The trees are decorated, the mistletoe is hung, and the holiday shopping season is in full force.

When I shop online, Amazon instantly makes recommendations on potential gifts for this year's shopping season. But when I walk into my favorite retail store, they have no idea who I am, what I have bought before or what items I have been searching for to complete my list.

This is the very problem that David Trice, a former executive with Oracle set out to solve when he co-founded ENGAGE.cx. I recently spoke with David on my biz1190 radio show and discussed the struggle retailers have bridging the divide between physical and digital sales channels.

The first question: Is it even possible to understand customers in your store the same way you can recognize and understand them digitally? David says, "Yes!"

Many retailers consider the intersection of web, mobile, and brick-and-mortar data to be the "holy grail." No matter the rumors, the physical store is not dead -- e-commerce sales still make up only a small percentage of overall retail sales.

Digital influences physical.

The retail world understands the reality that digital browsing has a huge effect on in-store purchasing.

David points out that according to a recent study by Deloitte, "digital interactions are expected to influence 64 cents of every dollar spent in retail stores by the end of 2015, or $2.2 trillion." Consumers who use digital while they shop in-store convert at a 20 percent higher rate compared with those who do not use digital as part of the shopping process.

The bottom line is that retailers should not be afraid of showrooming.

Just because a customer whips out a smartphone and starts searching doesn't mean he or she isn't going to buy from you. In fact, the opposite may be true -- these digital shoppers could be your best customers.

Online, in-store: One company.

Companies get caught in a trap of their own creation. They develop divisions or silos to deal with certain aspects or functions of the business -- customer service, marketing, online sales, and in-store sales, for example. Regrettably, one division doesn't know what the other is doing. This is why a customer who shops weekly at a company's brick-and-mortar store keeps receiving "We Miss You" emails for not making a recent online purchase.

The data on the brick-and-mortar customer isn't making it over to the digital side of the business, and vice versa. These internal silos inhibit customer experience.

The problem is that the customer doesn't see a company as a series of separate divisions. The customer sees one company.

David explains, "It's time to return the favor and recognize all customers as individuals across all company touch points, no matter how they engage."

To survive and thrive, companies must bust down internal silos.

Finding the holy grail.

The holy grail isn't a religious artifact or a plot point in an Indiana Jones movie. It's the ability for a company to offer truly personalized service to each and every customer, no matter if that customer is engaging online or in a store.

So what does this mean?

David says, "It's recognizing who the customers are as individuals, what types of products they are interested in, and what they've come into the store to see."

Deloitte's study states that nearly 8 in 10 consumers surveyed interact with brands or products before arriving at the store.

Since most customers have checked out products online, companies have the ability to understand why a customer is in a store as soon as he or she crosses the threshold.

Customers are increasingly using in-store Wi-Fi as a way to further research products of interest. With the right technology, the business can use Wi-Fi to latch onto the customer's smartphone and figure out where the customer left off in her digital journey.

If the customer abandons a shopping cart online and days later enters a store, she can be greeted with a personalized experience that enables her to re-engage. As the customer shops, the company can fully attribute the visit with location and context captured from geo-fenced areas in the store along with other in-store touchpoints. Marry this information with the customer's prior digital journey and you can empower retail associates to understand her behavior in order to steer her to products of her choice and send her home with exactly what she's looking for.

To offer this level of personalization, companies need to start fully attributing every customer interaction, so they can better understand likes, dislikes, products of interest, and preferences.

By truly bridging the online shopping experience with the physical one, companies can finally offer consumers truly personalized and effective shopping experiences.

Published on: Dec 9, 2015