Tag technology

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 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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User-Generated Content Is Fuel for Recommendation Engines

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr.By now, most business leaders have heard that word-of-mouth recommendations from friends and family play a large role in the decision making process for many consumers.

With this in mind, many of these same business leaders have also accepted that social media should be leveraged, and have thus established a presence on the most-used social networking sites. Many have even gone the extra mile and actually engage with their customers on these sites.

But, what is often most important is what customers do and say online.

The beautiful product photos, positive reviews, and check-ins that customers post spread awareness about the businesses, products, and services that they use and hopefully like.

What they also do is leave a permanent record of a positive (or negative) interaction that a customer had with a brand.

As you know, if it is posted on the Internet, it can possibly live on forever.

What we don’t often think about is that these posts can lead to future sales by helping recommendations engines provide more targeted and accurate suggestions to future customers.

What is a recommendation engine?

In the context of what I am referring to, it is an information filtering system that helps a business recommend items to customers that they might be interested in. For additional information, Wikipedia has a good explanation.

If you want to see an example of a business effectively using a recommendation engine to help its customers find products, visit Amazon.com. The Amazon.com recommendation engine uses a combination of several input data, including past purchases, product ratings, and social media data.

Social Networking Sites Offer Suggestions

Several social networking sites understand that the data that they collect can be very useful and have harnessed it to offer recommendations to users directly within the site.

Foursquare is a great example.

In his book, “Mobile Influence: The New Power of the Consumer,” Chuck Martin describes how Foursquare is using its data to offer better suggestions to its users.

In the book, Eric Friedman, director of sales and revenue operations at Foursquare, states, “From the very first check-in, we get smarter at what we recommend. If you check in to a series of places, we will make a better guess at what you are looking for. If you love small coffee shops and you go to a city and type in ‘coffee shop,’ guess what we are going to recommend? A small, independent coffee shop. If you are a guy that loves a big coffee house and you go to a different city or country and type in ‘coffee,’ we are going to give you recommendations based on your history. If we were friends on Foursquare and I was in downtown Boston and I saw Chuck had been to a cheeseburger place five times, that is a great signal for me to go to the same place for lunch because I know Chuck and he knows good cheeseburger places and I like Chuck.”

The book goes on to explain other ways that Foursquare is using its app and the data it collects to give its users targeted and relevant suggestions based on their location, past check in history, and the check in history of the people who they are connected to.

If you want another example, check out Yelp.

As you are probably aware, Yelp is an online review site that allows users to review businesses that have a brick-and-mortar location. This data can be used directly within the site to find a specific type of business based on its location and the reviews that it gets from Yelp’s users.

Yelp has an algorithm that that helps surface the most trusted reviews from the most reliable sources.

It is also noteworthy that Yelp reviews often show up in the results that users get when they search for information on Google.

Every Post on a Social Networking Site Could Potentially Be a Source of Data

The examples that I gave demonstrated how social media can be used to help users find businesses based on data collected within the social networking site itself.

However, everything that users post on social networking sites can be used by a third party to help consumers make purchase decisions. (As mentioned, Yelp reviews show up in Google SERPs.)

To illustrate this further, think about all the photos of the delicious meals that users post on Instagram.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Knowing that people often post photos of their food, the app MyFab5 encourages users to use these Instagram photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.

The concept is rather simple (i.e., use food photos to rank the five best places for a specific type of food in a specific city.) The app then uses an algorithm to surface the best places to get a specific type of food based on users rankings. For example, according to MyFab5, here is a list of the best places for burgers in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

While this data again leads back to a brick-and-mortar location, it shows that anything that users post is fair game.

Given the vast amount of data out there, there will be other businesses that will harness other types of user-generated content to help make recommendations to other consumers based on hashtags, keywords, geotags, or other data that are included in posts on social networking sites.

Therefore, it is important that businesses find ways to ensure that these recommendation engines find more positive posts than negative ones.

Final Thoughts

As I have pointed out, the product photos, reviews, check-ins, and other posts on social networking sites not only work to influence the people who are connected to the users who create the content, but they also can have a larger impact on future sales when they are used to fuel recommendation engines.

So what can businesses do to help encourage customers to create user-generated content that displays the brand in a positive light?

The answer to that question depends on the situation.

However, the most important thing is to provide great products and services to customers.

Providing excellent customer service is also key.

In the end, businesses not only want customers to use their products and services, but they want the experience that they have with the brand to be positive. So positive that customers can’t help but share the love of the brand online.

Because what is posted online can live on forever and we can’t predict how other businesses will use that data in the future.

Photo credit: Andri Koolme on Flickr and 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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Local Inventory Ads: A Key Ingredient for Mobile Marketing Success (Case Study)

Photo credit: RubyGoes on Flickr.In the short term, having the ability to confidently tell a customer that you have the exact product in stock at a nearby brick-and-mortar store directly within a mobile ad or even on your website is going to give retailers a huge competitive advantage. However, before you know it, this level of information is going to become table stakes.

While there are a lot of obstacles that retailers need to overcome to provide accurate inventory data for their brick-and-mortar stores, it is important that they start to work through this problem.

As a case study mentioned in an article on the think with Google blog proves, this type of information will help drive traffic into stores.

And, I believe there will be many more case studies like this in the not so distant future.

Local Inventory Ads Drive Shoppers into Stores

The case study mentioned earlier shows that local inventory ads can be very effective.

As the original article on the think with Google blog states, “With over 1,200 physical stores across the country, Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores has embraced Google local inventory ads (LIAs) to bring nearby customers on mobile devices into stores. The results: a 16% higher click-through rate and a 122% higher store visit rate compared with online PLAs.”

The article also points out that Sears Hometown and Outlet Stores local inventory ads yielded return on ad spend (ROAS) higher than other offline marketing.

In fact, in the article David Buckley, CMO of Sears Hometown and Outlets stores, states, “When we compared our most recent performance of local inventory ads with offline media typically used to drive store sales, such as a recent broadcast television campaign, local inventory ads returned in-store sales at more than 5X the rate of TV advertising for each dollar spent.”

Buckley is also quoted as saying, “We’ve been closely monitoring the performance of local inventory ads and our most recent analysis points to more than $8 of in-store sales for each dollar invested.”

Not bad.

Giving Customers the Information They Need

“If people are searching for a product on their phones, there is nothing more targeted than serving that item with a picture, description, and price while letting the customers know exactly how far they are located from the product,” Buckley adds.

In my opinion, I think that he is understating the significance of being able to give customers the knowledge that the product that they are looking for will be found at a specific brick-and-mortar store.

In fact, I think that the knowledge that the item will be in stock could be more important than price in some cases. As the adage goes, “time is money.”

The importance of letting customers know that an item is available at a nearby store is confirmed by a finding in a report, titled “Digital Impact on In-Store Shopping: Research Debunks Common Myths October 2014.”

According to the report, “Search results are a powerful way to drive consumers to stores. Providing local information, such as item availability at a nearby store or local store hours, fills in information gaps that are keeping consumers away from stores.”

In fact, the report goes on to point out that, “1 in 4 consumers who avoid stores do so because of limited awareness of nearby stores or the risk of items not being available.”

While the report is now over a year old, it has a lot of insights that retailers could find useful.

Final Thoughts

The more information that a retailer can give customers before they make the trip to the brick-and-mortar store, the better.

As the case study on the think with Google blog points out, providing item availability information to customers who are near a particular brick-and-mortar store helps increase the effectiveness of a mobile ad.

Keep in mind that it is important to make sure that the information that retailers provide to customers is accurate, because if a customer is told that the item will be available only to find out that it is sold out when they get to the store could potentially damage the credibility and trust that the customer has in the store.

While there are obstacles that retailers need to overcome to be able to provide accurate inventory data to customers online, it is something that they should be working on.

I think that being able to provide this type of information to customers could be more important than even the think with Google article leads the reader to be believe.

And, it is only going to be more important as time goes on.

Photo credit: RubyGoes 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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Sometimes It’s What a Brand Doesn’t Do That Loses the Sale

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts on Flickr.In almost every instance where a business is trying to sell a product or service, it takes multiple positive interactions before a prospect becomes a paying customer.

The average number of positive interactions, or touches at various touchpoints, required typically varies by the type of product or service being sold.

Furthermore, while multiple positive interactions with a brand can lead to a sale, the reality is that negative interactions can also prevent a sale from taking place.

Sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that causes a prospect to choose the competitor’s product or service.

There are some things that can be done to combat this problem. However, it does require some effort.

To illustrate this point, I am once again going to use my recent smartphone purchase as an example.

The Incumbents: Motorola and Verizon Wireless

I have been a loyal Verizon Wireless customer since I moved to Louisiana back in 2006.

When I moved there, I asked some of the local residents what provider they recommended since U.S. Cellular wasn’t an option in the area, at least at that time.

Nearly everyone who I talked to suggested Verizon Wireless, because they felt that Verizon Wireless had done the best job getting service restored after hurricane’s Katrina and Rita.

I took the advice of the residents of Louisiana and 10 years and two states later, I am still a customer.

As for the device, I think that all the cellular phones that I have owned up until this year were Motorola phones. (Some of my earliest cellular phones might have been made by Nokia, but I am not sure.)

Something that I am absolutely sure of is that the phone that I purchased when I move to Louisiana was a Motorola, as were my first two smartphones. And, my satisfaction with the brand was extremely high.

That was, until Motorola and its parent company, Lenovo, announced that they plan to phase out Motorola and only offer the Moto phones.

The Choice: Motorola Droid Turbo 2 or Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge

I was now faced with the option of getting one last Motorola phone or make the inevitable switch to Samsung.

During my initial visit to the Verizon Wireless store, the salespeople who I talked to spoke highly of both phones, but seemed to slightly favor the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

Needless to say, I left the store that day still undecided.

So, I did what many people do and asked for advice on Twitter.

As you can see, the only response that I received was from the Sprint Forward Twitter account.

They recommended the Samsung Galaxy S7.

I then got a promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless offering a free Samsung Gear VR headset with a purchase of a Samsung Galaxy S7 or S7 Edge. (At the time, Best Buy was offering a similar promotion.) (Note: I think that this was the promoted tweet from Verizon Wireless. If it wasn’t, it was very similar.)

That was it, I was almost certain that I would make the switch to Samsung.

I only needed to check out some product reviews from CNET and a few other sources. All of which confirmed that Samsung was the best option available at the time.

The Choice: Sprint or Verizon Wireless

Given my past experience with Verizon Wireless, it was going to take more than a contact on Twitter to get me to switch to Sprint.

That said, if my past experiences with Verizon Wireless hadn’t been so positive, I might have switched to Sprint or even went to Best Buy to purchase the smartphone.

And, Sprint definitely has my attention if for some reason I need to change wireless carriers in the future.

But, Verizon Wireless did offer a good data plan, had a great offer, and has provided excellent customer service—so I remained a customer.

Final Thoughts

Had Motorola reached out on Twitter or if someone would have recommended it, I might have purchased the Motorola Droid Turbo 2, if for no other reason than to get one last Motorola phone. But, nobody did.

And, Motorola already made the decision to phase out the brand that I was loyal to, so it made my decision to switch that much easier.

In this case, the brand lost a loyal customer because of what they did (plan to phase out Motorola phones), what they didn’t do (reach out on social media or anywhere else at right time), and what other people did (recommend the competition.)

In contrast, while Verizon Wireless didn’t reach out this time, they at least did use a promoted tweet to get my attention on Twitter and create awareness of a great offer. And, to their credit, they did reach out to me a few years ago when I wrote a post about how access to high speed wireless data can have an effect on a brand’s mobile marketing campaigns.

But, in reality, it was the fact that they have always provided great customer service in the past that kept me a customer. That, and the fact that their data plans are competitive with the other carriers.

What this example shows is that in the same transaction, one brand kept a loyal customer by providing competitive pricing combined with great customer service, while another lost my business because of what they did, what they didn’t do, and what other people did.

As pointed out, sometimes it is something that the brand has no control over that can have a negative effect on a sale.

With a little foresight, there are things that brands can do to combat this problem and bring in new customers and retain existing ones.

However, it does require some effort.

Photo credit: Ron Bennetts 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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Luxury Shopping Bags: Status Symbols and Social Media Props

Photo credit: Sofy Marquez on Flickr.People love to shop and they love to let people know about it.

Therefore, it’s not surprising that for many years luxury retailers have given their customers the ability to let their friends, neighbors, and just about anyone else know that they have just spent some of their hard-earned money by providing trendy shopping bags to carry proudly as they walk through a busy mall or city street.

As Maggie Lange pointed out in a 2013 article on The Cut, “The shopping bag isn’t just utilitarian, it’s symbolic of taste, preferences, and pursuits. In his book Living It Up, author James Twitchell compares people holding shopping bags to “the powder on the heinies of migrating bees as they moved from hive to hive.” It’s a souvenir of where you went and a glossy declaration of conspicuous consumption.”

With the rise of image-driven social networking sites like Instagram and Pinterest, the design of these shopping bags might be more important than ever before.

The Shopping Bag Should Reflect the Brand’s Image

In a 2011 Luxury Daily post, Kayla Hutzler highlights the fact that luxury shopping bags are visible to many consumers and therefore should positively convey the image and feel of the brand.

As Chris Turbyfill, executive vice president of sales and marketing at Design Packaging, is quoted as saying, “That bag reminds consumers of the brand and [therefore] it should look like the store. It is all involved in what we call the customer experience.”

“That bag needs to reflect the imagery and feel of the brand,” says Turbyfill. “And when consumers go home and put the bag on the table, it is a subtle reminder of what happened in the store.”

The post goes on to point out that the shopping bag can be seen by many people as customers walk around in public, particularly in major metropolises.

However, the post doesn’t mention another role that the shopping bag can play.

Use the Shopping Bag to Get Included

As Juliet Carnoy, Marketing Manager at Pixlee, writes in a post on the Pixlee blog, “Customer photos of your products are the purest form of earned media. When a customer posts a post-purchase photo of your product on social media, it’s a 5-star visual review of your brand.

For the brands that make the products, this is great.

However, the retailer that sold the products might get left out if they don’t give the customer some way to visually represent the store in the photo. This is where a visually appealing shopping bag can play the role of photo prop and help get the retailer included in the story.

In some cases, if the shopping bag is really visually appealing or is a part of pop culture, customers will post photos of the shopping bag alone just to commemorate the shopping experience.

When a photo of the shopping bag is posted on social networking sites, it will not only be seen by all the people that that customer passes on the way home from the store, it could potentially be seen by thousands of people online.

A photo posted by Chad Thiele (@chadjthiele) on

Personal Case Study

One of the best ways to explain something is to give an example. And, what a better way than to give an example from my own personal experience.

About two weeks ago, I visited the local Verizon Wireless store with the intent of renewing my contract and purchasing a new smartphone.

The phone that I was looking for was actually sold out at the local store. Instead of waiting for the next shipment, I drove to the nearest store that had one available.

The customer service at both Verizon Wireless stores that I visited was excellent, and I walked out of the second store with a new Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge.

In keeping with the current trend, I prepared to take a photo of my purchase so that I could post it on Instagram.

This could have just been a photo of my new smartphone.

However, Verizon Wireless had just given me this beautiful shopping bag with the purchase that just begged to be included in the photo. So, I did just that.

After posting the photo, the marketer in me realized that by giving me the shopping bag, Verizon Wireless had found a way get included in what would have been user-generated content that advertised Samsung. By adding the shopping bag, it made it a user-generated ad for both Verizon Wireless and Samsung, if not primarily Verizon Wireless.

In my opinion, that was brilliant.

If only they had included a hashtag on the shopping bag, it would have been perfect. This not only would have encouraged customers to take photos of the shopping bag, but it would have also helped customers connect with other customers, brand advocates, and the brand.

Final Thoughts

Sometimes, it is the smallest details that can help get customers to mention and indirectly endorse brands on social networking sites.

And, as study after study has shown, consumers trust recommendations from people they know more than other traditional advertising methods that brands have relied on in the past.

By offering customers trendy shopping bags that properly reflect the brand’s image, retailers can now be included in the post-purchase photos that customers upload to social networking sites after a long day of shopping.

Photo credit: Sofy Marquez on Flickr and @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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