“We’re looking for how to surprise and constantly excite shoppers with marketing and merchandising like no other store in the world.”
That was none other than Bloomingdale’s CEO Tony Spring discussing the company’s goals for 2016. Good news for them: they’re perfectly positioned to make a big splash. As it stands now, Bloomingdale’s is one of 58 department-store brands that rank at the top of effective digital performance where it concerns omni-channel marketing efforts, e-commerce initiatives and Guided Selling strategies.
Engagement is the name of the game.
Boston Retail Partners publishes an industry-wide annual report that focuses on retailers’ priorities for the upcoming year. And what was the dominant theme for 2016? Greater customer engagement and analysis (which happen to have been the same priorities in 2015). Guided Selling is one of the most effective, consumer-facing business solutions to deliver the expected personalized, seamless and engaging shopping experiences modern consumers crave.
Read more: What is Guided Selling and how does it work?
Of course, any savvy business leader will have questions to understand and decide whether or not Guided Selling is right for their organization. To whit, here are the straight answers to help you figure it out:
1. You sell complex products with multiple options
A tech company or bank might look at the success retail brands have had with Guided Selling solutions and wonder if such a strategy is right for them. After all, no two business segments are the same, and insurance sellers, for example, are usually looking at more variables than a clothing retailer.
Fair enough. But herein lies the opportunity and competitive advantage of Guided Selling — the more complex the product or service, the more effective Guided Selling is at educating digital customers on its merits, thus giving them the confidence they need to decide to purchase.
This is particularly apt when a deluge of options is present. The esoteric features and various plans on offer from many tech, financial and insurance companies can result in potential customers slipping into what’s called “The Paradox of Choice.”
Guided Selling eliminates the pitfall of shopper confusion by focusing on the shopper’s needs and their individual preferences before making product recommendations.
Since the financial downturn of 2008, many banks have recognized the potential and the benefits of need-orientation. They pivoted to a retail model that takes the lifestyle needs of their customers into account and employ Guided Selling solutions to glean insight into their account-holders and tailor personalized service accordingly.
2. You have broad, seasonal or quickly changing product assortments
Dealing in an industry that tends to offer a broad selection of products and experiences seasonality, you need a lot of flexibility to manage your inventory and keep up with the unique needs of customers.
Then there is the question “How to differentiate yourself in a crowded marketplace?” when assortment and price are no longer capable of creating competitive advantage by themselves.
Listening to consumer sentiment—and reacting appropriately—is the key to success, despite being a major pain point for retailers today. You may ask yourself if Guided Selling can bridge this gap between the product and the needs of the consumer, given the extreme variability in your assortment.
The short answer: yes. The long answer: yes, if you use the right strategy and Guided Selling solution, then you’ll be able to tailor seasonal product recommendations to individual shoppers.
Guided Selling solutions are able to consider personal preference and individual interests to recommend only the most relevant of available products.
This way you can personalize the shopping experience and ease the path to purchase by helping shoppers discover relevant items within your broad assortment, which they would have otherwise overlooked or wouldn’t have deemed suitable. Sophisticated Guided Selling solutions can be customized to changing assortments with a few clicks or are able to adapt dynamically. They keep your costs and maintenance effort at a minimum while allowing you to react to changing consumer trends quickly.
Although customers may be interested in features for the sake of comparing items, all they actually care about is “What’s in it for me?”.
If you want to give shoppers reasons to buy your product based on its innovative features, you will have to let them know how it helps them. Ensure that these folks aren’t shopping “blind” and that they know what product or service they’re buying as well as which benefits it will bring. Because the next rule is ironclad…
Feature-only marketing is ineffective. Features are often hard to understand unless your customers are already familiar with them. By transforming features into benefits, you’ll be able to reach a wider audience and make sure they understand your message – and ultimately, buy your product. That is the truest path to conversion, as underscored by this tweet from Ash Ambirge:
“The customer rarely buys what the company thinks it’s selling.” – Peter Drucker
— Ash Ambirge (@TMFproject) July 10, 2015
Education is the cornerstone of the Guided Selling philosophy. A perfect example is the use of cloud-based solutions in retail stores and brand websites.
Guided Selling solutions focus not on overwhelming shoppers with various product features they may not understand, but instead, pointing them towards new items based on their needs and the products’ specific benefits.
This approach allows you to introduce shoppers to new features more intuitively and most effectively. It provides an opportunity to increase awareness, instill brand identity, and enhance the brand experience for consumers. Outlining additional features in the form of benefits is also an excellent way to up-sell consumers.
An effective Guided Selling solution seamlessly provides compelling reasons a customer needs to justify upgrading their purchase.
For example, using an interactive product advisor that gives users the option to select “I want to have the best and most realistic all-around picture quality” (=benefit), opens up an opportunity to suggest a high-end technology such as Ultra HD 4K TV (=feature). The direct advantages of this approach are making shoppers aware of new features and technologies, and driving higher average order size.
4. You sell products that are advice-prone and hard to sell without explanation
Not only does integrating a Guided Selling solution add another dimension to customer education, but it also takes the burden off your sales and customer service teams.
By implementing Guided Selling at the right points in the purchase cycle, it provides enough relevant data based on a customer’s needs to ensure they choose the right product or solution and are able to solve problems and issues on their own, without contacting your support service.
So, not only does this reduce future calls to support lines, but it also accelerates the sales cycle, which is a welcome bonus.
5. You want to improve your mobile experience
Today’s consumers are largely tech-savvy, and smartphones offer a plethora of opportunities for you to captivate these mobile shoppers. Using digital technology to inform your customer and sell your product is vital as well as an effective way to capitalize on the given opportunities.
Guided Selling approaches should be a foundation of your brand’s mobile strategy.
The writing has been on the wall for years—mobile commerce is gaining momentum. Mobile purchases generated over $104 billion in sales in 2015, and a 2016 report by Mobile 500 predicts m-commerce will grow three times faster than e-commerce just this year. Brands without a solid mobile strategy will be left out in the cold, and brands that integrate Guided Selling solutions into a solid overall mobile strategy will reap the whirlwind.
Some of the most effective examples of Guided Selling m-commerce strategies include retail gamification, interactive shopping guides and social shopping initiatives. These not only increase customer engagement, but they help to retain a shopper’s attention across the purchase cycle, too.
They facilitate effortless shopping experiences and effective customer engagement on mobile devices based on personal preference and location.
The takeaway from the above data should be that Guided Selling is not, in fact, a niche solution, but that it works across all business segments and mobile platforms. I’d say that these solutions are a shot of high-octane engagement to 21st century customer malaise—speeding up sales cycles, increasing customer conversion, improving quota attainment and delivering win rates at unprecedented levels.
Innovators who want to keep pace with the rapidly changing world around them will find Guided Selling to be an invaluable weapon in the e-commerce arsenal. When done well, these solutions accurately target the growing number of discerning shoppers who expect instant gratification and easy discovery of inventory as well as help to narrow down their choices: