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In a Multi-Channel World, Data Wins the Cautious Consumer

I remember when we purchased our first washer and dryer. My wife and I entered the store on a Saturday, found what would do the job in our price range, discussed a warranty, and within an hour we were on our way home awaiting delivery.

Today, thanks to catalogs, websites, smartphones and tablets – not to mention the actual store – that transaction may have extended to the following Tuesday, or 10 days.

This is the finding of a report by research groups Conlumino and Webloyalty, which suggests that multichannel shopping actually doubles the time it takes for consumers to make certain household purchases.

According to the report, Thriving in a Multichannel World, Part 2: Home, almost 41 percent of consumers consult multiple channels before buying big-ticket home items, such as appliances. As a result, the time it takes the average shopper to make such a purchase has extended to 10.3 days from 5.2 days a decade ago. Those extra 5.5 days are presumably used for research.

But those added 5.5 days also represent a chance for a sale to be lost due to many circumstances, from a marital spat to a leaky roof.

In a story about the research, Conlumino retail analyst Neil Saunders said, “Retailers need to plan carefully for how they provide greater consumer engagement throughout this process.”

I’ll take it two steps further. I think there are many ways merchants can use the data they gather through their loyalty plans to shorten the buying time. The trick is to take advantage of these insights and technologies the moment the consumer enters “the system,” regardless of channel.

First step: The merchant needs to collect the right data and invest in the resources to analyze it not merely as a record of transactions but as a window into its customers’ motivations. If a merchant uses its data to better understand its customers, their needs, shopping patterns and what they value, it can create the right proposition for them earlier in the process. The merchant can highlight special bundles or service enhancements, for example, which could move the conversation from that of pure price to a richer, more rounded experience.

This strategy won’t always capture every customer since some will buy purely on price, so let’s proceed to the next step: relationship building. It’s an odd word in today’s retail environment, but that old standby – trust – does come into play. If the retailer stands behind the products it sells, supports its workers and recognizes its customers with personalized experiences, that relationship factor – that trust – will inspire emotional loyalty, which should be enough to sway the consumer’s choice to that brand.

For example, once the merchant understands the customer’s buying process it can insert itself into that activity with reassuring add-ons that solve core customer concerns. If the data indicates that prestige, or fear of failure, are critical ingredients to the decision process, the merchant can highlight price guarantees or provide an extended warranty. As a result, its best customers will feel more secure purchasing the product from someone they know.

Consumers may wait days to buy something, but merchants should act now. Fortunately, regardless of the latest technology, the foundational principles that win loyalty have not changed. Merchants have the power to engage the shopper beyond the digital screen.

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