Connecting Consumers’ Physical and Digital Worlds to Create a Seamless Omnichannel Customer Experience

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As we near the end of 2015, I look back and think of this year as an important intersection—one that saw increasing connectivity between our physical and digital worlds. This was made possible by the advancement of the Internet of Things which has opened us up to new and interesting possibilities and has radically altered the way we live, work, and play.

Today, anything and everything can be connected. My phone controls my house, my watch tells me when I need to work out, and my car tells me when it needs an oil change. Momentum for connected devices will only increase over the next decade, as Gartner predicts that there will be more than 26 billion connected devices by the year 2020.

According to Don Scheibernreif, vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, who spoke at the firm’s Customer 360 Summit in September, the Internet of Things is the accelerant for blurring the digital and physical worlds, and customer engagement will drive the speed at which businesses get there.

While this hyper-connected world in which we live creates modern conveniences, it’s also sending companies scrambling to figure out ways to better connect the physical and digital worlds on the back end through better data analysis and linkage to create seamless experiences on the front end for their customers.

In “Busting Through the Physical Barrier in Digital Design,” Jinha Lee, head of Samsung Electronics’ Interactive Visualization Lab, says marketers need to start thinking about ways to blur the boundaries between the digital and physical space to create intuitive, effective, and enjoyable experiences for customers. “The power and the potential benefits of our digital technologies are undeniably huge,” Jinha remarks.

Though the problem, Jinha says, is that the communication link between humans and the digital tools that surround them is often very small and narrow. The two-dimensional, flat touch screen, less than a millimeter thick, now divides the two worlds, both physically and metaphorically. This divide poses a problem for marketers in deciphering how to close the gap and link the online and offline worlds to meet consumers’ ever-increasing demands. Some forward-thinking companies have figured out ways to do this and in doing so are enabling true omnichannel customer experiences.

Macy’s, for example, has invested billions in technology like Beacons, mobile apps, and tablets to provide a seamless shopping experience. It has deployed Beacons to send customers location-specific deals, discounts, and recommendations in the Shopkick app while in a Macy's store. Additionally, the company offers a mobile app that lets users scan barcodes to get product details, prices, and customer reviews, in addition to storing coupons.

Sephora is also testing Beacons to deliver personalized alerts like loyalty program updates. In addition, the cosmetics retailer also launched augmented reality earlier this year which allows customers to engage with custom content by placing their phones over the images of the female founders of featured Sephora cosmetic brands (the images were located in the retailer’s windows and display cases.). Scanning the images showed content options, such as interviews, product videos, animated GIFs, YouTube playlists, and product pages on Sephora.com. To continue its digital momentum, in March the company unveiled its San Francisco-based Innovation Lab, which focuses on the development of new strategies and technologies for both in-store and mobile shopping.

Finally, Walgreens is heralded as an early adopter and leader in the pursuit of merging the online and physical worlds for customers. Its mobile app includes features that are designed to help customers save time while enticing them to visit a Walgreens store. As this article points out, app users, for example, can print photos from Instagram and Facebook at a Walgreens store, refill a prescription by scanning the RX barcode on their phones before picking it up, and exchange text messages with a pharmacist.

While the brave new world of omnichannel, made possible by successfully blurring our physical and digital worlds, is a boon for consumers, it’s still challenging for marketers. How are you working to blur these worlds for your customers?

You can read the article, “Busting Through the Physical Barrier in Digital Design,” in TeleTech’s e-book, Technology of Us.

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