What is rapidly changing is that people are reliant on their mobile phones. According to the Pew Internet Project, 64 percent of American adults own a smartphone. A Gallup poll in July found that more than half of smartphone owners checked their phone a few times an hour or more.
Changing consumer behavior is leading to an increase in mobile advertising. While traditional print and TV ads still exist, more retailers are dabbling in search-based advertising, Instagram-worthy displays and location-based discounts.
Google's ad product works like this. Let's say that you're searching for a pair of boots this Black Friday, and decide to type in the term "black boots" in Google search or look up a YouTube video featuring someone talking about trendy pairs of black boots. The company will pull up all relevant links, but also show you nearby stores that participate in its "local inventory ads" function that carry said footwear.
Now, you want to try on those shoes. So, you pull up directions on Google maps to find your closest retail location. If you're logged into your Google account (and Spero said an increasing number of its users are), Google can track you into the store and how long you spent in there via your mobile phone.
"We've built a bridge from the digital world to the physical world to understand the role digital media is playing in visits to the store," Spero said. "The measure of attribution allows retailers to play with their creative, their targeting and even the number of registers available."
In the last 12 to 18 months, more than 1,000 retailers including Best Buy and Famous Footware have signed up for the service. Google claims retailers are seeing four times more conversions to purchases when using its ad services. When the users are on mobile, that number jumps to 10 times overall.
There's also companies like RetailMeNot, a digital media company that offer discounts at various retailers. CMO Marissa Tarleton said RetailMeNot found its users were still going into stores to make the purchase, but 70 percent were doing research online before committing to the buy.
People who download RetailMeNot's app get push notifications for upcoming sales, like early Black Friday deals. Once they head to a location with their mobile phone, more push notifications and deals pop up thanks to geotargeting and beacons hidden inside stores. Retailers know when you enter the mall, when you're walking by their store. They can target you with more deals to ensure you walk in the door.
"Our foundation and heritage is in the coupon business," Tarleton said. "We've also been able to understand how mobile in particular is used to create a relationship with shoppers on their shopping journey. It factors in ... early consideration into purchase, into loyalty, and ultimately into checkout. We've built content and work it out all the way across that journey."
Other brands are leveraging the power of social media to drive people in stores. SelectNY's Schaefer said its agency creates in-store events to persuade consumers to shop at a physical location. For example, SelectNY curated Champagne parties with style, and fashion influencers co-picked with the editorial team from O, The Oprah Magazine for Nine West. It used Instagram to send previews and videos.
"You have to create the idea and the feeling that there is something you don't want to miss by inviting people to the actual event, and then by posting and then disseminating pictures and snaps from the event," Schaefer said.