How virtual assistants are shaking up retail marketing

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Retailers are working in a competitive market. Consumers are spoiled for choice, with the ability to buy from behemoths like Amazon, mom-and-pop operations, and everywhere in between.

In order to compete in this landscape, you need to ensure that you’re showing up on your customers’ radars at the right time and place. Implementing personalization is also critical, as shoppers will always gravitate towards brands that ‘get’ them.

So, how do you accomplish that successfully (and affordably)? Two words: virtual assistants.

Thanks to the magic of data and AI, retailers can now get marketing help from trusty assistants that are always working in the background. When used correctly, these virtual assistants can automate your processes, create workflows, and even recommend marketing and business decisions.

Read on to learn more about virtual assistants and how they’re shaking up retail marketing.

Where to start

In the past, retailers had two options. The first is for the owner to take care of marketing. This may be possible, but it’s often not practical, because a busy retailer has a business to run. There often aren’t enough hours in the day to put together and execute a marketing strategy.

The next option is to hire someone to do it. This is a great option, but it can be expensive, especially for smaller retailers with tighter cash flow.

But now there’s a third way: virtual assistants. A virtual assistant is software which helps people find relevant information, interpret data, and carry out tasks. These assistants are starting to permeate various industries. You can find them in businesses doing things like booking meetings and qualifying sales leads, and you can also find them in consumer-facing software like smartphones, where they assist people in their day-to-day tasks. For example, if you’ve ever asked Siri to send a text message or started a Google search by saying “Ok, Google,” then you’ve used virtual assistants in some capacity.

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Virtual assistants in retail marketing

All of this becomes much more powerful when you apply it to the marketing world. In retail, for example, a virtual assistant could give advice on how to market your products. It could also make suggestions on when to send an email or what type of discount to offer.

This is where virtual assistants could dramatically change the retail world. Putting together a marketing strategy yourself takes time, and hiring someone is expensive. Virtual assistants can be the answer to this need – they save time by giving retailers actionable advice automatically, and they save money by being more affordable than a staff member or consultant.

A virtual assistant can even take the next step and actually carry out tasks for a retailer. For instance, some virtual assistants are capable of sending smart email marketing campaigns that have suggested content and campaign sending times, based on the shopping history of that store and stores like it.

Adding artificial intelligence

Larger retailers use complex artificial intelligence software to set prices, make recommendations and reward loyalty. A virtual assistant uses similar artificial intelligence to give the same tools to smaller retailers by learning what has worked for other businesses in the same industry, and applying those lessons to give practical advice to a specific retailer.

This lets you put together marketing campaigns that cut through the noise, and competes with the big players.

Here are some things a virtual assistant could do for you:

1. Automatically emailing a reminder to anyone who abandons items in their online cart – and timing these emails based on what has worked for other retailers (A week later? A day? An hour?)

For example, LITVA'S Jewelry uses a virtual assistant to bring back shoppers who abandoned their carts. Whenever someone adds an item to their cart but leaves without completing the purchase, it triggers LITVA's abandoned cart email workflow. Each message is automatically tailored to the recipient and contains images of the items that they've left behind.

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2. Suggesting loyalty rewards that your store can use to boost customer loyalty and increase revenue. These are often easily customized to suit your specific store and brand.

Check out Peticular, an eCommerce merchant that sells pet clothing and accessories. The company uses a virtual marketing assistant to automatically recommend loyalty rewards to customers.

Peticular have created a reward ladder with five different rewards at varying points costs. This gives their Paw Pal members the choice to work towards whichever reward appeals to them. They can redeem a smaller reward or save their points and redeem a bigger discount later.

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3. Product suggestions based on what customers are likely to buy next and what customers have bought or viewed previously.

Fashion retailer RK Collections (aka RKCB) does this incredibly well through their win-back campaigns. When someone hasn't shopped at RK Collections within the last 30 days, RKCB automatically sends a "We miss you" email that contains relevant product recommendations (along with a coupon.)

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RK Collections has a 74% win-back rate and their campaigns have helped them increase sales by an impressive 8.8%.

As you can see, virtual assistants can do a host of things, including sending customized emails to customers, suggesting additional items, or inviting them to exclusive deals because of their shopping history. This reduces the effort of researching and analyzing customer spending and is a major time-saver compared to keeping on top of these communications manually.

The cherry on top? It’s much more affordable than employing a person to provide marketing advice and to run campaigns.

What to look for in a virtual assistant

Everyone’s needs will be different, but as a rule of thumb, retailers should look for virtual assistants that are connected to large sets of data, connected to the right sets of data and able to offer personalized advice.

Let’s break down each of these down one by one:

Connecting to large data sets: The bigger the data set, the better the virtual assistant. This is because large data sets give virtual assistants more information to draw from when they are providing retailers with advice. They can recognize more patterns, see more examples, and draw better conclusions than virtual assistants connected to smaller datasets.

Connecting to the right data sets: The size of the data set is only useful if it is the right dataset. For example, imagine a virtual assistant that was connected to everyone who logged in to the free Wi-Fi at a busy international airport. This is a very large dataset, but it’s not very useful for retailers.

On the other hand, imagine a virtual assistant that connects directly to your point-of-sale or e-commerce software. Think Shopify, BigCommerce, LightSpeed or Vend. The data in these solutions paints a vivid picture of what’s happening in a retail business – what works, what doesn’t, who the customers are, when they purchase and how much they spend. A smart virtual assistant can use this data to give retailers actionable – and highly relevant – marketing advice.

Offering personalized advice: Finally, a virtual assistant should have the ability to offer retailers personalized advice, based on their specific circumstances. It’s not enough to be able to say what has worked in general – a virtual assistant needs to connect the information from its large data sets to the information it can see in a retailer’s specific, smaller data set. This turns theory into practice in a meaningful way for retailers.

Where to from here?

Retailers should be looking at virtual assistants as a way to make their marketing smarter, more efficient and more effective. As artificial intelligence becomes more common and more intelligent, virtual assistants are going to become a key part of any retailer’s toolkit. Smart retailers should take advantage of this shift, and make the investment in a virtual assistant today.

Need help in this area? Consider Marsello, an intelligent marketing solution for small and medium businesses. Marsello serves as your trusty marketing assistant who can help you sell more online and in-store. From loyalty and VIP programs to customer feedback collection and email automation, Marsello helps you set up, run, and maintain various marketing initiatives so you can spend less time on the manual stuff and devote more energy to growing your business.