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Can Retailers Close the Gap Between Online & In-Store Shopping?

When it comes to commerce, the gap between online and physical shopping is definitely shrinking, largely thanks to mobile. New technologies and innovations are cropping up every day. But there’s still a long way to go in achieving the nirvana of seamless shopping. Whether online or in-store, consumers have different shopping habits. Gender, age, and income influence the way consumers shop. Check out our consumer shopping survey for more on that. But one factor remains constant across the board; delivering a personalized experience remains a top priority for all brands and retailers. A lot of this can be done by implementing innovative technologies using APIs and other efficient methods.

Ecommerce and brick-and-mortar retailers each offer unique benefits, but to deliver a truly personalized and customized experience requires a marriage of the two worlds. With 91% of shoppers conducting research online before making big purchases, delivering structured and complete product content is critical. Those retailers who aren’t able to curate accurate or descriptive product information will find they are losing sales to competitors who can, especially in-store.

shutterstock_126762266At the same time though, brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere anytime soon. Brick-and-mortar sales in the first quarter of 2016 accounted for over 92% of total U.S. sales. However, few brick-and-mortar stores are able to effectively blend the offline and online worlds and lack the technologies that can bring online preferences into the physical world, giving impetus to the “webrooming” phenomenon.

Luckily, there are several ways retailers can deliver a seamless customer experience. With so many products out there, it’s all about services and experiential commerce now. From product discovery to refined recommendations, there are many solutions retailers can integrate into their business model to better blend the online and offline worlds. Also, there are several innovative companies exposing APIs to power these services so every retailer doesn’t have to build them out on its own.

Structured Product Information

Shoppers now have over 800 possible paths to purchase available to them, so delivering an enhanced omnichannel experience to customers is more important than ever. Basically, this means shopping should be seamless and frictionless. There should be no difference in the experience across devices and channels.

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Structured product data characterizes items in a standard way, providing additional use and meaning in both brick-and-mortar and online contexts. With structured product data, retailers can foster interactions between humans and chatbots. This allows customers to find the exact product they want, where it’s located and the ability to purchase it quickly and efficiently. Even in a physical store, consumers will interact with bots for more information about products. Lowe’s has recently started using a robot to check and update in-store inventory.

Price Transparency

Besides pinpointing where to buy a product or service, customers are interested in the price, and know if they can find it for a better deal elsewhere. Offering customers a transparency into competitors’ prices inspires confidence. I often find myself looking up product information on one website and then completing the transaction on another as I know I’ll find a better price. This is not sustainable for any business. We need to go beyond the price game.

Product Recommendations

Providing customers with a personalized experience involves predicting their likes and interests using AI and machine learning techniques. Whether suggestions are based off of previous purchases or come from like-minded shoppers, they have high impact on the customer experience. Determining what customers want through purchasing history and product data will also drive higher satisfaction.

So, if a consumer comes back to a sporting equipment website after buying a particular kind of fly fishing rod, s/he should be given recommendations for related products based on a very personal profile of preferences and affiliations. The same goes for in-store shopping.

Luckily, retailers today don’t have to worry about developing these tools and features on their own and can instead plug into these services through APIs. Retailers both in-store and online can integrate functionalities through APIs that third party companies are creating simply and efficiently. Providing customers with what they want, when they want it is the key to satisfaction, and plugging into APIs is an essential ingredient of the solution.

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