Gap’s former social chief: Retail has shiny-new-object syndrome

Find out how top retailers are using technology to bridge the gap between online and in-store technology at the Digiday Retail Summit in Deer Valley, Utah, from July 27-29.

Retail is in the midst of a metamorphosis. For decades, shopping was a simple process: go to a store, buy something. Now, because of digital, it’s a bit more complex, as consumers have myriad options of where and how to purchase.

Rachel Tipograph, the former global director of digital and social media at Gap, and current Founder & CEO of a forthcoming mobile brand, has some thoughts on the intersection of digital and retail. Have a look at the Q&A below, then see the agenda for our upcoming Retail Summit.

Which retailer, besides Gap of course, is doing digital well?
Obviously, I first need to give props to my former employer Gap, especially for its roll out of reserve-in-store over the last year. My big gripe with retailers and digital is that innovation first needs to happen at the service model level. If you focus all your digital investment purely on marketing, it’s just smokes and mirrors for an old business model.

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That being said, if I had to handpick retailers doing digital well throughout the entire customer journey, online and offline, I’d list Nordstroms and Urban Outfitters. For a pure online focus, ASOS, and I can’t not say Amazon.

Are you seeing, generally, retailers missing out on opportunities — whether through social or other digital tools like content?

First, it’s the ‘non-shiny object’ list that retailers miss out on. Email is still the holy grail of e-commerce, so many retailers miss basic email segmentation and investing in great content and design for their emails as this is the No.1 place people are experiencing your brand. For example, check out the startup Custora. They also miss out on the unsexy cart abandonment, millions of dollars are left on the table for not imposing simple solutions like Bounce Exchange; companies doing it well are Canvas Pop and Agoda.

On the slightly-more-shiny-object list, integrating user-generated product content into your e-commerce site is proven to drive higher sales lifts. There are easy solutions from Curalate or Second Funnel to do this.

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Are retailers embracing native advertising?
Nearly everyone is on the native advertising bandwagon. The big challenge here is often getting legacy retailers to accept the fact that lo-fi, native-like content performs better than traditional model, product photography. The second challenge is understanding that you can’t just produce content and expect people to come and engage with it. Content needs to go where the people are and to do this requires paid media dollars. Check out the startup Niche.

Do you see retailers getting more interested in programmatic?
Absolutely, most retailers have been involved in some form of programmatic buying for years. Some advertising journalist or marketeer just decided to shout it loudly over the last few months, and now it’s a buzzword. Retail is about training people how to shop with you. You can treat your media buys the same way.

What are some of the bigger trends you’re seeing in retail?
In 2011, it was about social commerce. In 2012, it was about big data. In 2013, it was about omni channel. 2014 is about beacons. What we still haven’t seen is for a new brand to enter the world that changes the way we shop and the redefine what it means to be a retailer. And that is exactly the opportunity the new company I’m building is going after.

How are brick-and-mortar retailers competing against the digital-only retailers like Amazon?
It’s a battlefield. What we need to remember is that shopping is an emotional experience. The majority of products from low end to luxury are produced in the same factories with similar variations in quality. What gets someone to spend $10 on one t-shirt and $100 on another t-shirt is the narrative and physical experience around the brand. Amazon redefined servicing a customer online, but it still is missing that emotional element, which is the true drug of shopping.

How are retailers best using mobile?
The best use cases today are making CRM the core focus of your mobile shopping experience and ensuring it’s seamless for both e-commerce and brick and mortar. Check out the startup Nomi.

Are retailers missing out on any big mobile trends?
Most retailers’ mobile commerce products are stripped-down versions of their desktop experience. Mobile is a different game, with different consumer shopping behaviors, and it starts with a strong understanding of UX. However, when you look at the AppStore, most of the top shopping apps are from legacy retailers. Why? Because they own the largest amount of customer data. The biggest challenge for new startups today is, how will they acquire customers, with a huge focus on “gaming” the AppStore.

What else should I be paying attention to?
Everyone needs to be paying attention to in-line messaging apps like WhatsApp and mobile dating apps like Tinder. Throughout my current world travels, these are the two dominant consumer use cases of the Web. Facebook, Instagram and everything else is secondary.

This article was written by Josh Sternberg, senior editor for the Digiday Content Studio.