There will never be a perfect time, don’t wait to engage with your customers!

During the pandemic, the latest way to connect with your customers…is to not contact them. Physically, that is. Many businesses are still providing top-notch service, even as we are physically distancing ourselves to lower the risk of contracting or transmitting COVID-19.

Restaurants and bars, along with clothing and goods storefronts, are instituting new methods of getting their food and products to their customers through inventive and creative methods. Rather than allowing new rules to diminish the experience, owners and operators are thinking of ways to provide a positive buying experience and increase long-term loyalty. What does that mean for you and your company as you face the same challenges?

Bundle goods and services in new ways

Across the United States, most restaurants are being labeled as essential service companies but with the rules limiting the number of people allowed to gather in one building, dine-in service is out of the question. I’ve been impressed to see how thoughtful the dining teams have been about packaging whole meals, along with beverages, to still give their customers the appetizer-entrée-desert components in takeaway.

Here in Texas, where I’m based, the governor has relaxed the rules about alcohol delivery and take-way and many places are selling their signature drinks as an add-on. If you sell products, what combinations can you offer customers to help them imagine the experience they can have from a line of haircare or facial goods they may not have imagined? Curating their purchase not only gives them more exposure to your lineup, it helps you understand what combinations can sell in the future.

Invest in packaging

Unboxing videos are a popular way that customers have been sharing their purchases for some years. We use our eyes as part of our enjoyment and investing in new and unique packaging is a low-cost way to surprise your customers.

If you can make the packaging sustainable, that adds a valuable element to why they should be buying from you. Upgrade the bags, boxes and enclosures as well as small touch-points like tags, packaging materials like tissue paper and thank you notes.

Make use of social media to share customer stories

What good is a customer purchase if no one knows they bought it, right? Make a wave by asking your audience to share what they’re buying with their own followers along with their review. You can request this through email marketing or in-app messaging and incentivize it by offering future credit or discounts.

There is a risk that you may have an unhappy customer who isn’t pleased by the change in the buying and delivery process and they decide to share that. However, I’ve found that most people, especially your most loyal customers, are understanding of the ways that commerce is changing and want to support you staying in business.

Keep updated inventory to ensure expectations are met

Almost all of us have experienced that moment of intense disappointment when we’ve added a purchase to cart and are set to check out only to find out that the site had an error and what we want isn’t in stock. You don’t want to be the brand that is letting people down because your inventory wasn’t correct.

Make it a priority to ensure your numbers are correct and updated regularly as customers check out to avoid not being able to fulfill someone’s need for the best work-from-home outfit or self-care product.

Surprise and delight

The brands that go above and beyond in bringing an unexpected smile to their customers’ faces will be rewarded when the travel and gathering restrictions are lifted. The surprise and delight tip doesn’t have to equal a massive spend on your part.

What small ways can you provide an unexpected but welcome moment in the lives of others? The note included in their order thanking them for supporting an independent business, the email that shares a picture of your work from home set up, complete with dogs, cats and kids, or a video dropped on your social media channel that authentically talks about your gratitude. If you can afford, include a freebie that elevates their experience in their orders as well. Be the kindness you wish to see, and it multiplies.


What ways have you seen businesses uniquely providing delivery and carry-out wins from online or in-app purchases?

How can brands increase engagement in the age of social distancing

The unexpected impact of COVID-19 pandemic and the required social distancing for public safety is hitting brick and mortar stores right in the heart of their business: in-person sales and engagement. With fewer people coming through their doors, sales are declining, and many owners are having to make hard decisions. How do you determine trends and provide necessary touchpoints with buyers when they can’t leave their homes?

The current realities facing many companies is a sobering look at the realities of 21st century life. Unexpected and disruptive events are part of the business landscape and planning is crucial to make sure that interruptions have as little impact as possible. The ways stores usually do business – face-to-face – can’t stand alone as strategy for growth and retention of customers, and diversifying into a digital solution can be daunting.

With the advent of faster Internet connectivity, WiFi networks through most public places and the rollout of 5G, people are engaged with their mobile tools throughout the day. They are searching for content that meets their needs for entertainment and education on social media and downloading apps and tools to do the same.

Influencer Marketing

Celebrity isn’t limited to movie stars anymore. Influencers are taking over, and their impact can move numbers when it comes to products from clothing and shoes to books and movies.

Connecting with an influencer gives you access to their platform on social media and through email and it lends your brand cache as the must-have product of a customer’s favorite person.

I would recommend that you have your goals clearly outlined before engaging with an influencer to ensure you get the return on your investment. If you are sending your brand’s clothing to a person, where do you want them to wear it? Do they post to social media once and include in their weekly newsletter as well? The more you want them to promote your brand, the costlier the relationship can become, so be intentional about the elements of your contract.

And yes, you will need a contract. After all, influencers are a business themselves and they need to protect their brand as much as you want to protect yours.

Once they do post, share pictures and videos far and wide so your audience sees and engages with the content. It’s a smart move that exposes you to the influencer’s loyal followers and shows that you know what’s happening to your audience.

Social Selling

The social media platforms Instagram and Pinterest have emerged as powerhouses of e-commerce. We all know that scrolling, pinning and double-tapping takes up hours of people’s time across demographics. Why not make social selling of your latest line a priority when your customers aren’t able to make it into the stores?

To give some perspective: 37 percent of Americans use Instagram and 89 percent of Instagram’s users are from outside of the United States. 73 percent of teens say the platform is the best way for brands to reach them about new products or promotions and 130 million Instagram users tap on a shopping product to learn more every month. And that’s just Instagram.

When Pinterest surveyed their users, the results were just as supportive of why you need to be moving toward social selling: 72 percent said the social site inspires them to shop even when they aren’t actually looking for anything. You can’t buy results like this: 90 percent said Pinterest helps them decide what to buy and 66 percent buy something after seeing a brand’s Pins.

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It’s an easy win to set up your shoppable Instagram or Pinterest account; you already know the purchase power is there and with limited in-person engagement, social media is the new storefront.

Mobile Tools

Most businesses have a mobile version of their site where customers can also purchase; after all, it is 2020. The user experience for apps differs from online stores. An online store is standard but the reality is that only 12 percent of consumers find shopping on mobile sites convenient. Having an app allows for personalization that buying in-store or via website isn’t built to deliver.

Customers are looking for a shopping experience that speaks to their specific needs, be it based on their location, previous purchases, web history or other data, without it being obvious that the brand has this information at their fingertips. Apps natively capture this information and deliver content personalized to individuals, leading to increased sales.

The time it takes to build an app is fairly short, thanks to drag and drop technology. The best no code app builders allow you to make your app in a day. In your brand’s app, make sure you prioritize offering a full range of inventory, add captivating descriptions and photos, and categorize it all in a way that makes sense to your customer.

From there, you can consider what your marketing will look like through push notifications and other ways to engage with app users. Finally, you can get the big picture view by regularly studying your analytics that show who is using the app, their demographics and buying habits and a sales report.

The New Normal: Sell from Everywhere and Leverage Networks

As the manager of your brand, you likely didn’t anticipate that you would be facing this challenging period. Grow stronger from the current challenge and come out smarter by connecting with new audiences through influencers, leveraging social media purchasing and developing an app as the digital solutions your audience needs to stay connected with you. When customers see your brand throughout their day, it becomes more likely they will make purchases, their loyalty increases, and you gain a brand advocate.

App-Based Mobile Commerce Explained: Why Retailers Should Embrace No-code

3 Benefits of App-Based mobile commerce and why coding shouldn’t keep you from considering it…

E-commerce is evolving. Shoppers #1 medium for product discovery and acquisition is their phone, and basic responsive mobile websites provided by platforms like Shopify, BigCommerce, etc often feel dated and are sluggish on Google Chrome and Safari browsers. App-based mobile commerce allows businesses to create specialized customer-winning experiences that combine a frictionless journey to checkout with unique workflows that add value to consumers on the go.

As app-based mobile commerce has become more accessible and affordable due to no-code platforms like Sandbox Commerce. No-code platforms will transfer the power dynamic away from traditional software development shops to platforms that allow marketing directors, sales managers, and non-technical personnel to simply drag and drop their way to growth and efficiency for their organizations without writing a line of code.

How do you determine if launching an iPhone and Android app for your brand makes sense? and what can you expect to gain if you decide to add an app to your omni-channel strategy in the new year?

This guide will cover 3 rules to help you find success using an app-based mobile commerce strategy.

But first: What is no-code?

More and more software applications like Airtable, Trello and Salesforce have built software platforms based on no-code principles. Each of these businesses focus on solving traditional problems businesses encounter like project planning, data manipulation, and business development. In each of these use cases, no-code platforms usually excel in the following areas:

1. Allow drag-and-drop “blocks” of functionality that can be visually customized to build apps or create complex workflows.
2. Visual query datasources that allow blocks to display dynamic information instantly.
3. Utilize APIs to integrate data from existing enterprise applications or web services.
4. Broaden appeal to less technical users instead of leaving the creation of complex solutions up to traditional developers.
5. Expedite go-to-market of complex applications, usually at a fraction of the cost compared to traditional software deployments.

What are the advantages of a mobile app?

Better engagement:  According to Comscore, mobile websites see more visitors than mobile apps, but visitors spend 27 percent more time in apps. The data is clear. Retailers who provide shoppers with a native mobile user experience benefit from an increase in engagement over responsive websites.

Reduced cart abandonment: 70 percent of shoppers who add items to their cart within responsive websites leave without purchasing anything. In comparison, native mobile shopping carts that leverage Apple Pay and Google Pay at checkout and allow 1-click purchasing. reduce cart abandonment by 25 percent.

Increased discovery with push notifications:  Unique to native mobile apps are push notifications. According to Localytics, 52 percent of smartphone users have enabled these notifications on their smartphones. Marketers use push notifications to catch users’ attention by promoting products and reminding shoppers about their abandoned carts. Using data collected within their mobile app, retailers segment users to provide personalized recommendations that are both relevant and valuable to shoppers on the go.

Final Thoughts

There’s a lot of buzz around no-code and mobile apps for retailers in e-commerce. By staying informed, you can determine if a mobile app will add value to your brand and proceed accordingly.

Want to learn more about the intersection between no-code and app-based mobile commerce? Follow me on Twitter or subscribe to Sandbox Commerce’s blog for more around these growing trends.

Sandbox Commerce Engage – Segmented Push Notifications

Why Does Segmentation Matter?


We’ve discussed the power of push notifications in previous blogs. The open rate is superior to e-mail and can be used strategically for very targeted messaging. While a mass blast to all your subscribers may be effective in terms of number of people reached, it can come back to bite you. 

One of the key features of mobile commerce that shoppers gravitate towards is the ability for brands and retailers to personalize the shopping experience for their customers.

Yes, your notification will reach a large number of customers, but you run the risk of customers opting out of notifications, if they feel they’re being spammed with irrelevant and/or too many messages.

Irrelevant notifications can lead to:

  • Customers unsubscribing
  • Fewer return visits to your app / e-commerce site
  • Lost revenue

This is where segmented push notifications come in. Yes, it’s exactly what it sounds like. Rather than a ‘shotgun’ approach where you send out a wide blast and hope to hit something, segmenting your messaging enables you to target more relevant promotions and communications to your intended audience.

The ability to selectively focus on groups of customers who share similar interests is a game-changer in terms of customer experience. When customers view content that’s relevant to them, it reinforces the perception that your company understands their needs, which in turn, strengthens customer loyalty.

 

 

 

Social Selling on the Rise

Social selling, also referred to as social commerce A BizRate Insights survey revealed that (34%) of adults (18+)  said they purchased something via social media. This is up from 29% a year ago. The survey showed an additional 27% of adults surveyed were interested in social commerce.

Shoppers in the range of 18 to 34 years-old are the most likely to shop through social media, with over half that demographic saying they had purchased through a social channel. To break that down even further, 42% of those shoppers were women. 

It’s arguable that the “newness” factor of social commerce is responsible for a portion of the interest. But don’t dismiss it as a passing fad. Facebook, Pinterest and Snapchat have invested considerable time, money, and effort to ignite direct-to-consumer sales on their respective platforms. Instagram (owned by Facebook), now gives brands and retailers the ability to tag ‘shoppable’ content directly on their Instagram feeds. Customers can buy directly from the retailer without ever leaving the Instagram app. It’s part of the evolution of omni-channel shopping.

Snapchat added a shopping channel called “Shop and Cop.” Pinterest also expanded their partner program to support more shopping experiences. Social media companies are in a race to expand their shopping features to compete with e-commerce juggernaut Amazon, which has emerged as a big-time competitor in digital advertising.

While technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) are certainly cool, they don’t appear ready to take off on a large scale, and thus the traction isn’t there. Given the immense popularity and usage of social media, it only made sense for it to become a new sales channel for brands and retailers to capitalize on.

The way we shop has evolved, and as usual, consumer behavior and expectations dictate the direction that businesses take. Modern shoppers expect brands to have apps, and they expect to a seamless shopping experience across multiple devices. Throw social media into that mix and brands now have an essential component of omni-channel shopping that should not be ignored.

Targeting Your Promotions

Raise your hand if you like paying full retail price. Wait, you don’t? Obviously I can’t see you right now, but I’m willing to take a chance and assume that you do not, in fact, like paying full retail price. 

As modern shoppers, we’re conditioned to be on the lookout for discounts. A quick Google search allows us to compare prices to find great deals. If we’re subscribed to marketing materials for a particular brand, we may see a mailer, or an e-mail with a discount code or promotional offer. 

And let’s not forget the undisputed champ of great deal days…Black Friday. Black Friday may as well be a national holiday by itself. 

Many customers won’t make a purchase unless they have a coupon in hand, or a discount code to enter at checkout.

If you’re a retailer trying to attract new customers, and cater to your loyal customers, you’ve no doubt offered plenty of discounts and promotions over time. It’s a necessary and effective tool to bring in business. You take a small profit hit from the coupon, but ideally pull in enough revenue from additional purchases to cover the cost and then some. 

Discount-savvy customers are trained to wait for your coupon before they make a move. Knowing that your customers are waiting for and expecting discounts, your promotions but be strategically-delivered. 

One problem you may run into is flooding potential customers with TOO MANY discounts. Sounds strange, right? A customer turned off by getting too many discounts. You may have a customer who only shops periodically, and s massive amounts of e-mails may usher them towards the ‘Unsubscribe’ button. 

Another problem is that your effort to reach a large amount of customers may reach the wrong people. I don’t mean people who aren’t interested in purchasing. I mean people who WOULD HAVE purchased WITHOUT a discount. 

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To avoid this, try to send promotions only to shoppers that you believe need them in order to convert, and select the most relevant promotion for each person. 

Try testing different promotions for your high-value customers and your new e-mail subscribers. For example, send a general discount to your new subscribers to encourage immediate action, but send each high-value shopper an email that promotes new items in their favorite category. You may find that many of those loyal customers will be willing to purchase new items without a discount.

Then you can start segmenting further. Create a segment of shoppers who have purchased in the last 90 days and run a promotion to encourage them to make a repeat purchase. Segmented push notifications are a great way to execute this strategy. Combine the high open rate of push notifications vs e-mail, and a strategic set of targeted customers, and you could see considerably more success than your broad approach promoting everything to everyone. This is another key reason mobile commerce should be part of your omni-channel strategy

Omni-Channel vs Multi-Channel Strategy

Let’s begin by defining each:

  • Omni-channel e-commerce (meaning, “all” channels) unifies sales and marketing to create a single commerce experience across your brand.
  • Multi-channel e-commerce (i.e., “many” channels), while less integrated, allows customers to purchase natively wherever they prefer to browse and shop

Developing a successful business strategy means understanding the differences between the two and picking the one that’s right for your business.

Multi-channel marketing and sales enable customers to not only interact with your products through whatever medium is most natural to them, but to purchase through that medium directly.

The best metaphor for a multi-channel marketing is a wheel with spokes.

At the center of the wheel is your product (i.e., a sale). On the outer rim of the wheel are your customers where each channel offers a separate and independent opportunity to purchase.

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In Omni-Channel Retailing, Tommy Walker from Shopify offers what is easily the most expansive summary of the term:

“Omni-channel as a philosophy is about providing consistent, yet unique and contextual brand experiences across multiple customer-aware touch points, including brick and mortar, marketplaces, web, mobile and social.”

“It’s about allowing consumers to purchase wherever they are while communicating in a way that is in tune with why they use a given channel and showing awareness of their individual stage in the customer lifecycle.”

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When making the jump from single-channel to multi-channel marketing, there are a few things you need to keep in mind at all times.

Most importantly, you absolutely need to know which channels your target customers typically utilize. For example, it would make no sense for a company whose target demographic consists of baby boomers to become present on Snapchat; similarly, a company targeting teens and young adults likely wouldn’t fare well by focusing on direct mail marketing and radio advertisements to generate a buzz.

Similarly, you need to consider which channels your target customers expect your brand to be present on, as well. When you have identified your channels, you then need to optimize your message each device accordingly.

When it comes to omni-channel marketing, the tenets mentioned above still apply – but there’s more. In addition to knowing where your customers are, knowing what they expect from you, and optimizing your presence on each channel your brand is active on; you also need to focus on using each of these channels to enhance the customer experience, as well.

It’s not just about being present on multiple channels – it’s about the value your presence brings to the customer via each of these channels.

Key Features of Great Retail Apps

If you’re familiar with e-commerce, and/or have read our other blogs, you know that e-commerce is being re-shaped and overtaken by mobile commerce. For brands and retailers who haven’t come aboard and launched a mobile app, there’s no better time than the present to get started.


With that in mind, let’s take a look at some things to consider about your app, that will attract your loyal customers, and more importantly, keep your app on their mobile device.

 

 

Good User-Experience (UX)

This is a pretty obvious element, but it bears mentioning. Put yourself in your customer’s shoes. Better yet, think of apps you have on your own mobile devices. Are they difficult to use and navigate? Probably not. Screen space is valuable real estate, and nobody is going to keep an app on their device that isn’t simple to use.

 

Some Elements of a Good UX

  • Make things easy to find
  • Clearly identify and provide detailed descriptions of your items
  • Fast, secure, checkout
  • No hidden costs

Personalized Offers

 

Just because you’re using technology, and aren’t face-to-face with your customers, doesn’t mean you can’t add a personal touch to their interaction with your app. 

This is a prime example of why capturing rich customer data is important for understanding your customers interests and buying tendencies.

One example to take note of, is personalized push notifications. Amazon Prime does an excellent job with this. They will make personalized recommendations based on past purchases or related to items you may have left in your cart. 

 

Flash Sales and Discounts

 

F.O.M.O…An acronym that stand for ‘Fear of missing out’. It’s that gut-wrenching feeling that everyone else is taking part in something, or getting something, and you’re on the outside looking in.

Flash sales are a business model in which a company offers a single or limited product selection for a discounted price over a short period of time. Sales typically last anywhere between a few hours to 24-36 hours.

You may not even need/want what’s being sold, but the idea of scarcity, and losing out on great deals is too hard for many customers to pass up.

 

Discounts are obvious. Why would anyone NOT want to save money? This is likely THE reason your customer downloaded your app. Make sure they’re seeing the benefits of having your app on their device. Also consider offering certain items as ‘app-only’ purchases. 

 

Alternative Payment Options

Aside from secure payment options, digital customers demand a variety of payment options.

The reason is two-fold: Simplicity, and security.

Popular modern payment options include:

  • Paypal
  • Venmo
  • Amazon Pay
  • Google Pay
  • Apple Pay

Simple check-out with minimal steps, and protected personal information. That’s what your customers expect.

Even cryptocurrency options like Bitcoin are gradually becoming payment options with retailers.

 

This was not by any means an exhaustive list. Consider these a solid foundation to build upon if you want to launch and maintain a successful retail app.