Know your online communities

Mohammad Rahman

It is difficult to resist the allure of omnichannel shopping experience. Omnichannel shopping is defined as a seamless shopping experience in all available channels provided by a retailer, either online or in a traditional brick-and-mortar store.

Executed correctly, the seamless customer experience in omnichannel retailing drives substantial traffic to retailers’ websites or in-store to deliver an around-the-clock customer shopping experience. Ensuring positive service experiences leads to higher customer engagement, thus developing brand loyalty. However, plenty of retailers fail to provide a seamless customer experience across, and within, these existing channels of the retailing landscape.

A major shift of how customers shop has radically transformed the retailing industry in the past decade. The customer shopping experience morphed into the interaction between customers and the businesses in the omnichannel shopping setting. This fundamental change in consumer behavior and the subsequent development of the retailing landscape, due to the technological changes and the era of big data, created opportunities for the behemoths in e-commerce to the digital native consumers.

However, these opportunities are not limited to the giant omnichannel retailers (e.g. Walmart, Target and Amazon with its Amazon Go Store). Recent data demonstrate overwhelmingly that consumers in the U.S. still prefer to shop in-store for product categories, such as major appliances, tools/hardware, jewelry, kitchen/baths, footwear and household items. Therein lies opportunity for a retailer to provide an encompassing customer experience by means of interaction online as well as in-store.

Customer interaction demands implementing a strategy of customer relationship management. Thus, improving in-store customer experiences with the help of digital technology (e.g. Great Clips’ online check-in) and up-to-date information on retailers’ websites with appropriate contact and store location details. Monitoring local community social media pages where a multitude of local consumers seek recommendations and interact with one another. Online communities (either brand or geographic) on social networking sites are emerging as a key modality, facilitating interaction with and among consumers and retailers.

Enthusiastic, local online social media community members exchange their experiences and share valuable insight about a retailer. These communities are largely user controlled and user driven. However, monitoring these communities is a way for local retailers to gauge the insight of customer experiences on a completely different level.

Prevalence of social media has changed how consumers decide to communicate with other consumers as well as retailers. The existence of social media consumer communities has redefined the relationship between a brand and its customers. Subsequently, providing an encompassing post-purchase customer experience with the brand. Meanwhile, retailers must use digital media concurrently with traditional marketing activities to develop and maintain the ongoing customer relationships, thus establishing a two-way communication between a consumer and a retailer.

Retailers should invest in developing a two-way marketing strategy, which promotes insightful interaction between the business and customers, increasing the customer’s in-store experience as well as experiences on social media. Maintaining a highly constructive interaction with the customer favors the transfer of positive customer experience toward the retailer.

A few suggested strategies:

• Monitoring online community social media pages and gathering insight to better understand customers.

• Promoting customer-to-customer interaction, which provides an advantage to the firm’s marketing efforts, such as referrals and other types of positive electronic word-of-mouth.

• Providing ample information to the online social media communities to assist customers in facilitating better decisions and promoting participation with the online and offline communities, enhancing overall customer experiences with the retailer.

Dr. Mohammad Rahman is an associate professor of marketing at the John L. Grove College of Business at Shippensburg University.