In an increasingly challenging and fast-moving retail environment, organizations are looking for every opportunity to reduce cost and risk while improving the end-to-end customer experience.

Given the disruption created by online pure players, how can traditional retailers maximize the value of the multi-channel model of customer engagement and also gain new levels of agility and innovation, from introducing new products through to marketing?

Instant focus group: Test campaigns with your online audience first

In a multi-channel environment, most retailers already have a team of digital experts testing and optimizing every aspect of the customer online experience. Why not forget the focus group and test a new media campaign—or several variants of a proposed campaign—online first to a subset of the audience before embarking on the huge cost of national media and in-store promotion? The cost of a test is minimal, and the quick, data-driven insights about your customers’ responses are invaluable.

Testing the proposed content online first transforms the risk and cost model—and can be used for proposed product launches as well as messaging. Within a matter of days, using A/B and multivariate testing, retailers can have tangible insight not only into the overall customer response but also any meaningful differences between key customer segments that take into account behavioral, psychographic or demographic distinctions, for example.

Rather than a drawn-out process of focus groups, iteration, and back to the focus group, retailers can rapidly assess true customer response before making the deep investments into the formal launch of a product or media campaign across the entire business.

This highly interactive process can be as simple or as sophisticated as required. A retailer could simply compare the response to two proposed messages or campaigns across the entire customer base—or measure the reaction in different customer segments, demographics or geographies. At a more granular level, the retailer could use testing to assess the reaction to different pictures of a new product. When the online audience responds better to the dress when teamed with blue shoes, as opposed to pink. For example, it would be a simple decision when designing the new in-store promotion to opt for the blue version.

Shrink feedback loops: Faster speed to insights leads to faster, more successful launches

Adding this real-time feedback to the traditional creative process enables retailers to react more quickly and iterate campaign ideas fast. Understanding the way in which customers in each target segment are engaging with a proposed campaign or new product not only enables the message to be refined but critically ensures a retailer avoids the cost of ill-judged marketing activity.

The speed at which retailing is evolving is placing huge pressure on traditional players. New online pure play retailers have disrupted the market; they are fast and agile but they cannot create the same one-to-one customer engagement as the bricks and mortar retailers who now have the opportunity to adopt the speed and innovation on offer online to maximize that multi-channel customer experience.

The retail model needs to evolve faster, but it has to do so without incurring more investment or demanding more people. By predicating every marketing and product launch decision on testing and data, retailers will not only mitigate risk but significantly reduce the traditional time to create and roll out these campaigns– and deliver the new levels of innovation and customer engagement required to remain successful.

How have other retailers embraced the data-driven benefits of online testing?

Each retailer will adopt and integrate digital optimization in a way that makes sense for their business. There may be a specific initiative for which testing could be an effective way to reduce costs and risk. There may be growth targets that need to be reached, where optimization can help to accelerate pacing towards those goals. Or there could be specific target segments to uncover and address.

Here are retailers who have integrated optimization into initiatives that have helped grow their businesses, in various functions, all with positive results:

Revolve Clothing

A strategy of continuous testing and optimization helps REVOLVE keep pace with the ever-changing behavior of shoppers on its desktop site, mobile website, and mobile app.

Brooks Running

How do you create an experience that customers are satisfied with and are less likely to make a return?

Brooks Running found that it’s a combination of understanding the unique consideration cycle for each product, tracking the right data and using Optimizely to provide a targeted experience to the right customer segment.

Evans Cycles

Since its inception, the Evans Cycles website has consistently been in a state of evolution, adding features and functionality to keep pace with customers’ online shopping needs.

Using optimization, Evans Cycles has been able to gain more insight into user behavior across their website, building momentum around the use of testing and analytics throughout the company. The ultimate goal was for Evans Cycles to make better, faster decisions based on data and insights.

Keeping up with shopper expectations is a challenge. Learn more about what your visitors are looking for in Optimizely’s June 2016 Shopper Engagement Survey.