Responsive Merchandising: The Power of Micro-Moments

On 1% of its flights, Southwest Airlines added a dose of humor to their flight safety announcements. One went something like:

“Put the oxygen mask on yourself first, then on your child. If you’re traveling with more than one child, start with the one who has more potential or who is less likely to put you in the home.”

The announcements, according to the flight crew and passengers, are typically well received.

But silence filled the room when Chip Heath, author of The Power of Moments, asked the Southwest Airlines analytics team about the impact of those announcements on the bottom line.

After sifting through the research, the analysts found that customers on those flights took, on average, an extra ½ flight over the next year than those who didn’t receive the humorous announcements. This resulted in an additional $140 million in revenue.

After eleven chapters about people and businesses recognizing, not seeing, leveraging, or ignoring the power of moments, Heath’s book opens Chapter 12 like this:

“Once you realize how important moments can be, it’s easy to spot opportunities to shape them.”

Those humorous moments created by Southwest weren’t off the cuff. They were the result of an idea, meetings about the idea, heads-down time to write, editors deciding to cut some jokes and refine the punchlines of others, and stakeholders ultimately deciding to give it a shot. In other words, the moments were a result of micro-moments.

But these micro-moments don’t always take place in brand-controlled experiments behind-the-scenes. They’re happening all around us, and the brands taking them seriously are leap-frogging the brands that aren’t—because delivering such customer experiences grants them the best seat in the house to watch how the customer experience is changing.

What kind of micro-moments am I talking about? Think about a customer landing on your homepage and immediately heading to your on-site search bar.

That’s a micro-moment. And so is every scroll and click and seemingly small decision that leads to that potential customer making a purchase or leaving.

Or let’s use another example from Chip Heath. He’s been an Expedia customer for nearly two decades, and yet each time he lands on their site to purchase a flight they still aren’t showing him the nonstop flights he prefers. If they did they would have created a brilliant little micro-moment for him. One that may, who knows, encourage him to buy another ½ flight each year.


Enter responsive merchandising


As we covered in What is Responsive Merchandising?, offering real-time understanding and attentiveness to a potential customer’s wants and needs is more critical than ever.

In the physical store, such actions are fundamental. They’re human. But in the digital space we’re still learning how to build a bridge of human empathy between screened interfaces, how to care as much about an on-site search query as we would for a customer standing in front of us and asking for our help.

That said, technology is allowing digital merchandisers to break free from the antiquated chains of segmentation and move into truly individualizing customer experiences, and customers are now expecting those experiences.

In fact, it’s those experiences that Robert Rose, author of Experiences: The 7th Era of Marketing, believes will become a business differentiator just as important as product or service offerings.

Those times of collecting data, teasing out the insights, and making decisions that may or may not impact the next quarter are over. AI-powered customer engagement platforms can now intelligently respond in real-time to those customer micro-moments, and deliver to the customer a tailored digital experience similar to what they would have experienced from an in-store associate.

But as any responsive merchandiser knows, artificial intelligence in and of itself does not create a better digital customer experience. But empathy-powered AI can, and this is why taking micro-moments seriously is so critical.

In fact, according to Lisa Gevelber, Google’s VP of Marketing for the Americas, “micro-moments have been accelerating consumer expectations for ‘right here, right now’ experiences.”


Responsive merchandising, here and now

Responsive merchandisers - Micro-Moments

The Land-Search-Purchase concept offers digital merchandisers an entry point into the land of micro-moments.

Think about all of the micro-moments that take place in the customer journey from the time they search, say, in Google, to the time they make a purchase. Using Post-It notes, map out multiple variations of that journey.

Now actually go through the Land-Search-Purchase process yourself on your own site. Where did you get stuck? What could have been smoother?

Take another step back. If you searched on your own site, how did you know the language to use in the search bar? Was the search tailored to you, or were you Expedia’d like Chip Heath and treated like just another random visitor?

Return to the Post-It notes, this time noting those seemingly insignificant points of friction a potential customer may experience. What if you could shore those up by improving site load time by 10%, or allowing a customer to use voice-enabled search instead of having to type their search?

Too often customer journey exercises like this are layered with assumptions, lacking empathy, and without data. Pull in customer feedback, heatmaps, and analytics data to build out your own experience.

Responsive merchandising has a long history, and it’s always been about discovering new pieces to an endless puzzle.


Responsive merchandising on the bottom line

History of responsive merchandising Micro-Moments

Micro-moments, empathy… to many business leaders it seems “soft.” A common question at Forrester’s CXSF 2017 event, which was all about AI and empathy, was along the lines of:

“How do I convince my boss that this stuff matters?”

The answer is to prove it to them, and a growing body of research continues to make this easier and easier to do.

This piece at Harvard Business Review shows empathy’s correlation to growth, productivity, and earnings per employee.

And there’s no shortage of thought leadership pieces around the importance of empathy on business growth, such as this piece at Forbes titled Why Empathy Is The Force That Moves Business Forward.

So while thinking empathy-first is important, responsive merchandisers must also see the other piece to the puzzle: improving micro-moments improves the customer experience which typically leads to dramatic increases in conversion rates and revenue-per-visit.

Cameron Conaway

Cameron is the Director of Content at Reflektion. His work as a journalist and content marketer has appeared in Forbes, Newsweek, and The Guardian, among other outlets. Connect with him here on LinkedIn and on Twitter @CameronConaway.