The Elusive Habitable Zone of Optimal Customer Engagement


For decades brick & mortar retailers have benefitted from a natural imbalance of the prevailing times — information asymmetry of pricing and product availability, a one-way, broadcast orientation to customer communication, and a monopoly on the “now” purchase.

The convergence of the Internet, mobile and social has offered the potential of a new normal — balance. Information is now a commodity available equally to retailers and consumers. Both have the opportunity to communicate, converse and broadcast — either as individuals or en masse. Also, advances in fulfillment innovation such as same/ next day shipping and 3D printing will continue to erode stores’ stranglehold on instant-gratification. The last bastion of traditional brick and mortar retail — the “monopoly of now” — is under siege.

Consumer expectations are increasingly conditioned by their experiences across the digital spectrum. The web offers breadth and depth of content along with the convenience of search. Mobile has unshackled the web and given it a new context by layering in powerful new capabilities such as location awareness. Social has served to humanize the digital self, validating the most fundamental principal of business — people relate with people.

Beyond obvious or verbal cues shoppers may share with retailers, they are increasingly relaying unspoken intention through non-verbal behavior. Each time a consumer searches on the web, browses a retailer’s website, opens up its app, logs on to in-store Wi-Fi, scans a product, redeems a coupon, adds items to their online shopping cart, ignores an email, “likes” or post on Facebook, “pins” something on Pinterest, she exhibits “digital body language”. Retailers have recognized the opportunity to read these signs and accordingly cater their engagement with consumers.

However, few do so effectively. Although they are equipped with more advanced tools and technologies than ever before, from location sensing to video analytics to Big Data to personalization engines, the optimal, just-right, personalized experience remains an exception rather than the rule.

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