The Store to Door Theory of Marketing

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I found myself recently opening a package that had been delivered to my front door. Inside the box was a chain. You know, the kind that you use with a padlock to lock a bike or other object, to prevent its theft. That was it, a chain. I had ordered it the day before. As I pulled it out of the box, it occurred to me that this was something that 6 weeks earlier I would have run over to pick up at the hardware store. And I got to thinking, what would I do 6 weeks from now when, if I wanted, I could go to pick up a similar item at the store. And I realized that there was a very big chance that I would not run out to the store to get it. It was too easy to have it brought to me directly.

If I’m not alone in thinking that, we are going to be seeing a seismic shift in how consumers shop even after the lock downs end across the country. Which led me to create my “Store to Door Theory of Marketing.” It goes like this:

“Once consumers have learned how easy it can be to order a much wider variety of goods and services online for delivery to their door, they will be unlikely to go all the way back to shopping at brick & mortar stores absent a compelling reason to do so.”

If my theory is correct, the implications for retail are enormous. Polly Wong of Belardi & Wong reported 86% of her clients (primarily from the high-end DTC sector) reported ecommerce sales above last year, with 74% reporting greater than a 10% increase. 96% reported a notable increase in ecommerce sales the last few weeks of April, ending the month on an even stronger note. Where do you think these sales took place a year ago?

Prior to Covid-19, most consumers had developed a pattern of behavior where certain items were regularly purchased online for delivery, whereas others were purchased in-store and brought home by the consumer himself. That all changed in the blink of an eye. Stores were ordered closed. But people didn’t stop needing things. So any types of goods, everything from coffee filters to shoes to tools from the hardware store, which consumers used to drive to a store to buy were now ordered online and delivered to the front door, or picked up at curbside. In fact, even houses and condos were not immune from this change. I sold a condo before the buyer had even visited in person (not that I delivered it to the front door)!

While implications of this change in buying behavior are huge for retailers and DTC brands, they are also extraordinarily important for email marketing and email marketers. Consumers aren’t going to necessarily go back to the same mix of shopping online and offline depending on the item. Habits have been broken, and new ones established. As the old retail experience of shopping in a store morphs into one that is more of a logistics experience—did you get my order, when will it arrive, is it on the way--the ability to provide timely and ongoing email updates on delivery status will become critical in separating winners and losers. And providing truly relevant “people who bought this also bought this” recommendations in emails might save consumers from the frustration of not having everything he or she needs to use the item originally purchased (simple example being an HDMI cable to connect a new piece of electronics).

Successful email marketing post-lockdown will also be those brands that find ways to keep consumers engaged between purchase. It’s a huge retention play. Constantly hitting your new (and old) email subscribers with “buy now” messages will quickly turn them off, leading them to tune you out. Leaders will find ways to provide subscribers with context, valuable content, and even conversations. Email marketers will have one chance to keep the attention of consumers who previously shopped for their product in stores. If you botch the opportunity, they’ll turn to another brand or store, whether online or brick & mortar. In other words, this is a situation where it’s up to the email marketers not to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

So, what is a compelling reason to go back to a store? That’s a hard question to answer. The actual shopping experience in many instances is a chore. Are there ancillary experiences that can be added to the brick & mortar shopping trip that would make it worthwhile to get and item yourself?  One thing is for certain; the amenities added by grocery stores over the last few years to woo shoppers to spend more time in the store, everything from craft beer bars to cooking classes, aren’t going to be seen as draws any longer. In and out. Browsing will be something consumers do online. Finding what you need quickly will be key for the in-store experience. Improving curbside pick-up will also be critical. Finding out that things you ordered weren’t available only after you get home will not be tolerated by customers. As Paul Shriner, Co-founder of AudiencePoint, puts it, “Smart brands will start seeing their retail stores as a point in the logistics chain.”

Even as consumers consider going back to stores, shoppers will still likely balk at going back to buying items that were never a lot of fun to lug home from the store in the first place. Furnace air filters, 40 lb bags of dog food, sheets and pillowcases, etc. Having those items dropped off at the front door has become a kind of decadent convenience that many of us might not want to give up after we can go back to picking such things up ourselves. Will we continue? Email marketing is likely to play a key role in what ultimately happens.  Consumers grown used to checking their inboxes for emails from brands they have started ordering from, will continue to do so if they are continually engaged with relevant offers and meaningful content

So, what advice do I have for retailers, DTC brands, and/or humble email marketers? What should they be focused on if the theory is correct?

1. Transactional emails are increasing in importance as they are keep consumers informed of items they really need, not just would like to have. How irritating is it to try and track delivery of a package only to be re-directed from the email to a carrier site. Zembula’s real-time in email package tracker is an excellent example of this, and lucky for you they are offering it for free through the end of the calendar year. Think of other ways you can improve the value of the emails you send, both when selling and when servicing an order.

2. Time spent opening and clicking on emails is likely a zero-sum game, so the more consumers interact with emails that are driving ecommerce, the less time they will have with emails designed more to engage—things like e-newsletters, for example. This will create new challenges for brands following a content marketing strategy. Make the most of every open you get. Content, Context, and Conversation.

3. The pain of placing orders over a phone will hamper the long-term prospects of local businesses vs. more sophisticated retailers with top-on-the-line ecommerce platforms when it comes to trying to maintain a home delivery service. Easy online ordering will be another key component to success in the long run. Use your email campaigns to push ordering online from your site. There’s an old saying that the easier you make for a consumer to do something, the more of it that consumer will do.

4. Give consumers the choice between home delivery and curbside pick-up if possible, so the consumer can choose to get something today, or have it delivered tomorrow. Use your email campaigns to communicate to your customers that they have an option. Make sure you can let them know where an item may be available, if not in the nearest location to them.

To sum it all up, email marketers have played an important role during the lock down connecting consumers with the products and services they needed and were unable to go purchase themselves. This change in buying habits may be permanent, or it might just be a phase. Email marketers can help influence the eventual outcome by sending emails that are relevant and useful to their broader base of email subscribers and online purchasers. I will close with one more quote from Paul Shriner that I think sums things up nicely: “This is not an email-only situation. But email’s role in this brave new world has become more important than ever.”

 

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Thursday, 04 June 2020