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Winning in the New Omni-Channel World

By Lisa Gavales
Chief Marketing Officer at Express

How do you make sure you're on the right track, following the right trends, and investing in the right new ideas? Here are five ways that the retail industry should approach the coming omni-channel customer.

1. Organize for success. Build the business and the brand under one set of experts across channels. This sounds easier than it is. For all of you multi-channel retailers out there, I'm suggesting a 100 percent integrated organization. At Express, e-commerce lives under marketing. We don't have separate merchants, separate creative teams, or separate strategy teams. Of course, we have channel-specific jobs filled. We have merchandisers, a marketing group dedicated to online marketing, and planners to make sure we have enough merchandise. But there is virtually never a question as to whether the site is on sale and the store isn't, or vice versa.

Unless you have one set of leaders running the brand, I contend one of two things: either it's really not 100 percent coordinated across channels 24x7x365, or there is redundancy in your organizational structure. No matter what industry you are in, if you are managing your digital channel with a totally separate team, you're not maximizing your brand.

2. The brand is the brand is the brand, and the new world won't change that. Under the covers, you may have really good reasons built up for why one of your channels would be managed differently then another, but the customer just wants the brand you keep promising her. Not a watered down version, not an older or younger version, not a less or more promotional version. She expects, and she only knows, what you tell her. And she's not thinking about your brand every day. She's got the message of your brand as a snapshot in her head—not a long, drawn-out diagram or a nuanced roadmap complete with a 500-page strategy document.

Whether it is in bricks and mortar or a virtual world, the same rules apply. Be clear and consistent. Now more than ever, with messages coming at the customer at the rate of hundreds each hour, it's increasingly important to "blink" the brand at each and every touchpoint.

3. For the biggest brand growth, don't squeeze every last penny out of your Web site. If you do, you will be driving less overall sales for the company. Statistics say that this year, almost 50 percent of all U.S. retail sales will be influenced by the Internet. However, only about 10 percent of that volume will actually be done online. At Express, more than 80 percent of the people leaving the site without buying say they do so because they are planning to shop in one of our stores. Industry wide, the numbers are about the same. So the customer that comes to your site is much more than likely to be also going to your store. Doesn't the story you're telling her have to be the same?

If that's not enough to convince you, let's talk brand exposure. In retail, we look at traffic. On a typical Web site, conversion of Web visits to sales is about three percent. In a brick and mortar store, the number is closer to 20 percent. In a scenario where online sales are only 10 percent of company sales, traffic (or brand impact) is more than 40 percent. We all need to spend every dollar of impact driving our total brand, not squeezing the last penny out of one channel. Stop thinking of the Web as 10 percent of your business, and start thinking about it as half of your customer experience.

4. Your customers are using social media. You HAVE to figure out how to be there with them. Customers are interacting in the "cloud," and we need to be part of it. Let's examine some specifics.

We've all heard how many hundreds of millions of people are on Facebook. You know that your customers are among those numbers. What you may not know is that customers are clicking "like" at the rate of 65 million times a day. So it sounds good to have Facebook fans, but what are they really worth? That depends on what you do with those fans. It's not just a popularity contest. Hundreds of thousands of Express Facebook fans interact with Express every day. And no matter how much money I throw at the "real" world, I have not been able to figure out how to have Express in front of those customers on a daily basis before Facebook. So if your customers have "liked" you on Facebook, and you now have the opportunity to speak to your customers daily, you need to do so, because the only thing worse then not being in the social space is being there and not responding to customers.

Let's talk for a moment about Twitter, as those customers are a little different. A tweep is more likely than not a brand champion. Tweeps want to be insiders; they want to know everything that's going on in your brand. Most of the time, they want to be the ones to tell all their friends what they know about the brand. We use Twitter to keep our best customers happy. But think about your best customers. They want attention. They want to chat. They want you to answer their questions about a specific product. They want to brag, and they want you to pay attention. So the investment in Twitter is ALL about an investment in time.

As for how to pay for all this social media, I have a couple of thoughts. First, you can't replace your traditional media buy with social media spend. It needs to be incremental. Second, it doesn't need to be terribly expensive. Being successful in the social media space entails time first and money later. First and foremost, you have to be really committed to having people dedicated to this space. Third, leverage EVERY touchpoint you already have. At Express, you can find ads for social media on our store windows, fitting room mirrors, signature capture pads, receipts, and even on the bottom of our shopping bags.

5. Mobile changes everything. Mobile is the great equalizer. Mobile is 24x7x365. And mobile isn't just another tool, it's part of the customer's identity.

I've been going to conferences for the past five years where the entire discussion was about mobile commerce and how it was finally here. It reminded me of the late 90s, when every year, the story was that the Internet was finally here, and it was going to change everything. Well, the Internet finally had its day, and now it's mobile's turn.

Today, you can download RedLaser, scan an in-store barcode, and see anything you want about the item, such as reviews, alternate colors, outfitting for the item, and more. Not only will it tell you the information about the product from the store you're standing in, but it will tell you where else it's sold, how much they are selling it for, and for the brick and mortar locations, how far away that other store is, It will even give you directions to that location if you need them. Mobile doesn't prove my theory that we need to be consistent from channel to channel—it blows away the very concept of channels.

We need to stop asking whose sale it is, who should get credit, which channel drove the business, and which channel should pay for the ad. Instead, we need to focus on building the brand and business. The only "w" we should be worried about is did "we" get the sale, or did the competition?

Lisa Gavales

Lisa Gavales is the CMO and Executive Vice President at Express, a 550-plus store retailer selling men's and women's fashion apparel. Lisa is responsible for building the Express brand and creating compelling, consistent messaging and imagery. She and her team run all marketing, visual, and e-commerce initiatives for Express, the "must-have, sexy, sophisticated fashion brand for work, the weekend, or going out." Prior to Express, Lisa served as Senior Vice President, Marketing Strategies for Bloomingdale's after holding various other marketing, merchandising, and strategic planning positions at the large retailer for more than 14 years. Lisa has BS and MBA degrees in marketing from the University of Bridgeport.