Chico’s CMO Shelagh Stoneham breaks down current retail marketing trends to John Bensalhia
“Technology is not a retailers’ silver bullet – but leveraged appropriately, can be the difference between brand relevancy and demise.”
Careful and considered use of technology is what Shelagh Stoneham, Chico’s Chief Marketing Officer, will be discussing at eCommerce Expo 2019.
As a senior retail executive, board member and industry speaker, Shelagh has considerable experience in the marketing field, occupying similar roles at Shoppers Drug Mart and Rogers Communications.
“My forte is in creating, building, and revitalising brands. My experience spans a broad range of sectors including telecommunications, packaged goods, retail, high tech, airlines and pharmaceuticals.”
Shelagh’s interest in technology started at Rogers, where she helped spearhead several new technology capabilities that significantly improved the company’s efforts in programmatic media and 1:1 marketing.
Meanwhile, Shelagh regards the personalisation program at Shoppers Drug Mart as one of North America’s best.
“It reflects a powerful combination of customer insight, data management, strategy and software development.”
Student of Retail
As 2019 continues to introduce new marketing trends and build on existing ones, Shelagh advises that the best way to keep up is to be a “student of retail.”
“Spend time visiting retailers that are doing well to understand why and how you can apply the learning to your business. Read the online press. Attend events like ECE to get inspiration from others.”
Some of the notable current retail marketing trends raise some interesting paradoxes. While Shelagh explains that pureplays (electronic or e-tailers) such as Everlane and Warby Parker are building brick and mortar stores, an overriding trend is for customers to shop online.
“There has been an increased percentage of online sales vs bricks and mortar due to convenience. And the continuing closure of traditional mall-based stores,” she says.
Another distinction Shelagh raises is the difference between the level of media channels and marketing budgets. While the number of media channels is increasing, marketers need to remember that budgets remain flat, she says,
Great technological leaps forward bring both benefits and problems for marketers. While on the one hand, there are concerns about the risk of digital media fraud, Shelagh adds that AI and machine learning are boosting marketing capabilities.
“AI and machine learning are playing increasingly important roles in making marketing more relevant and improving return on ad spend.”
Because customers have full visibility to online and offline pricing, they demand the better price. As a result, Shelagh says that a growing number of retailers are being consistent in their promotional activity across channels.
But with online shopping and growing personalisation, cookies and data have become more prominent. Retailers have a responsibility to ensure that innovation doesn’t come at the expense of customer privacy.
“Customers are providing their personal data to a few key retailers and expect them to be respectful,” says Shelagh. “Don’t sell the data. The bar has been raised. Only share information about your products/services that is relevant to each individual customer. Better yet – acknowledge what’s been purchased and inspire that customer with what to purchase next.”
One trend that continues to connect with marketing is the use of social media and influencers.
“Social Media is now a mature medium and is now an integral part of savvy marketers media plans,” says Shelagh. “But the use of social media and influencers is demanding a greater percentage of working and non-working dollars plus to support.”
Social media can present its challenges, as Shelagh explains.
“Firstly, you have to ‘feed the best’: customers want relevant content in real time. This can be challenging especially when you are running across a lot of channels.”
“Another issue is that consumers are starting to challenge the authenticity of social media influencers (They know the most influential are paid),” says Shelagh. “Plus, customers are becoming increasingly vocal with their feedback requiring 24/7 site monitoring.”
However, social media has two key benefits: Affordability and speed.
“Social media can be a fast and affordable way to reach your target audience,” says Shelagh. “Plus, customers don’t hold the quality of the content to the same standard as traditional media – for example, using unretouched photos is okay.”
The recipe for effective marketing is in continuing to provide the best quality branding and strategy, Shelagh says.
“Mediocre branding and strategy will deliver a death blow to many retailers in the digital age. Darwin’s theory still applies. Successful brands need a clear compelling brand strategy and messaging articulated in a consistent yet relevant way across all customer touch-points. It’s never been more important, as few customers browse/shop one channel.”
Shelagh concludes that today, customers have never been more powerful.
“They have more choice than ever for both convenience and inspiration. Examples of modern technology helping to deliver this include, Target’s BOPIS, Sephora’s virtual make-up try-on, and TrueFit – which determines your size accurately based on the sizes you wear at other retailers.”