Action/Reaction: Triggered Messages and Newton’s Third Law of Motion

“For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This frequently recited paraphrasing of Newton’s third law of motion can easily be applied to the basic principles of marketing. Consumers take an action by shopping or buying, and marketers respond to keep the consumer engaged. Marketers promote products, and consumers respond by shopping and buying. This loop between action and reaction means job security for commerce marketers and helps consumers find the best deals.

At this point, consumers have come to expect that the action of signing up to receive promotional emails will result in a welcome email from the retailer. Submitting an order means order and shipping confirmation emails are on their way. Even emails that once made some consumers feel uneasy, such as shopping cart reminders and product page abandonment emails, are now not only accepted but expected and highly valued by consumers. In fact, a study by Bronto found that 59 percent of shoppers who make weekly purchases online found cart reminders to be helpful. Marketers know that these triggered messages, if done well, not only aid in driving sales but help reinforce brand loyalty.

Nearly every action on the path to an online purchase results in a retailer’s reaction with a triggered message. This seems to work for those who are selling and those who are buying, but it gives the illusion that triggered messages comprehensively cover the customer’s journey. In reality, consumers do not always simply shop online. They use multiple devices to research a purchase and complete the order, often taking actions both online and in stores.

Marketers need to start reacting by triggering messages when shoppers take actions offline. Consumers have figured out how to bridge the gap between site and store, and many marketers are struggling to make the connection. In-store pick-up, store location features, and real-time inventory look-up have helped online shoppers carry the online experience over to stores, but it hasn’t been as helpful for in-store shoppers that later continue their shopping experience online.

Existing point-of-sale (POS) technology made e-receipts and in-store email acquisition successful and a logical first step. The balance between the customer’s action (buying something) and the marketing reaction (sending an e-receipt) was also intact. Some stores have tried tablet-based kiosks, though the value proposition to the consumer was rarely enough to result in adoption by shoppers. Thus, the action/reaction balance was thrown out of whack.

Apps such as Target Cartwheel and Walmart Savings Catcher have helped store shoppers connect the in-store experience to a mobile device, but neither pack the power to time a triggered message based on a shopper’s action. I’m not knocking either app. I’ve used them both and have been impressed. Yet, as I walked around Target scanning items to see if there’s a discount or looking for offers I loaded before going to the store, I wondered how could this be easier? What’s next?

Perhaps it’s worth starting at the end of the story, not getting bogged down in the technical details, and identifying actions store shoppers could take that would be worthy of a triggered message reaction.

Walking/Driving Near a Store

I was recently driving and my phone made a sound I had never heard before. There was a notification that I was near a Lowe’s Home Improvement store. Not having the Lowe’s app on my phone, I wondered what the heck was happening. The notification was from Google Wallet. I had added my MyLowes loyalty card to the app, and Google’s location services was able to match my location and offer to navigate me to the nearby store. Guess what? I took the bait, went to Lowe’s, and bought a bunch of stuff.

Many marketers will only think of geo-fencing options for this kind of location-based trigger; however, there are other alternatives that may offer additional value propositions to the consumer (like GPS navigation) and would not require additional hardware around the individual stores.

Location Within the Store

I was recently in the market for a random assortment of products sold at Best Buy: a washer/dryer, TV, coffee maker, vacuum cleaner, and random cables. I am an Elite Plus member of the Best Buy loyalty program and had browsed and/or carted several items that I wanted to purchase at a store. Based on the combination of being logged into my account while in the store and having demonstrated such a high purchase intent, it would have been helpful to have additional information sent to me as I cruised around the various product areas of the store. Whether it was a call-to-action to speak to a store rep (which I had trouble finding more than once) or an email offering that week’s sales, the store missed an opportunity to react to all of the end-of-path actions I was taking.

In-Store Abandonment

I use the Target Cartwheel app every time I am in the store. I scan each item I want to buy to see if there is a deal. Usually, there’s no deal to be had. Sometimes I buy the item anyway, and sometimes I put it back on the shelf. I have started to receive emails from Target Cartwheel featuring products that are similar to what I have purchased and perhaps even those I have scanned and abandoned. While the ability to mimic Target’s app may not be within your reach, do consider how the action of product abandonment could be used to trigger a message or build better shopper segments. Less complex tools like “add/print a shopping list” could help give you insight into what your online shoppers are looking for in stores.

Location-based triggered messages seem like a logical evolution of the way marketers and consumers have interacted so far in the digital age. The groundwork is there. Consumers are using mobile devices to transition the shopping process between channels. Marketers know how to craft and time these kinds of messages. The technology exists, though it is not as plug-and-play as more established automation tools in catering to the online experience. Free in-store Wi-Fi, store apps, and even alternative payment methods (such as Google Wallet) help bridge this gap, but it could be to your advantage to determine which messages will provide the most value to your shoppers and then work backward to find the best technology solutions.

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