Tag technology

The Future of the Retail Sales Associate—Another Reason Why Retailers Need to Provide More Mobile-Optimized Content Online

The Future of Retail Sales AssociatesThe way customers shop, in general, is changing with more and more customers going online to research and buy products. Furthermore, smartphones have also modified the way customers shop in brick-and-mortar stores.

This means that retailers are going to need to rethink everything. And, that means everything.

For store employees, this means that their world is going to be altered dramatically.

In 2014, Doug Stephens, one of the world’s foremost retail industry futurists, wrote a very informative blog post that predicts what a “typical” retail sales associate’s job will look like in the near future.

In the post, he predicts that in the near future there will be fewer humans working in brick-and-mortar retail stores, with technology there to fill in the gap.

In the post, he cites a study from Oxford University that estimates that there is a 92 percent chance that retail sales associates will be replaced by technology in the next decade. (Keep in mind, this was over four years ago. Therefore, if the predictions are accurate, retail sales associates should be retraining for other positions now! Even if it takes a little longer than experts think it will, the world that they are predicting will arrive someday… soon.)

While this is an alarming figure, people who want to work in retail stores should be heartened by the other prediction that Doug Stephens makes—that those employees who do survive will be paid much higher than they currently are. But this is going to mean that they also are going to need to get a lot more training.

Other sources again support his position.

Some of the recent articles that discuss retail trends point to the fact that there will always be a need for some human salespeople at most brick-and mortar stores. However, they will have a slightly different background.

As far as I can tell, four types of non-management employees will emerge to replace the generally unskilled workforce that currently fills many of these low-paying retail sales associate jobs.

Professional Salespeople—The Customer Service and Product Experts

In the blog post mentioned earlier, Doug Stephens writes, “Although retailers will point the finger at price as the smoking gun behind showrooming, research shows that in fact, it’s more often the pursuit of adequate and accurate information that drives customers online.”

Therefore, in order to compete with online retailers, brick-and-mortar stores are going to have to hire a core group of employees who really know their stuff.

These employees won’t be the ones who check people out at the cash register.

They will be like the salespeople of old who thought of their position at the store as a career, not just a place to work until they find other jobs. These employees will be experts in customer service and they will know everything about what they are selling.

The stores that realize that there is a need for this type of employee and hire and train people who really want to excel at their job will be the stores that will succeed.

As Doug Stephens also points out, the people who fill these positions will be paid more than the average salary of a retail sales associate today.

This probably means that stores won’t hire many of these employees, if they still want to keep their costs down. But, the employees who are hired to fill this type of role will be an invaluable resource to customers and the store.

To be qualified for this role, the employee will also have to invest in additional training.

Organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF) are already recognizing that this type of training is needed and have begun offering it at a reasonable price.

Part-Time Associates—Knowledgeable Salespeople Augmented With Technology

This group of employees will most resemble the current retail sales associate.

They will be the young adults who are working their way through high school or college. They will have some basic product knowledge and business acumen. And, they will have grown up using technology, therefore they will be very comfortable assisting less tech-savvy customers with the technology that the store will use to assist in the sales process.

They will also use technology (e.g., smartphones, tablets, etc.) to access mobile-optimized content that will answer the product-related questions that customers have.

Because these employees will be in the process of completing their training, these positions will probably still be on the lower-end of the pay scale. However, to attract the best employees, retailers will still have to pay more than minimum wage.

With technology to augment the sales process, fewer of these associates will be needed on the sales floor of tomorrow.

Temporary Workers—The On-Demand Workforce

The gig economy is here, with some employees being hired to work for only a short duration of time to fill a specific business need.

As a Washington Post article points out, it is already changing the workforce in many mainstream restaurants (e.g., Five Guys, McDonald’s, Papa John’s Pizza, etc.)

Will brick-and-mortar retail stores be next?

Retailers have always hired temporary workers around the holidays. This would just take this concept to the extreme.

It is entirely possible that stores could hire employees for one or two days to staff a large sale similar to those on Black Friday.

And, again, if stores bring in the right technological solutions to assist with the sales process, these temporary workers could be quickly trained to work the cash register or again help the less tech-savvy customer in the shopping process.

Some retail experts say using temporary workers is a bad idea. But, the reality is that only time will tell.

Non-Human Employees—Mobile-Optimized Online Content and Other Technological Solutions

The fourth type of employee that will replace the current retail sales associate is not a human at all. However, in many cases technological solutions will be able to do the same job… maybe even better than the current retail sales associate can.

As mentioned above, customers are already reaching for their smartphones to get product information while shopping in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, some customers would rather use their smartphones to find product information than talk to the retail sales associate on the sales floor.

This might be because they often get incorrect or incomplete information from improperly trained retail sales associates. Therefore, we might have a chicken and the egg situation at play.

Either way, the one thing we do know for certain is that customers want to be able to quickly and efficiently find product information either online via their smartphone or by talking to a retail sales associate.

Having the right information available online is going to be a must for the retailer of tomorrow. And, as mentioned above, it will also help human salespeople do their jobs better.

As Doug Stephens points out in his post, there are companies like Hointer that are working to bring additional technological solutions to market to help automate the retail sales process even further.

However, I will leave that topic for future blog posts.

Final Thoughts

In order to compete, brick-and-mortar stores will need to be able to provide customers with the same accurate and complete product information that they can find on Amazon or other online retailers.

If the brick-and-mortar store provides the information first, customers will have one less reason to visit another store’s website or mobile app, and therefore will be less likely to use the store as a showroom only to buy the product elsewhere.

This can be accomplished by having better trained retail sales associates and by creating the right mobile-optimized content that customers can search for on their smartphones and tablets. Furthermore, other technological solutions like “smart mirrors” in fitting rooms will also be used to deliver product information to customers.

Given the changes in the marketplace, it’s not a question of whether to invest in employees or in technology.

Successful stores will do both.

In fact, technology will help less knowledgeable retail sales associates meet the needs of the store’s customers more efficiently and effectively. In other words, in many cases technology and humans will work together to provide a better shopping experience.

Note: This is a very general prediction of what the “average” retail store of the future will need to do in order to meet the needs of its customers. There will be variation based on the products and services sold, who shops at the store, the store’s location, etc.

Photo credit: Zepfanman.com on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license – CC BY 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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How Smartphones Will Influence the Future of Visual Merchandising and Store Design

It has been over a decade since the iPhone was first introduced to the world.

In that time, smartphone use has skyrocketed.

In fact, Deloitte expects smartphone penetration to approach 90 percent in the United States, with much of the growth being fueled by increased smartphone usage among older Americans.

Customers Use Mobile Devices When They Shop and Buy

As we know, having a smartphone has changed the way many consumers shop and buy products and services in brick-and-mortar stores. In fact, mobile is changing the way that we do almost everything in life.

Over the years, retailers have experimented with different ways that they can use mobile devices to improve their customers’ shopping experience.

In the near future, successful retailers will find ways to leverage mobile technology and incorporate it into all parts of their business. This will have a huge impact on the way retailers merchandise and design their brick-and-mortar stores in the future.

It is important to point out that retailers should not look for ways to use mobile devices just for the sake of using mobile devices.

Instead, retailers that will succeed in the future will find additional ways to provide value to customers. Often this means providing them with memorable shopping experiences.

In other cases, it might be finding ways to make their shopping experience easier or providing the customer with ways to save money.

Often these things can be achieved by leveraging the same mobile devices that their customers are already using.

After all, if mobile phones are changing the ways that people shop, wouldn’t it be smart for retailers to make adjustments and make it easier for their customers to find what they want when they want it using the same technology.

Using Mobile Devices to Improve Visual Merchandising and Store Design

Here are some of the ways that smartphones and tablets will change visual merchandising and store design at successful retail stores in the near future.

As already pointed out, retailers need to take into account the way customers use smartphones when they shop and buy in their brick-and-mortar stores. This includes customers using smartphones to comparison shop, find product reviews, look for coupons, and use shopping apps to do all the above. Smartphones are also changing the way customers actually pay for the products once they have made a selection.

With this in mind, retailers need to make sure that their digital marketing teams and their visual merchandising teams are talking to each other and are on the same page.

In the future, retailers that find ways to have their digital teams and their visual merchandising teams work together or even better, actually interact and play off each other will see positive results from their efforts. The goal should be to provide a seamless shopping experience, no matter what channel the customer is using.

Retailers should strive to delight customers and provide a remarkable shopping experience. In other words, retailers should be trying to create a shopping experience worth talking about.

Ideally, retailers will be able to inspire customers to take a photo of their shopping trip and post it on social media for their friends and family to see. This is some of the best advertising the store can get.

Another way that retailers can use mobile devices is to create efficiencies and improve productivity by having staff armed with smartphones and tablets and then create the right software, content, and processes that leverage mobile to the fullest.

It is not enough to just provide mobile devices to employees. Management needs to explain to retail staff how and why to use them at different points in the shopping experience.

And, don’t forget that mobile can help improve processes throughout the store, not just while staff are interacting directly with customers.

While having staff use mobile devices to enhance the way they do their job is not going to directly influence merchandising and store design, it will help the store better understand the customer and make improvements wherever possible. It will also help management gather feedback and collect valuable data.

As just mentioned, retailers can use mobile phones to help better understand the needs and shopping behaviors of their customers by using these mobile devices to collect valuable data about their customers’ shopping behaviors while in the store.

This data will influence the way stores are merchandised and designed in the future.

However, as we have seen from many of the recent stories in the news, customers can be wary of the way data is collected and used. It is therefore important to proceed with caution and follow all of the rules and regulations. While retailers will use data to improve every part of the brick-and-mortar shopping experience, it is important that customers are aware of what is being done.

Final Thoughts

Smartphones and tablets have changed the way that customers shop and buy.

This post has focused on how mobile devices have changed how customers shop once they are in the brick-and-mortar store. However, as we know, mobile devices play a role in the whole shopping experience, even before customers enter the store and long after they purchase the product or service.

Knowing this, successful retailers with learn to adapt and leverage this knowledge to improve their customers’ shopping experience no matter how and when they choose to shop.

It only makes sense that retailers would find ways enhance their customers’ shopping experiences using that same mobile devices customers are already using.

This post has provided a few suggestions for retailers to consider.

This includes maybe one of the most important ways mobile devices can influence visual merchandising and store design… as a way to collect data. By providing valuable data that allows retailers to better understand their customers shopping behaviors, mobile devices will improve the way the store meets their customers’ needs now and in the future.

Photo credit: Antoine K on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic license – CC BY-SA 2.0.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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28 Things to Watch in 2018 and Beyond

Scan the Horizon 2018The world that we live in is changing at a rapid pace.

To prepare themselves for the future, leaders need to keep an eye on the things that will influence their businesses.

With this in mind, one of my first posts each year lists the things that I think will have the biggest impact on the world we live and work in in the next few years.

This list not only helps me stay focused on the important topics, but also serves to track whether or not I am watching the right things.

This is the list so far [with the year that the items were added]:

1) Rapid advancements in technology [2013]

2) Mobile (user experience and marketing) [2013]

3) Mobile payments [2013]

4) Mobile-influenced merchandising [2013]

5) Privacy issues [2013]

6) Emerging markets [2013]

7) The Internet of Things [2014]

8) The evolution of retail (including omni-channel retail) [2014]

9) A global marketplace [2014]

10) 3D printing [2014]

11) Cyberattacks [2014]

12) Ethics [2014]

13) Online video [2016]

14) RFID, NFC, and beacons [2016]

15) Augmented reality (AR) [2016]

16) Virtual reality (VR) [2016]

17) SEO for the Internet of Things [2016]

18) Experiential marketing [2016]

19) Wearables [2016]

20) Dynamic pricing in brick-and-mortar stores [2017]

21) Machine learning & artificial intelligence (AI) [2017]

22) Voice-activated technology [2017]

23) Business collaboration with the competition [2017]

24) The evolution of work (changing skillsets required and the influence on the economy) [2017]

25) Robotics [2018]

26) Subscription business model [2018]

27) How online communications influence public opinion [2018]

28) Market research techniques for the 21st Century [2018]

Final Thoughts

Each year, I add a few new items to the list.

However, this year, I combined omni-channel retail with the evolution of retail. Although omni-channel retail is important enough to stand alone, nearly all retail will need to be omni-channel in the near future. Therefore, I think it makes sense to combine these two items.

I also deleted the evolution of marketing and public relations because it is implied when you consider all the other items on the list, in aggregate.

Finally, I broke augmented reality and virtual reality into two separate categories, because we are starting to see some interesting things happen with these two technologies.

So again, you have my updated list. If there is anything that you think that I should add, please feel free to comment below.

Photo credit: Binoculars on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Continuous Education Will Be Required to Keep up with Technological Change

KONICA MINOLTA DIGITAL CAMERA

The rapid advancements in technology, including artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics, are changing the work that we do and the way it’s done.

In fact, an article published on the CNBC website in October of 2017 cites a 2013 study conducted by Oxford University that “estimates that 47 percent of U.S. jobs could be replaced by robots and automated technology within the next two decades.”

This means that the human workforce is going to need to adapt to keep up with these changes.

In the same article, Jeff Hesse, PwC principal and U.S. people and organization co-leader, is quoted as saying, “It varies a bit by industry, but over the next five years we’re going to see the need for workers to change their skills at an accelerating pace.”

As the article goes on to point out, this doesn’t mean that employees are going to have to go back to school to get a degree. There are alternatives offered by community colleges, reputable trade schools, and even internal training and recruiting programs offered by companies looking to keep their human workforce employed.

Major universities and colleges have also noticed the need to train people for the jobs of the future and have started to offer online training programs directly to students.

Some universities and colleges have also partnered with tech startups to make massive open online courses (MOOCs) available to people who want to continue their education without paying a lot in tuition fees. Some of the most popular MOOCs include Coursera, edX, Udacity, and Udemy, just to name a few.

Will These New Educational and Training Programs Be Enough?

A report published by the Pew Research Center in May of 2017 tackled this question. The report included findings from a largescale canvassing of 8,000 experts and members of the interested public by the Pew Research Center and Elon University’s Imagining the Internet Center. The study was conducted from July 1 to August 12, 2016.

According to the report, 1,408 respondents answered the following question:

“In the next 10 years, do you think we will see the emergence of new educational and training programs that can successfully train large numbers of workers in the skills they will need to perform the jobs of the future?”

The authors of the report state, “The nonscientific canvassing found that 70% of these particular respondents said “yes” – such programs would emerge and be successful. A majority among the 30% who said “no” generally do not believe adaptation in teaching environments will be sufficient to teach new skills at the scale that is necessary to help workers keep abreast of the tech changes that will upend millions of jobs.”

Respondents were then asked to further explain their answers and to consider a few additional questions. The responses to these questions highlight some of their predictions, both optimistic and pessimistic. Some of their responses influenced my thoughts below. I encourage you to check out the report for additional information.

The Future of Education Is a Continuous Process

Education will need to evolve.

That doesn’t mean that we will need to scrap the current education system entirely, at least in the near future.

However, I believe it will need to be supplemented.

If recent trends continue, having a bachelor’s degree will continue to be important and having a master’s degree will definitely be a plus.

Number of good jobs by level of educationA study conducted by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce highlights this trend. According to their research, there has been an increase in job opportunities in recent years for workers with at least some level of postsecondary education and training. However, the distribution of good jobs has increased the most among those workers with a bachelor’s degree or higher.

Keep in mind, the past doesn’t always predict the future, but it’s a good indicator of what will happen in the short-term.

That said, I don’t think that having a bachelor’s degree or even a master’s degree will be enough.

If the experts are correct and the skills required to fill good jobs continue to change at an accelerating pace, then workers will need to constantly retrain for the jobs of future.

As mentioned earlier, some of this training will occur through self-directed online training programs or through training provided by companies trying to keep their human workforce employed. Mentoring programs or apprenticeships that provide hands-on training will also be important.

As we are already seeing, formal certifications that require passing rigorous testing will often be required to validate the quality of training employees receive. However, as the report mentioned above points out, determining which organizations to trust with this testing will be an issue.

This might be an area where universities again step in, as some already offer certificate programs or give students college credit for passing exams without requiring formal classroom attendance.

But, then again, who knows?

Right now, we are all trying to figure out the best ways to handle the challenges that we face.

In the more distant future, the education system that we know might need to be completely reimagined.

In my opinion, the best we can do is try to keep up with the changes by taking advantage of the educational resources currently available. Even experts in their field can benefit by updating their training on an ongoing basis. In the process, they might learn something new. And, at a minimum, they will be able to help validate what is and isn’t quality training.

Photo credit: Wolfgang Greller on Flickr. (Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license.)

 

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Macy’s Is Moving Toward the Future of Retail With RFID and Artificial Intelligence

Photo credit: Warren B. on Flickr.Macy’s is once again leading the charge into the future of retail.

Earlier this year, Macy’s announced that it was expanding its use of item-level RFID technology to increase the accuracy of its inventory management system, thus making it easier for the retailer to sell more items both in its brick-and-mortar stores and online.

Recently, Macy’s announced that it is also experimenting with Artificial Intelligence (AI) in an online mobile web tool.

At first glance, these two initiatives seem unrelated.

However, if you look at them more closely, Macy’s is laying the groundwork for something much bigger.

Using AI to Help Choose the Right Outfit

Several news articles explain how Macy’s has started experimenting with AI.

While the retailer most likely has a long-term vision, it looks like the it is starting out with few expectations and is willing to let customers guide their future decisions.

As an article in the Washington Post points out, “Macy’s announced Wednesday that it has teamed up with IBM Watson to use artificial intelligence as a customer service tool in 10 of its stores.  The retailer dubbed the pilot program “Macy’s On Call,” and it will allow customers to type in questions on their phones and receive answers. Unlike some chatbots that can only regurgitate preprogrammed responses based on keywords, IBM Watson will learn over time to give better answers that are customized to individual stores.”

The article states that the retailer is expecting customers to ask where specific merchandise is located, where to find the restrooms, and other similar questions.

However, customers inevitably will ask tougher questions than that.

And, if the AI works as some people hope, the app will give the retailer a way to offer customers a recommendation engine that will help them make purchase decisions and offer additional product suggestions in the same way that Amazon already does.

In fact, other retailers have already started to use AI in this way.

“Macy’s is not the only retailer that is experimenting with some use of artificial intelligence,” Sarah Halzack points out in the Washington Post article. “IBM Watson has already dabbled in using its tools to power other shopping experiences such as a collaboration with outdoor apparel brand North Face on a website that helps shoppers find the right jacket. Users can type in natural-language answers to a host of questions, including “Where and when will you be using this jacket?” and “What activity will you be doing?” Based on the customer’s answers, IBM Watson will serve up some suggested outerwear.”

The Importance of an Accurate Inventory Management System

As I mentioned earlier, in January Macy’s announced its “Pick to the Last Unit” program for fulfillment of customer purchases.

This initiative uses item-level RFID technology to ensure that the retailer’s inventory is extremely accurate.

While the store hasn’t suggested that the new AI fueled “Macy’s on Call” mobile web tool will be tied to the inventory management system, this would be the logical next step.

If combined, sometime in the not so distant future when a customer asks to receive style advice using the new mobile web tool, he or she would not only receive recommendations based on the items that the retailer has for sale, but would also get information about whether or not the products are available at a particular location, at a nearby Macy’s, or if they are only available online.

These are things that sales associates can usually provide. However, when this information is provided to customers on their smartphone, it could save them a lot of time and lead to increased customer satisfaction and more sales.

And, given the fact that the mobile web tool could be used anywhere, this could be another way for Macy’s to capture sales that might end up going to a competitor.

Again, as far as I know, Macy’s hasn’t announced that the mobile web tool will be able to provide this sort of information. However, they already do offer customers the option to buy some items online or in app, and pick up them up in store.

While integrating the inventory management system with the AI mobile web tool might not seem like a big deal, I think a seemless integration of the possible AI recommendations and the ability to tell customers exactly where to find the items it recommends is extremely important.

Hopefully, this is something that Macy’s is planning. I also hope other retailers try similar things.

AI Won’t Replace the Store Associate

Some people wonder why Macy’s is investing in AI when they could have their store associates answer these questions.

And, the reality is that they already do.

However, as studies have shown, many people would prefer to look the information up on their smartphone rather than interact with a sales associate.

This doesn’t mean that the smartphone will replace all store associates, as some people still prefer to have a one-on-one interaction with a real human being. (Note: There is a grocery store in Sweden that has eliminated the need for customer service staff. However, this probably won’t be a common practice for the foreseeable future.)

Furthermore, having sales staff on the sales floor not only helps the store provide better customer service, but they also help decrease theft at the store.

That said, the real reason that Macy’s is experimenting with AI probably has to do with choice.

As Jeff Hasen, founder of Gotta Mobilize, often points out, giving customers the ability to shop and find information in the way that they want to is extremely important.

Final Thoughts

AI won’t replace the store associate.

What it will do is provide customers who want to find information on their smartphones the ability to do so.

And, choice is good.

Therefore, Macy’s is smart to experiment with AI.

In the beginning, there is a good chance that it will be a little bit clunky. However, if the AI learns as experts say it will, the app will get better and more useful as time goes on.

As I also pointed out, the fact that Macy’s has already improved the accuracy of its inventory management system is important.

After all, what good are product recommendations if customer are disappointed each time they go to the specific department to find the item that was suggested only to find that it is out of stock.

Keep in mind, although several articles have suggested it, it is not clear if Macy’s plans to use AI in the specific way that I am suggesting. However, other retailers have started to experiment with AI in this way, and it would be the logical next step in an effort to compete with competitors both large and small, including Amazon.

If you look at it closely, Macy’s is slowly adding new uses of technology in an effort to help improve the shopping experience it offers its customers.

Each new improvement that the retailer makes brings us closer to a retail shopping experience that would have been considered science fiction only a few years ago.

Photo credit: Warren B. on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Businesses Are Realizing That Snapchat Isn’t Going to Disappear Anytime Soon

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.For a while now, marketers have debated about whether or not it is a good idea to use Snapchat to market a brand’s products or services.

However, in recent months, the app that is known for its disappearing content seems to have more vocal fans than detractors.

At the very least, more brands are experimenting with it.

The obvious reason for this is the fact that more and more people have started using the app.

In fact, according to a post on the comScore blog written by Adam Lella, “Snapchat isn’t just for teens and college-age adults anymore. While still wildly popular among these younger demographic segments, the ephemeral photo and video sharing app is also rapidly growing its user base among older Millennials (Age 25-34) and those 35 years-and-older. Three years ago, Snapchat’s app was only being used by 5% of smartphone users age 25-34 and 2% of users age 35+, according to comScore Mobile Metrix. Today its penetration among these two age demos is an impressive 38% and 14%, respectively.”

What is maybe more impressive is the fact that 69% of smartphone users age 18-24 use Snapchat.

“Snapchat’s growth has likely been fueled by the introduction of several popular product features over the past few years, which amplified its already powerful network effects,” the author of the comScore post explains. “Most notable among those new product features was the launch of “Stories”, which allows a user’s “snaps” (i.e. photos or videos) to be viewed in a chronological order by their friends an unlimited number of times in a 24-hour period. The Stories feed also includes coverage of various live events or places, in which some of the best snaps from users engaging with that showcased event are curated into one story available to all users. And more recently, Snapchat began regularly adding innovative ways to express oneself, such as “Lenses,” the camera’s creative filter options which make simple photos and videos more fun and entertaining.”

Knowing this, many marketers have started looking for ways to leverage the new Snapchat features to reach all of the customers and potential customers who use the app.

For businesses that are thinking about using Snapchat, here are a few things to consider.

Snapchat Lenses and Geofilters

As Adam Lella pointed out in the comScore post, the fact that Snapchat gives users the option to make their content more fun by providing lenses and geofilters has helped fuel the growth of the app.

While similar, there is a slight difference between a Snapchat lens and a geofilter.

Lenses give users the ability to add real-time special effects and sounds to the user’s Snaps.

By now, you have probably seen the rainbows coming out of a person’s mouth or a person’s face morphed into a zombie. (President Obama used the zombie Snapchat lens in his 2016 White House correspondent’s dinner video.)

Several large brands have also used sponsored lenses to increase awareness of their products or services.

In fact, earlier this year, Taco Bell launched a sponsored lens to celebrate Cinco de Mayo that resulted in 224 million views in one day. According to Adweek, this “shattered a Snapchat record.”

According to the New York Times, a Snapchat lens like this could cost between $450,000 to $750,000. This puts sponsoring a lens out of reach for many businesses.

However, that doesn’t mean that smaller brands can’t get in on the fun.

Snapchat also has geofilters that businesses can purchase for considerably less.

Geofilters are basically digital graphics that can be put over the user’s Snaps to make the current photos or videos more interesting.

In addition to the free community geofilters and the filters that can add various stats like time, temperature, or the speed that a person is going, Snapchat also offers on-demand geofilters that can be purchased by businesses or even users themselves.

The Personal Geofilter can be used to promote weddings, parties, birthdays, graduations, or just about any other event that is tied to a physical location.

A Business Geofilter can be used to help promote sales or any other event that is taking place at the business.

According to a LA Times article, these geofilters can be purchased for as little as $5 depending on when and how large of an area you want to include.

This inexpensive price makes it possible for local bars and restaurants to experiment a little.

Snapchat Stories

As mentioned in the comScore article, the other feature that has helped fuel Snapchat’s growth is the introduction of Snapchat Stories.

Again, the Snapchat Stories feature lets friends view a user’s Snaps an unlimited number of times within a 24-hour period.

A lot of brands are using Snapchat Stories to give users a behind the scenes look at the business, offer an all-access view of an event, offer surprise coupons and discounts, or create an interesting story that connects with customers.

For example, Red Bull often lets influencers take over their account in order to let users see what it is like to live and compete in some of the extreme sports that fit the brand’s image.

Other brands like Express are using Snapchat to highlight some of the items that they have for sale and then ask for engagement with the brand. They then acknowledging those who do respond, which is a great way to make customers feel valued.

These are just a few suggestions. There are many different case studies to be found on the Internet.

Also, you need to understand that any brand can create Snapchat Stories, and these shouldn’t be confused with the content provided on Snapchat Discover.

Not Everyone Is a Fan of Snapchat

I started this post off by mentioning that there has been a debate going on about whether or not brands should invest in Snapchat.

And, while a lot of brands have started to at least experiment with Snapchat, others think that it is a waste of time. These people often list measurement issues among their largest concerns.

In a Forbes article, Mark Fidelman explains the concerns that he has with Snapchat.

Many of his complaints are similar to others I’ve heard before.

However, the one point that he makes that really hits home with me is the fact that when a person sees your content on Snapchat, there is no way to send them to your website or blog using a clickable link. This not only makes it difficult to drive sales, it also makes it difficult to attribute a conversion to Snapchat. And, the fact that there aren’t any links from the app means that your efforts won’t help with SEO at all.

Final Thoughts

There are definitely issues that make it difficult for some businesses to justify investing in Snapchat to market their products or services.

However, given the fact that a lot of people have started using the app, it might make sense to invest at least a part of your marketing spend on the app.

If done right, using Snapchat can be a fun way to connect with your current and potential customers.

In my opinion, this is an app that I would keep an eye on and try a few things, but it is not a place that I would invest a lot of time in. At least not now.

That said, I also don’t think that Snapchat is going disappear anytime soon.

It is just somewhat difficult for businesses to use Snapchat to market their products and services. And, it’s even more difficult to measure the results of these efforts.

This, however, might be part of the reason why so many people have started using Snapchat.

Photo credit: Marco Verch on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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A Few Ways to Use Pokémon Go, Ingress, and Other AR Games to Promote Your Business

Photo credit: Eduardo Woo on Flickr.By now, you have probably heard about the new location-based augmented reality (AR) game from Niantic.

According to USA Today, “The mobile game Pokémon Go topped 15 million downloads on Apple’s App Store and Google Play, according to estimates from research firm SensorTower.”

“Pokémon Go is also among the most heavily used apps on a daily basis since its launch,” the article continues. “According to iOS usage data from Monday, users spent an average of 33 minutes a day playing the game. By comparison, the average iOS user spent 22 minutes on Facebook and 18 minutes on Snapchat.”

The article also points out that according to data from SurveyMonkey, as of July 11, Pokémon Go has 21 million daily active users in the United States alone.

As the game expands to other countries, the numbers of Pokémon Go players should continue to skyrocket.

With this in mind, businesses might be looking for ways to cash-in on the Pokémon Go craze.

For those businesses, here are a few suggestions.

Take Advantage of the Increased Foot Traffic

As several business news sites have pointed out, Pokémon Go is a location-based game that will drive potential customers to local businesses.

As a Forbes article suggests, business owners should check out the game to see if their business doubles as a Pokémon gym or Pokéstop.

If so, it could create a Pokémon-inspired drink or dish or offer discounts to customers who are playing Pokémon Go.

Knowing this, some businesses might be wondering how they can be included in the game.

At this time, it appears that a business can’t request to become a Pokéstop or Pokémon gym.

This is because they are currently being created based on data collected from Niantic’s other popular augmented reality game, Ingress. (Note: A Wall Street Journal article mentioned that the idea of a business paying to become a Pokéstop or Pokémon gym to increase foot traffic will be an option in the future.)

Those of you who are familiar with Ingress know that many of the portals used to in the game are actually places submitted by users and approved by Niantic. In order to be approved, the places needed to fit a specific set of criteria. In particular, Niantic was looking for locations with a cool story, places with a historical significance or educational value, cool pieces of art or architecture, hidden gems or hyper-local spots of interest to the community, public libraries, and public places of worship.

As Derek Walter points out in a post on Greenbot.com, you can use the Ingress Intel Map to help locate Ingress portals, Pokéstops, and Pokémon gyms.

If your business is lucky enough to have a Pokéstop nearby, you can help get increased foot traffic by purchasing an in-game item call a “Lure Module”. This will help attract Pokémon to the Pokéstop. And, where there are Pokémon, the Pokémon Trainers (i.e., potential customers) will inevitably go.

A recent Bloomberg article pointed out that L’inizio’s Pizza Bar in Queens was one of the first businesses to give it a try.

“Food and drink sales spiked by about 30 percent compared with a typical weekend, according to pizzeria manager Sean Benedetti,” the article reports. “It was part luck—the game chooses which public locations to imbue with special significance in its virtual world—but there was also savvy strategy. Benedetti, 29, spent about $10 on “Lure Modules,” an in-game purchase that attracts Pokémon to a specified location. Players soon picked up on the fact that L’inizio’s was well worth visiting. “People are coming out of the woodwork because of this game,” he said.”

The Bloomberg article also points out that while the quest to find Pokémon might increase foot traffic, it doesn’t always translate into increased sales.

However, I would guess that the locations that haven’t seen an increase in sales might benefit by offering a special or discount to entice people to become paying customers.

Take Part in Game-Related Events

Ingress currently has a series of free events that allow players to gather and compete with other local and visiting players.

While I am not sure if it is possible to become an official sponsor of these events, if your business is located near one, it would be a smart idea to offer discounts to players who would need to refuel along the way.

There hasn’t been any mention of similar Pokémon Go events. However, given the immediate popularity of the game I would be willing to bet that there will be some in the near future.

Become Part of the Game

Actually becoming part of the game is a possibility.

Anyone who has played Ingress is familiar with the sponsored items that enhance in-game play.

These include the AXA Shield (sponsored by AXA—the French multinational insurance firm,) the SoftBank Ultra Link (sponsored by SoftBank Group Corp.,) the MUFG Capsule (sponsored by Mitsubishi UFJ Financial Group,) and the Lawson Power Cube (sponsored by Lawson, Inc.)

While experts are already warning that adding too much advertising could ruin the in-game experience in Pokémon Go, sponsorships and other in-game advertising are a possibility. However, sponsorships are probably going to cost more than many businesses have in their budget, particularly if Pokémon Go continues to grow in popularity.

Either way, businesses should probably keep an eye open for sponsorships and other in-game advertising opportunities.

Final Thoughts

I definitely see the possibilities that are created by Pokémon Go, particularly because of its appeal to a wide range of people.

The suggestions that I included in this post are just some of the things that businesses can do to leverage the interest that people have shown in Pokémon Go.

If the game has staying power, it will not only be good news for Niantic and The Pokémon Company, but it will also be good news for companies that plan to release other AR games in the future.

Furthermore, it will also be another way for business owners to use mobile phones to get new and existing customers to visit their businesses.

That’s a win-win-win.

Now, I need to go find me some Pokémon.

Photo credit: Eduardo Woo on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Product Packaging—Valuable Real Estate in a Mobile World

The package that a product is sold in is valuable.

In fact, sometimes it can actually be the reason why a customer chooses one product over another.

Malcolm Gladwell highlighted this in his book, “Blink: The Power of Thinking Without Thinking.”

In the book, Gladwell talked about Louis Cheskin’s work with package design, which on more than one occasion led to dramatic increases in sales.

Paco Underhill also addressed package design in his book, “Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping–Updated and Revised for the Internet, the Global Consumer, and Beyond.”

And, if you look, a quick search on Google could uncover a lot of advice from designers that you might find useful.

But, what I find interesting are some of the things that brands are currently trying that not only can influence sales, but can also provide value to customers, encourage sharing on social media, and can be an additional source of revenue.

Here is a list of a few examples that I have found recently, each of which encourage customers to use their smartphones in one way or another and ultimately help get customers talking about the brand online.

While the examples listed do not include packaging found on a shelf in a brick-and-mortar retail store, the lessons learned could easily be applied there as well.

 

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Amazon Minions Boxes

When a customer purchases an item from Amazon.com, everyone who sees the product get delivered knows where they bought it. With its arrow that looks like a smile, the Amazon.com logo is easily recognized.

However, when Amazon.com sold the space on their boxes to advertise Minions, it created a lot of positive buzz for the brand and the movie.

Aside from the novelty factor (this was the first time that non-Amazon ads appeared on the boxes,) they also encouraged customers to take a photo of themselves holding the box and post it on social media sites using the hashtag #MinionsBoxes for a chance to win a $1,000 Amazon gift card.

Therefore, they not only generated some extra revenue by selling the space on their boxes, they shared in the spotlight when customers posted their photos on social media.

And, a lot of people posted these photos.

You can still search the hashtag on Twitter and Instagram for examples.

Zappos #ImNotaBox Campaign

As an article on Adweek.com points out, “Zappos wants you to think outside the box. Beginning with the box itself.”

“On June 1, the online retailer will begin shipping some shoes in a very cool new box (designed in-house) that features a collection of template designs printed on the inside—encouraging the recipients to fold, cut and otherwise reuse the box into item [sic] like a smartphone holder, a children’s shoe sizer, a geometric planter and a 3-D llama,” the article continues.

Similar to the Amazon.com box, Zappos is encouraging customers to share the creative things that they do with the box on social media.

The boxes haven’t started shipping yet, but there is little doubt that they will get some people talking about the brand online.

For additional information, go to www.imnotabox.com.

McDonald’s Turned a Happy Meal Into a VR Headset

In March, McDonald’s Sweden launched a promotion that they dubbed “Happy Goggles.”

According to Adweek, McDonald’s Sweden created 3,500 Happy Meal boxes that could be turned into virtual-reality viewers. These special Happy Meal boxes were available in 14 restaurants over the weekends of March 5 and March 12.

“The push is tied to the Swedish “Sportlov” recreational holiday, during which many families go skiing,” states the Adweek article. “With this in mind, McD’s created a ski-themed VR game, “Slope Stars,” for use with the oggles [sic] (though they work just as well with any mobile VR experience). The game can also be played in a less immersive fashion without them.”

As the Adweek article also points out, it is similar to Google Cardboard.

This is just one mobile marketing campaign that McDonald’s has recently tested.

They also recently tested a placemat made from a special paper that works with a smartphone and an app that allows customers to create music while dining at McDonald’s restaurants.

They called this special placemat the “McTrax.”

Alas, this campaign was only available in the Netherlands. Last month.

It appears that McDonald’s lets its European customers try all the cool things first.

Final Thoughts

As a result of Louis Cheskin’s work, we know that package design can have a huge impact on sales.

We also know that smartphones are a huge part of your customers’ lives.

Therefore, it makes sense that brands encourage customers to engage with the brand in various creative ways using the packaging that their products are sold and shipped in.

As with everything that we do in the marketing world, it is important to test and monitor the effects that these creative package designs have on sales. Because, as pointed out, the packaging can influence sales in both positive and negative ways.

That said, if you don’t try new things, you might be missing out on a huge opportunity to create buzz around the brand that can impact your bottom line in immeasurable ways.

Photo credit: @chadjthiele on Instagram.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Added to the Watch List: Dynamic Pricing in Brick-and-Mortar Stores

Photo credit: Thomas Altfather Good on Flickr.Price, along with product, promotion, and place is one of the parts of marketing that E. Jerome McCarthy included on the list of four P’s that he used when he expanded on what Neil Borden coined as the “Marketing Mix.”

While it is a very important part of marketing, price is something that I just haven’t focused on.

However, a recent article written by Bryan Eisenberg has me extremely intrigued.

In the post, Eisenberg recommends that brick-and-mortar retailers find ways to innovate or be left behind.

But, it was one paragraph, in particular, that really got me thinking.

“Omni-channel retail needs new leaders with an entrepreneur’s vision to thrive amongst the chaos and jump ahead of the curve,” writes Eisenberg. “We need bold experimentation in the brick & mortar channel. It’s not enough to give your associates mobile devices to enable checkout from anywhere in the store. Apple has been doing that for years. Take a look at what jewelry retailer Blue Nile has done at first with their test kiosks and now with their first successful brick-and-mortar “web room.”  Have you seen Amazon’s first store? There are no prices on the shelves. They’ll leverage people’s own devices to offer dynamic pricing. Will you?”

It was the last part that jumped out at me.

While it might not seem like much to some people, if other stores follow Amazon’s lead, I think that we can look forward to some huge changes in how retailers price their products and services in order to compete with the stores around the corner and the ones customers have access to via their computers and mobile devices.

It’s Nothing New Online—But Could Be a Huge Deal in a Brick-and-Mortar Retail Store

According to Wikipedia, “Dynamic pricing, also referred to as surge pricing or demand pricing, is a pricing strategy in which businesses set flexible prices for products or services based on current market demands. Business are able to change prices based on algorithms that take into account competitor pricing, supply and demand, and other external factors in the market.”

“The concept of dynamic pricing has been around for many years, particularly in the airline and hotel industries, but retail is one of the newer industries to adopt this pricing strategy, and it’s growing rapidly,” the Wikipedia page points out. “Many believe dynamic pricing will become more relevant in the future of ecommerce.”

A 2012 Wall Street Journal article also points out some of the factors that online retailers use when setting prices online.

“It is difficult for online shoppers to know why, or even if, they are being offered different deals from other people,” the authors of the Wall Street Journal article write. “Many sites switch prices at lightning speed in response to competitors’ offerings and other factors, a practice known as “dynamic pricing.” Other sites test different prices but do so without regard to the buyer’s characteristics.”

In the example listed in the article, Staples.com used the distance that a person was located from a competitor’s brick-and-mortar store as one of the factors it used to adjust the prices for the items it sold online.

However, this is the online store where prices can be changed with only a few clicks.

Before smartphones, this type of change would have been extremely difficult in brick-and-mortar stores.

Sure, most retail stores have sales that change the prices of the items that they sell, maybe even daily.

And, they could offer coupons via the paper or even email to certain customers. So they do have the ability to target certain customers to entice them to buy by offering discounted prices.

But, the smartphone and the data that retailers now have can give them the ability to target customers and change prices with a much faster turnaround time, possibly even in real time.

This could be a game changer.

Final Thoughts

As I mentioned earlier, pricing strategy is not my area of expertise.

So, there isn’t much more that I can add to the discussion.

That said, it is easy to recognize that having the ability to determine if price will have an effect on a sale and make a price adjustment when a customer is most likely to buy from the store (i.e., when they are actually in the brick-and-mortar store) can and will have a huge impact on sales.

That’s why I plan to watch what retailers do and monitor advancements in the technologies that they use to adjust prices that they offer to customers online and in brick-and-mortar stores using the data collected from customers’ smartphones.

And, it is probably a good idea if retailers do the same.

Photo credit: Thomas Altfather Good on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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Showrooming, Webrooming, and the New Reality of Omni-Channel Retail

Photo credit: Jason Howie on Flickr.A few years ago, some retail experts speculated that mobile phones and online retailers would put many brick-and-mortar stores out of business.

They thought that these brick-and-mortar stores would become nothing more than showrooms where customers would go to check out and try on merchandise, only to purchase the items online at a better price. Thus, brick-and-mortar stores would become less profitable, forcing some to shutter their doors.

Fast forward a few years and we now know that brick-and-mortar stores are not going anywhere anytime soon. In fact, it is estimated that over 90% of current retail sales still take place in a brick-and-mortar store.

As I have pointed out in the past, Forrester Research predicts that online sales will rise in the next 10 to 15 years to as much as 25 percent of total sales. However, that means 75% of retail sales will still take place in a brick-and-mortar store.

While the prediction of the demise of the brick-and-mortar store was premature, changes in the way that many customers shop often resembles the definition of showrooming, or at least a slight variation of it.

Therefore, even though many sales still take place in a brick-and-mortar store, retailers can’t rest on their laurels.

What Is Showrooming and Webrooming?

According to Wikipedia, “Showrooming is the practice of examining merchandise in a traditional brick-and-mortar retail store or other offline setting, and then buying it online, sometimes at a lower price. Online stores often offer lower prices than their brick-and-mortar counterparts because they do not have the same overhead cost.”

“The reverse phenomenon is webrooming,” says Wikipedia. “In webrooming customers research a product online and buy in a store.”

A Broader Definition of Showrooming

In his book, “Mobile Infuence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin, author and CEO of the Mobile Future Institute, examines showrooming and its effect on retail.

In the book, Martin highlights the results of a 2012 study conducted by ForeSee.

This study provided insights that slightly change the way that we look at showrooming.

“Many retailers that focus on dealing with showrooming, discussed in an earlier chapter, tend to view it as an in-store-only phenomenon,” writes Martin in his book. “A key finding in the ForeSee study is that a large percentage of the mobile usage related to retail is being done at home while preparing to visit a store. This is precisely the pre-buy phase of mobile influence. This means that the actual showrooming may not be as significant in scope at the physical store, since the activity of shopping via mobile is not location-dependent. It can be done anywhere.”

Larry Freed, president and CEO of ForeSee is quoted as saying, “Showrooming is happening, but it’s not happening at breakneck speed. Retailers need to be aware of it but realize it’s just another method of competitiveness.”

In a post on the K3 Retail blog, Chris Donnelly, head of global retail practice at Accenture, is quoted as saying, “The first thing I’d note is that retailers have been showrooms for centuries… If you can’t close the deal when someone is in your store looking to buy, then shame on you. But that aside, what we’re actually finding is that the trend is increasingly the inverse. We call this ‘webrooming’, where a product is researched at home, then consumers go into the store to buy… Yes, online is the side of retail growing the most in the next five years, and we expect 10 to 20 per cent of sales to be online. But that means 80 to 90 per cent are still occurring in-store.”

According to the K3 Retail post, “Research by Accenture found that 73% of shoppers engaged in “showrooming”, while 88% of consumers used “webrooming” as a shopping strategy.”

The New Reality of Omni-Channel Retail

Study after study is proving that customers are researching the products and services that they intend to buy through multiple channels. This includes at a brick-and-mortar store, on a desktop computer, on a smartphone or tablet, via the telephone, in mobile apps, and in any other way imaginable.

And, while most sales are taking place in brick-and-mortar stores, customers do buy products via other shopping channels.

Therefore, because customers can now research products at any time that is convenient to them and are using multiple channels to do it, every transaction that includes an interaction with the customer in a brick-and-mortar store and an online or mobile store has the potential to be classified as an instance of showrooming or webrooming. The only difference is when and if the retailer closes the sale.

To complicate this further, a customer in a brick-and-mortar store could check out merchandise at one brick-and-mortar store, research prices online, and then go to another brick-and-mortar store to buy the item because the other store is selling the product for less.

Is this showrooming? It could be classified that way.

However, who really cares about how we label it?

The reality is that retailers shouldn’t care if their customers buy from them in a brick-and-mortar store or if they buy from them online. What they need to worry about is whether or not customers are buying from them or if they are buying from the competition.

Therefore, they should be making sure that they are offering the best possible shopping experience to their customers at every touch point and giving them the ability to purchase the product quickly and conveniently from wherever and whenever the customer wants to.

Final Thoughts

Retailers should be worried about showrooming and webrooming.

But, not because they care about how the customer is buying from them.

It shouldn’t be a battle between brick-and-mortar stores and online retailers. The real competition is the other retailer, not the medium or channel that customers are using to interact with the store.

As Brian Eisenberg, chief marketing officer at IdealSpot, is quoted as saying in an Click Z article, “Retail doesn’t exist without an online component and online retail isn’t as cost-effective if you don’t have a brick-and-mortar component. We’re connected all the time through the phones in our pockets, but we live in a physical world.”

Therefore, retailers should offer customers a consistent and seamless shopping experience across all shopping channels, from the brick-and-mortar store to the online and mobile store and everything in-between.

They need to optimize for conversion and customer experience in every channel so that the store is the best place to shop no matter how or when the customer wants to.

By focusing on what customers need and creating a better shopping experience than the competition everywhere customers shop will eliminate the need to worry about showrooming, webrooming, or whatever you want to call it.

Photo credit: Jason Howie on Flickr.

Chad Thiele

Marketing analyst and strategist, content curator, applied sociologist, proud UW-Madison alumnus, and an Auburn-trained mobile marketer. My goal is to help businesses identify trends that will help them achieve their marketing objectives and business goals. I'm currently looking for my next career challenge. Please feel free to contact me anytime at: chadjthiele@gmail.com.

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