This is part two of a series about retail shopping trends. See the first part here.
by Leeann Fecho, Marketing Manager for Emerging Media and Loyalty, Follett Higher Education Group
Managing the digital marketing activities of 900+ different stores brings both constant challenges and immensely rewarding work. Follett Higher Education Group is the largest operator of university bookstores in North America, and as Marketing Manager for Emerging Media and Loyalty, I’m responsible for the company’s loyalty marketing strategy and execution, which includes email, social media and mobile marketing efforts. Our customers are primarily in the 18-24 year-old demographic—college students—a group that is typically known for being both cost-conscious and social media-savvy.
While speaking on an IBM breakfast panel in Chicago, I had the opportunity to discuss the growing influence, rise and reach of digital marketing. Marketing—in particular, digital marketing—must be very responsive to marketplace shifts fueled both by the business and the consumer. Of all the consumer trends felt by retailers today, there are three I believe are having an immediate and seismic impact on marketing initiatives.
The “Shop Anywhere, Any Way” Mentality
Customer mobility and accessibility, driven largely by smartphone adoption, plays a critical role in enabling this fairly new consumer mindset. Customers can comparison shop in your aisles and tweet about your customer service while conversing with an in-store associate.” They can share photos of a sweatshirt with friends via text or social networks — and then purchase the same item from your competitor while physically standing in your store. This “omni-channel” environment introduces new problems and questions that must be addressed, i.e. which channel are these customers “in” and how do we reach them?
The Proliferation of Consumer Choice
The purchase decision process no longer consists of simply choosing between store A or store B— the choice exists in product selection, in format, as well as in retailer and channel. The omni-channel challenge for businesses isn’t so much about expanding specific social media or mobile efforts as much as it’s about recognizing that:
- Customers have a myriad of options at their disposal and they’re quick to exercise them.
- Customers are merging their lifestyles with their devices and technology to curate their own personalized shopping experiences. For Follett, being prepared to continue to exceed expectations, provide value, and deliver seamless, top-notch customer service is always at the forefront.
Here are two real-life examples of how Follett has anticipated and met our customers’ demands for choice and value. First, the birth and tremendous growth of Rent-A-Text, which is now the nation’s largest bookstore rental program. As a company that was built upon extending the life of books through our used book business, we’re now driving our business by renting course materials and driving down the cost to students (in most cases) by 50 percent or more. It was a mindshift, process shift, and ultimately, rental is the new ‘normal’ on college campuses. And in turn, our efforts have maximized the amount of inventory we can make available for rent.
The second example: digital content. With our own digital textbook platform, CafeScribe, and a collection of third-party digital content, the entire digital evolution on college campuses takes aim at both mobility, and of course, price. For us, offering robust solutions in both the rental and digital space is a necessary component to our strategic plan—one that ensures that our campus store’s channels remain competitive in a quickly changing shopping environment.
Deep Customer Insights Driven by Big Data & Micro-Targeting
Targeting and engagement aren’t the same thing; one enables the other. Data is king, and provides the key to understanding how individuals shop and exhibit their preferences. If you don’t know who your customer is, where they are, and what they want becomes near-impossible to anticipate and respond to their needs. Mass-marketing to our customers through broadcast messaging isn’t the solution for greater sales and engagement; building customer loyalty through targeted interactions is.
As customer expectations for retail experiences rise, it also pushes the industry to differentiate our services and create more value. We are excited to reach consumers in new ways, push the envelope to continue providing more value and choice, and pave new paths to loyalty.