Can Cognitive Computing Leapfrog Omnichannel Marketing Platforms?

Shopping online tends to be pretty different than shopping in-store—even when you’re dealing with the same retailer.

For years, many brick and mortar retailers treated their online stores as an afterthought, seemingly more afraid of cannibalizing in-store sales than an ongoing shift in the way customers shop.

Even those retailers who made online sales a priority, tended to keep them pretty separate from in-store.

But that approach is increasingly being left behind as more and more online retailers move into the physical world and retailers who got their start in bricks and mortar look to stay competitive. They’re taking what’s called an omnichannel approach – reaching customers in-store, online and elsewhere and doing that in completely unified way.

It’s an approach that might see a retailer take a customer’s measurements in-store to make online shopping easier; or an in-store clerk might have access to a customers online purchase history, so they can point the customer to the right size and style the moment they walk in the door.

Among the most notable pioneers of this approach are Canadian startups like Frank & Oak, Indochino and Clearly. But as the trend catches on, bigger players are seeing the opportunity.

Amazon is expanding its offline presence and retail brands known for their bricks and mortar stores are increasingly talking about their omnichannel strategies (even if they haven’t quite been put into practice).

It’s a similar story behind the scenes.

Here too, several Canadian startups have helped pioneer the omnichannel approach – companies like Shopify, which got its start enabling online stores before expanding into physical point-of-sale platforms, and Lightspeed, which started as a digital POS company before adding support for online retail.

Others are creating an ecosystem around those platforms, companies like Thirdshelf, which helps retailers gather data in-store to shape online marketing campaigns.  This behind the scenes space is poised to become more crowded big tech companies, like IBM, look to expand their footprint in omnichannel retail and marketing.

“I think the opportunity we have to start to think about the user experience and how we help clients and their employees go from physical store to digital and make that a seamless experience for their customers is huge,” says Melody Dunn, the chief design officer for IBM Commerce.

She says many retailers that started offline are struggling to adapt and she says it’s not just technology that has to change, retailers will have to change their corporate culture and processes to break down their internal silos.

But technology will also play a big role in the future of omnichannel retail and marketing.

IBM recently announced a new feature for its Marketing Cloud software that will allow for the creation of highly-personalized marketing campaigns.

“It continually learns about a person by looking at their activity and data and then adapting to their interests and it understands how a customers preferences change over time,” says Harriet Green, IBM’s general manger for Watson Internet of Things, Commerce and Education.

She says that means a customer who expresses an interest in taking up cycling on social media could start seeing ads for introductory products and that as the customer becomes a more active cyclist, those ads would change.

And the data shaping that personalized marketing campaign could come from anywhere – from social media, online searchers or purchase made in a physical store.