In so many ways, the coronavirus pandemic has defined a new normal. Changes in the way we work are the most talked-about aspect of this new state of things. However, what grabs retailers’ undivided attention is a parallel shift that has taken place in the way we shop.

During this period of uncertainty, the most conspicuous e-commerce victor has been Amazon, whose Prime service allows for two-day delivery, and sometimes next-day delivery, of many items. This zero-contact, speedy option has been appealing for many shoppers, and the number of Prime devotees is growing. To compete, retailers with both a brick-and-mortar and online presence have been doubling down on their most significant opportunity: Customers want their merchandise now, not tomorrow. Sometimes even next-day delivery is not enough, and shoppers delight in having information at their fingertips that will help them get what they need immediately.

By using an AI-first individualization solution like Sitecore Discover, the e-commerce businesses can learn about the individual customer across all engagement touchpoints online (real-time) and offline.  The approach curates the data needed to instantly give customers answers to questions they would ask if they were browsing a store’s available inventory with an associate—but from their phone or computer. And the experience is a win-win: Customers appreciate the time they regain by being shown exactly what they need and how they can get it soonest, and businesses win greater customer loyalty, reinforcing their bottom line.    

How does omnichannel individualization work?

Omnichannel individualization gives retailers the ability to gather data about their customers at every touchpoint across their desktop and mobile devices, in email, and in stores. A robust individualization solution like the ones leading retailers are adopting can integrate data from all these points (which in the past would have been siloed in each engagement touch-point) to make the customer journey more intuitive and efficient. Because the data is gathered in real-time and the AI is constantly learning about each customer’s preferences, what the customer sees quickly pivots in step with their shopping intent, giving them the sense that the retailer understands their needs precisely—and is going the extra mile to make their life easier.

Retailers are choosing omnichannel individualization that is 1:1, meaning that it stores a unique profile for each shopper who visits the store, whether online or in person. The data gathered is much more comprehensive than what could be achieved with segmentation methods of the past, going beyond basics such as gender and income group. AI has the ability to give hyper-targeted results to each shopper due to the subtlety of the affinities it uncovers and then leverages.

The flexibility and convenience of the resulting customer experience—one that follows them from their first interaction to checkout or pickup—informs every future experience that shopper has, so it is a significant driver of customer loyalty and higher-order values.

So how specifically are retailers using omnichannel individualization in the current environment to drive more revenue?

Integrating online and offline channels

COVID has introduced more customers than ever to the levels of flexibility that are possible within the shopping experience, especially when comprehensive data and intelligent technology come into the picture. One of the services retailers have scrambled to offer or to streamline in recent months has been BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store). From the earliest months of the pandemic, customer adoption of BOPIS soared. It was the saving grace of many businesses.

BOPIS powered by omnichannel individualization is the best way your business can compete with companies like Amazon in the current environment. It gives shoppers an instantly curated view of the items they can get delivered the same day or pick up at the store, even from their phones. The only thing that is better than next-day delivery is driving to your local store right now and picking your item up, either inside the store or at curbside.

The AI uses data to recognize customers who want more same-day delivery or in-store pickup options and use that information to individualize what the customer sees. Using real-time inventory availability data, the solution can show customers what is in stock in locations close to them and subsequently show them these items more often for greater chances of a successful, increase in average order value.

Here are some additional ways leading retailers can optimize the BOPIS option to drive store traffic and higher-order value.

  • Boost/hide in-store products in searches and product recommendations offered at local stores.
  • Boost/bury items based on inventory levels so customers are encouraged to buy their in-stock favorites and avoid being disappointed by out-of-stocks.
  • Localized pricing for products based on each individual store location, channel, or geography.
  • Local targeting injects individualized messaging and localized content into emails targeting local customers.
  • “Clienteling” to enable store associates and in-store kiosks with shopper intelligence and preferences.
  • Identification of local shopping patterns and product demand using specialized metrics to identify consumer trends.

Cases in point

Every business has its own unique strategy and goals, and an agile, AI-powered 1:1 individualization solution will be able to pivot to a wide variety of retail needs. Sitecore Discover has had many opportunities recently to create unique solutions that may resonate with other businesses.

To provide a continually relevant experience across channels, Sitecore Discover gave Big Lots the ability to harvest data from store transactions to allow for a more complete view of each customer’s purchase behaviors. Their solution provides individual customers a view of the products available in stores available for pickup, in a way that is hyper-personalized through recommendations and search. It also upsells a curated selection of products based on the customer’s preferences through email, so customers are in constant touch with the brand.

PetCo operates a little differently, so in addition to all of the individualization Big Lots uses to merchandise products available to buy now at the customer’s local store, Petco wanted to add some unique curbside options. Going beyond standard curbside pickup, PetCo uses Sitecore Discover to show the consumer items they can “hold” at curbside. The consumer can reserve the product and inspect it at the curb. This is an option that encourages customer trust and loyalty since it speaks volumes about PetCo’s commitment to finding exactly the right options for each shopper and pet, no strings attached. The entire interaction is secured with a real-time application programming interface (API).

Geolocation was also a concern for Schwan’s, which provides delivery of high-quality food items. Each Schwan’s delivery center has a limited stock of products. Wishing to promote local in-stock products to specifically geolocated shoppers, Schwan’s asked Sitecore Discover to create a solution that did so while ensuring the products could be delivered within spoilage timelines. Sitecore Discover was able to accomplish that and much more.

RiteAid is rolling out individualized BOPIS experiences for new stores each week. When a user first visits the site, the default is showing warehouse inventory. When a store is selected by geolocation. The AI restricts the products available for that store with two different configurations: store only or store+warehouse. In the first case, you can only see those products available in the store. But in the second option, you are also able to see what you can receive through free shipping. 

The ways in which Sitecore Discover can use AI-driven omnichannel individualization to heighten customer convenience are virtually limitless in their permutations.

Knowledge (of your shopper) is power

In today’s hyper-connected and highly competitive retail landscape, the quality of your customer relationships is king. Research has shown that 87% of consumers are interested in a personalized and consistent experience across channels—a competitive edge that only AI can provide. Sitecore Discover can help your business adapt to the new normal of omnichannel individualization. It will mean uniting data about your customers’ shopping intent and preferences with the real-time inventory data they need to find the delivery and pickup options that suit them best. Your time and monetary investment in a solution like Sitecore Discover will generate a healthy ROI and elevate your brand to that coveted sphere that only cutting-edge companies like Amazon can inhabit.

Julie Mahr is Senior Manager, Global Account Based Marketing at Sitecore. Follow her on LinkedIn.