What Makes a ‘Genius’ in Digital Customer Engagement?

Digital is moving so fast these days, especially as mobile seems to gain more momentum with each passing hour. Digital customer engagement today seems an imperative for brands seeking to stay at the head of the customer loyalty pack.

L2 released a variety of reports in recent months, ranking brand aptitude when it comes to digital prowess. It ranks retailers’ overall digital IQ from four areas: Site and ecommerce skills, digital marketing, social media, and mobile strategies. In the retail category, four brands attained L2’s Genius status: Nordstrom, Kohl’s, J.C. Penney, and Macy’s.

“Department stores face business threats on multiple fronts,” the report says. “Amazon’s growth in apparel sales remains unchallenged, while key brand partners have announced reduced product distribution through wholesale channels. In response, department stores must invest in ways that offset the hidden costs of establishing fully-realized omnichannel retail enterprises. While the reduction of underperforming stores is a necessary first step, simultaneous reinvestment in backend system, staff training, and expedited fulfillment remains essential for department stores seeking to survive the next paradigm shift.”

Some other notable digital ‘geniuses’, as ranked by L2, include: Nissan, Dodge, Marriott, Bud Light, Budweiser, Sam Adams, Stella Artois, New Belgium, Sephora, and Victoria’s Secret.

What do these brands have in common to be deemed “digital geniuses”?

“The beauty of retail is velocity and face time with the customer,” Patrick Reynolds, VP of Marketing at SessionM, told Loyalty360. “It’s not just what they leave the store with. It’s what they come in with. How it changes sharply or over time. Every great merchant is a keen observer of people in life. Customers inform retailers on fashion and trends as much as the opposite. Through their service, generous policies, and real value proposition, each delivers on customer needs brilliantly. Loyalty from a legion of evangelists is their common calling card.”

Gerry Gilbert, Vice President, Product, CashStar, told Loyalty360 that the common thread among the top performers in the L2 report is that these retailers “put their customers’ wants and needs at the center of their digital efforts. One area where CashStar is seeing a large customer-centric focus is digital gift cards. In 2015 alone, gift card sales reached nearly $130 billion, with digital gift cards showing the greatest growth of any segment, up 26% over the previous year to more than $7 billion. High performers like those ranked in the report are taking notice of the many ways in which a digital gift card program can be leveraged to drive sales, engagement, and loyalty. These brands are providing key features consumers demand – like personalized messages and design options. In addition, they are integrating gift cards into their promotional strategies during critical sales periods, like the Q4 holiday season, to drive engagement and loyalty as well as future sales. As consumers become more digitally savvy, retailers should take note of how these top performers are positioning gift cards as a key element of their digital strategies.”

Meanwhile, user-generated content (UGC) has disrupted the travel industry by influencing booking decisions and driving higher engagement.

“As a result, Luxury Hotels are increasing investments in UGC, but still more than half of the Index brands fail to incorporate it anywhere on their sites,” the report says. “By leveraging UGC, Luxury Hotel brands can cost effectively fuel their content engines with guest-generated imagery that is both on brand and authentic, resonating strongly with prospective guests.”

Most firms saw mobile coming, but failed to see the velocity, the L2 report notes.

“Time spent on smartphones now exceeds desktop and accounts for more than half of time spent with all digital media,” the report says. “Site traffic, search volume, click-through rates, email opens and, notably, ad expenditures, all confirm that this year is (again) the year of mobile. As the shift to a ‘mobile first’ world takes hold, parallel re-alignments across digital programming from SEO and SMO to content design and advertising are unfolding. Winners are taking innovative approaches, but many brands are getting caught behind the curve, deploying desktop practices that no longer work.”

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