Introduction

Hacking the gaps of connected consumers' purchase journeys requires a next-level, paradoxical marketing model that transcends complex and simple approaches alike while including the strengths of each.

This was the core insight we at Zen Media gained through an extensive research study conducted with over 200 connected consumers that investigated variables as diverse as their self-conception, personal values, pain points, digital habits, device preferences, online and offline social worlds, and much more. This research revealed that connected consumers are characterized by multiple paradoxes that confront brands with potential pitfalls as well as powerful solutions for overcoming them.         

Though this 5-part series offers only a brief overview of this research, the full report can be downloaded at zenmedia.com. For an introduction to the concept of the connected consumer as well as a treatment of the first and second paradox, please see Part 1 and 2 of this series.

Paradox 3: Connected Consumers are digitally native, yet highly hands-on

Though it's a mistake to think of connected consumers strictly in terms of their digital connectivity, the ever-escalating digital age means that more and more connected consumers are digital natives. Paradoxically, as "tech-centric" as many connected consumers might be, this isn't stopping them from driving a renaissance of offline retail with their desire and demand for hands-on product experience prior to purchasing.

Digital space, meet physical place

One of the persistent and vexing gaps that occurs in connected consumers' purchase journeys is the impossibility of achieving "real-life" experience online. Connected consumers attempt to close this gap by seeking hands-on experience, preferring to see and handle products in person even if they ultimately buy online.

The participants in our study often used online searches as a jumping off point to inform the in-person "intel" they set out to gather at brick-and-mortar retail stores. But it wasn't a matter of replacing digital space with a physical place, but rather, with the attempt to integrate them. Connected consumers attempted to further bridge the gap between the online and offline worlds by employing their smartphones as personal shopping assistants, prefering to rely on a human salesperson only when finding themselves, so to speak, at the end of their digital rope.  

While an initial online search was often a jumping off point for making a visit to a physical store, so too was a store visit often a jumping off point for further online investigation. Rather than a visit to a retail store being the end of the line for our connected consumers, it was often just one leg of their larger purchase journey.

Hacking the gap: Online, meet offline

Connected consumers' interconnectivity transcends digital worlds, causing them to seek out hands-on experience. Their attempt to integrate digital space with a physical place is almost never a seamless or frustration-free process since many gaps currently exist that most brands have failed to fill. Many of our participants were motivated to seek out physical retail by not only for the obvious opportunity to explore products in person, but by value-added benefits like membership programs, price-matching, and on-site repairs.

The takeaway for your brand

Don't put connected consumers in the position of hacking the gap between digital space and a physical place all on their own. Like Target, capitalize on IoT applications and chat-based support that are as close to connected consumers as the smartphones already in their hands. Deploy real-time information and customized messaging and rewards. Where reasonable, implement standard try-before-you-buy programs like innovative undergarment startup, ThirdLove, that allow connected consumers to get hands-on experience of a product without ever having to leave their homes.

In conclusion

Even digitally native, tech-centric connected consumers understand the limitations of e-commerce and are intuitively trying to hack the gap between online and offline worlds, but brands need to do them one better by picking up where digital leaves off.

Brands can no longer hope to remain competitive in the digital space based on an optimized web presence and solid social media strategy. Instead, the next-level move for many online brands means engineering integrated avenues for connected consumers to obtain hands-on, pre-purchase product experience. With an integrative approach that focuses on service rather than sales, brands can turn existing physical stores into the brick-and-data hubs of hospitality that are fast becoming the future of physical retail.   

Published on: Jan 30, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.