Retail stores have the opportunity to engage customers both online and in-store. Because customers no longer have to leave their homes to shop, retailers have the ability to engage customers and develop relationships across numerous channels. However, many retailers haven't yet fully embraced the resources available.

As part of their most recent research report, Real Touchpoints Exposed,  Exact Target examined how America's top 100 retail chains are building engagement across digital platforms and using each channel to cross-promote in-store and online interaction. The Hot 100 retailers, as listed in the National Retail Federation's STORES 2011 Hot 100 Retailers Report, represent the 100 fastest growing companies in the country.

The following statistics explore researchers' observations on how these popular retailers are engaging with consumers throughout their purchase journey:

The In-store Experience: When looking at the 95 Hot 100 retailers that operate brick and mortar stores, researchers examined in-store signage, employee engagement, and sales receipts to see how touchpoints were being used to facilitate email, mobile, and social audience growth and engagement–

  • • Over 60 percent of retailed neglected to use signage throughput the store as a means for converting in-store patrons into online subscribers, fans, or followers.

  • • While 18 percent promoted their website URL on signs throughout the store, and 8 percent encouraged Facebook and Twitter engagement, only 2 percent promoted email opt-in.

  • • Of the brick and mortar retailers, 62 percent trained their employees to seek data from consumers at the point of purchase. However, only 44 percent asked for the consumer's email address and 24 percent asked for their postal address.

The Website Experience: Researchers evaluated each retailer's efforts to build email, mobile, and social audiences based on email opt-in and social engagement calls-to-action. For the 72 retailers that offer e-commerce sites, researchers also assessed product-related social engagement throughout the customer life cycle–

  • • While 74 percent of retailers offer an email opt-in form on their homepage, 8 percent provide no email opt-in opportunity at all. However, 11 percent do offer email opt-in forms with the promise of first purchase incentive discounts.

  • • Eighty-seven percent of Hot 100 retailers display social links on their homepage, with 87 percent featuring the Facebook icon and 84 percent featuring the Twitter icon.

  • • Of the 72 e-commerce enabled sites, 85 percent of their product pages encourage users to share via Facebook, while 69 percent encourage sharing via email. Only 51 percent encourage sharing via Twitter.

The Email Experience: Though only 16 retailers sent cart abandonment emails to reengage their customers, welcome emails, initial 30-day email volume, and email personalization efforts provided a solid foundation for assessing email interactions and their effect on customer behaviour

  • • Only 74 of the Hot 100 retailers sent welcome emails to their new subscribers. Eight percent sent their welcome email on the same day of the opt-in, while 9 percent sent their welcome message within one day.

  • • While 29 retailers sent 5-10 emails within the first 30 days, 11 retailers sent no emails whatsoever and 3 retailers sent 30-35 emails in the first month.

  • • Within the first 30 days, 20 percent of all Hot 100 retailer emails were directed straight to the customers' spam folder.

The Mobile Experience: Researchers observed how retailers are embracing SMS text messaging, mobile web, and mobile applications to engage with today's on-the-go customer–

  • • With only 33 retailers leveraging SMS promotion, 52 percent used email to market their programs, 39 percent used their website, and 18 percent marketed their promotion in-store.

  • • Of the 68 retailers with mobile websites, 56 percent promote email opt-in, 47 percent encourage Facebook engagement, and 46 percent promote Twitter interaction.

  • • Thirty-nine of the Hot 100 retailers offer mobile applications. Of those applications, 64 percent featured product information and 64 percent feature a store locator.

The Social Experience: While society increasingly connects via social media, researchers examined engagement across Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and YouTube to determine how retailers are getting in on the conversation–

  • • Of the 94 retailers with a Facebook page, 48 percent use their account to run contests, 37 percent cross-promote their Twitter and YouTube content, and 36 promote their email list.

  • • Ninety-three retailers maintain a Twitter account, posting an average of 8 tweets per week. Seventy-seven percent use Twitter to reply to direct consumer inquiries.

  • • Pinterest continues to gain in popularity, with 60 of the Hot 100 maintaining an account, and 84 retailers have a YouTube account.

With so many opportunities to connect with customers, it's easy to see why companies have yet to tackle each channel successfully. From in-store, to email, to social media, retailers have yet to determine which methods work best for their particular situation. Primarily, retailers must build a distinct strategy that provides a structure for their efforts. By knowing what they want to accomplish and observing how their customers prefer to engage, they can then begin to focus on those channels that garner the most positive engagement.

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