.

The world has changed; the Internet of Everything and how your customer connects to it is the great macro-trend that is augmenting and altering shopping patterns. Consumption has blurred into one seamless experience, both physical and virtual. So getting your mobile strategy right is becoming as important as even having a website in the first place.

So what is in it for the customer? There are clearly data privacy challenges that need to be addressed when looking at context aware marketing. Every sensor in the customer’s smartphone can provide information about what’s going on in their world - from compasses providing direction and altimeters establishing which floor of a building they are on.

Here are my tips for making contextual data work for you this Christmas

1. Offer location based store information when your email is opened

A customer’s local store information should always be included in your email campaigns. However, the challenge for marketers is knowing where the customer considers local - close to home? Near their work? Somewhere else?

Rather than second guess which is the most important, simply direct your customer to their nearest store when the email is opened, using GPS data as a reference when opened on a mobile device. If the email is opened on a desktop, then use its IP address cross-referenced with previous store purchase data, which will help identify their nearest store.

2. Increase conversion rates by timing browsing based email campaigns

Campaigns triggered by browsing behaviour can drive conversion rates up to 10x higher than standard promotional campaigns. In-store, online or social engagement behavioural data can be used to automatically trigger a campaign send.

As the message is sent when the customer has shown they are ‘in the market’ to buy, they can be gently pushed to convert without reverting to price based incentives. The optimal time to send a campaign message, and indeed the channel through which it should be sent should be an integral part of the campaign planning and on-going optimization plan.

3. Make mobile engagement easy

Dwell time for an email can be as little as three seconds. On mobile devices especially, the key to ensuring the success of a campaign is the visual presentation of calls to action. These need to stand out on the page and be immediately recognisable when the page is rapidly scanned.

On mobile devices, screen space and resolution may make it difficult to pick up on more subtle designs. Ensure that it is obvious to the reader what the email is about, why the email is relevant to the recipient and what they can do next to find out more.

Companies who want to achieve mobile success need to think about how to deliver content to these customers. It is not good enough just to adapt a desktop strategy to fit mobile users as they have differing requirements.

With 80% of smartphone users using their mobiles for shopping research and 80% of those doing their research in store, price transparency is vitally important for smartphone customers. Showrooming is on the increase as smartphone penetration increases. How do you reduce the number of store walkouts from the result of smartphone usage?

4. Turn showroomers into webroomers

Webrooming will result in $1.8 trillion in sales by 2017, while e-commerce sales should reach $370 billion in 2017 - Webrooming is where retail’s future winners will dominate [Forrester Research]. According to a Harris poll in the US, 69% of people webroom while only 46% showroom.

A good example of a successful webrooming technique was shown by Lowe’s home improvement stores in the US, who used a Vine mobile campaign to encourage customers to create and post short six-second video clips of their home improvement solutions. This is a perfect example of how a brand gives consumers useful and relevant information in a mobile-friendly way and ultimately drives these mobile shoppers into a local store.

Webrooming is at a critical intersection of the digital and physical worlds. Showrooming may be a problem, but webrooming could be the solution. Closing the online and offline in-store loop is now possible, which is much more important for retailers to ensure their marketing success. ‘By placing mobile at the centre of the omni-channel strategy, retailers and brands will enable a new level of interaction, engagement, conversation and loyalty. And revenue.’ [FitForCommerce]. Both the retailer and the consumer will benefit from this single marketing initiative. At each step, think about what your mobile customers need when they interact with your business.

5. Beacon technology

Beacons, or iBeacons, are an important new retail technology, being rapidly adopted by retailers and businesses with a bricks-and-mortar presence. Using Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), they enable location-based targeted mobile marketing solutions. Beacons join the gap between online and offline marketing and have a big role to play in the future of retail. They allow you to send real-time messages to customers’ smartphones when they are in a physical environment. This offers context-aware marketing for a mobile world - beacon technology tells a marketer when their customer visits a store; it allows predictive recommendation technology that serves up-to-the-second content at the precise moment the customer opens their email or visits their site; and gives insights that effortlessly generate a truly personalised experience.

The future of shopping rests on a few incontrovertible facts: social media is here to stay, the average consumer is mobile, increasingly local… and probably female. CMOs need the technology that perfectly connects them with this developing demographic. An actual mobile strategy does this. With big data capabilities it’s now possible to collect, store, analyse and manipulate an unprecedented volume of information in fractional amounts of time. Match that with a relevant and real-time messaging platform and business can achieve true context aware marketing, wherever the customer may be.

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