Last minute holiday shoppers walk along a popular clothing district in Los Angeles on . Shoppers who are feeling good about the economy and spending more than expected on items like kitchen gadgets, toys and coats could make this the best holiday season in several years. Shoppers are spending at a pace not seen since the Great Recession, says Craig Johnson, president of retail consulting group Customer Growth PartnersHoliday Shopping, Los Angeles, USA - 24 Dec 2017

Salesforce and Google’s partnership marks a new chapter in delivering cloud-based, strategic services to retailers and brands. Integrated with the G Suite, Salesforce now incorporates Google calendar, drive, docs, sheets, hangouts meet, with its various software offerings.

“The companies will also deeply integrate Salesforce with Google Analytics, seamlessly connecting sales, marketing and advertising data across Salesforce Sales Cloud, Salesforce Marketing Cloud and Google Analytics 360, for the first time,” a Salesforce spokesman said.

Here, Shelley Bransten, senior vice president of retail at Salesforce, discusses the current retail market, how she forecasts it will evolve in 2018, and the continuing evolution of mobile.

WWD: What does Salesforce’s partnership with Google signal to the retail market at large?

Shelley Bransten: As today’s shoppers increasingly expect individualized experiences whether they are shopping on their couch or browsing a store, retailers are under pressure to understand who a shopper is across channels and create seamless path to purchase.

Salesforce’s partnership with Google signals the next level of personalization for retail, enabling smarter, more collaborative experiences for retailers. With this partnership, retailers will be able to surface powerful shopper intelligence seamlessly between G Suite and Salesforce Lightning and Quip. And with the Salesforce integration with Google Analytics 360, the first time Google Analytics has integrated with a third party, retailers will have incredible insights to deliver the most relevant shopper engagement at the right moment.

As retailers no longer own the shopping process from beginning to end, this partnership brings a new way for retailers to dictate and personalize a shoppers’ interaction with the brand, empowering retailers to deliver those individualized experiences that shoppers crave.

WWD: How will this partnership impact Salesforce’s customers?

S.B.: In the war for consumer attention, Salesforce customers will be armed with best of breed CRM and analytic tools. With this partnership, Salesforce customers will gain access to Google’s trove of data about the web sites shoppers are visiting and online searches, which can then be used to drive shopper engagement and optimize spend across e-mail, push notifications and advertisements.

In addition, through our integration with G Suite, retailers chatting live with shoppers will be able to surface any relevant account details and shopping history from Salesforce CRM directly within the Hangouts Meet interface. This will give customer service reps the background needed to solve a shopper request or help complete a purchase. They go from a transactional relationship to truly and advocate for customer engagement.

For example, if a shopper is chatting with a customer service rep over Hangouts, asking to pick up a particular item in-store, the customer service rep would be able to pull up that shopper’s account information and history, and tell the shopper the nearest store where she can find that item, in her size.

WWD: What should be considered integral in retailers’ and brands’ strategies for 2018?

S.B.: As consumers continue to demand a personalized, seamless and exceptional shopping experience across all channels and devices, artificial intelligence will become critical in predicting and delivering the most relevant experiences and product recommendations to shoppers.

AI is a transformative technology and necessary capability for retail marketers to stay competitive in retail’s new paradigm. It’s already changing how retailers are uncovering information and engaging with consumers. For example, consumers are now posting photos of their favorite products across countless social media channels, but many retail marketers have yet to crack the code on how to use this information to their advantage.

With AI, retailers can automatically analyze images that shoppers post on social media channels to better understand their preferences and tailor marketing campaigns based on this data.

We also saw that personalization with AI won big during cyber week. Holiday shoppers that engaged with recommendations were this season’s best shoppers. While only accounting for five percent of clicks, these shoppers contributed 30 percent of cyber week’s revenue. Retailers must continue to prioritize their investment with best of breed AI technologies or integrated platforms.

WWD: How do you see the role of mobile evolving in the next one to three years?

S.B.: There’s no denying mobile’s increasing impact on the shopper’s journey. During this year’s cyber week, phones accounted for 60 percent of traffic to retail sites on Black Friday, while 42 percent of Black Friday orders were placed via phone. This year represented watershed shift to mobile, as for the first time, computers accounted for less than half of all orders.

Moreover, mobile is not only impacting online shopping, but the in-store experience as well. According to our Connected Shopper Report, 34 percent of shoppers say they’ve researched a product online using a mobile device while in a physical store.

In the next few years, mobile’s role in the shopping journey will only become more prominent as more shoppers turn to their phones rather than computer to research, browse and ultimately make a purchase.

To prepare, retailers need to put a personalization-centric mobile strategy in place that will lead shoppers to a seamless path to purchase. This means embedding AI into mobile to drive predictive product recommendations and search results. In fact, according to our Personalization in Shopping report, mobile shoppers that click recommendations complete orders at a higher rate than desktop shoppers (25 percent versus 23 percent).

Brands like Adidas are already investing AI-powered mobile experiences. This year, Adidas launched a new AI-enabled shopping app designed to offer a personalized experience for consumers, based on their individual style and buying patterns.

WWD: What missteps do retailers and brands continue to make?

S.B.: Retailers are still struggling to keep pace with and unify shoppers various brand interactions. In fact, the Connected Shopper report says 63 percent of people still feel like retailers don’t truly know who they are. As shoppers increasingly turn to multiple devices and numerous other channels throughout their shopping journey, they’re creating trillions of customer interactions that retailers should be able to use to further personalize that shopper’s journey.

Because many retailers are still working with disparate and duplicative systems, customer data is scattered across too many systems and siloed across channels to take advantage of this data. Retailers are also dealing with complex back-end integrations, which are brittle because of how many systems are involved.

WWD: How do you predict the use of analytics to evolve?

S.B.: As shoppers increasingly research products online before making a purchase — 79 percent of shoppers research products online prior to purchasing in-store according to Connected Shopper Report — it’s more important than ever for retailers to connect these interactions and create the shoppers’ path to purchase as seamless as possible.

As retailers continue to adopt AI across web site, mobile, ads and social, brands will increasingly have access to advanced analytics that can be automated and used to build a one-to-one relationship with shoppers whether that shopper just walked in the door, engaged with a retailers’ mobile app, or clicked on ad.

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