The retail industry continues to undergo enormous changes in the digital age. Some stores that have been a part of our landscape for decades have merged with competitors or gone away altogether. And those that have thrived in this new environment have embraced a multi-channel approach with an emphasis on creating a compelling shopping experience that engages the customer. So what distinguishes the winners in this industry?
Facing the Challenges
Because technology changes so quickly, retail brands can quickly be swept into obsolescence if they're not able to keep up. For instance, just a few years ago cloud-based systems were at the cutting edge – and today they're critical to staying in business. Unfortunately, many retail brands still struggle with how to leverage the power of the cloud to combine content with their e-commerce platforms and deliver immersive customer experiences.
Responsive web design, which allows sites to be optimised across platforms and operating systems, has been the standard for several years. But even now it’s not unheard of to find a brand site that’s not optimised for mobile. When you reach sites like these you usually find they're clunky, slow, and difficult to navigate. This is especially true during peak periods. In a recent, Acquia-commissioned survey, UK consumers found 46 percent experience slow, glitch-marred websites during big sale days like Black Friday.
Today's customers may have the same reaction when they find your site lacks an immersive experience that doesn't personalise their preferences and give them the perks and insights they expect as a shopper of your brand. In other words, everyone wants to be treated like a brand ambassador, not just your best customers.
Finding the Fixes
The good news is that through the magic and power of cloud-based tech, a brand of virtually any size can deliver a high-quality, engaging experience.
A great way to see this in action is to look at the success of some brands' direct-to-consumer (D2C) marketing. By offering a selection of simple, quality products at low price points, Dollar Shave Club and Harry's Labs have taken about 10 percent of the $2.8 billion disposable razor market worldwide. What sets them apart, however, is their approach.
Good razors can be found at any corner market. But selling them online gives these companies an opportunity to harvest preference data from their customers and personalise their offerings. They're able to attractively package other products like high-end, higher-margin shaving cream, moisturisers, and shampoos that are easily added to their customer's regular subscriptions. Direct-to-consumer is proving to be a kind of loyalty program on steroids, building a relationship with the buyer based on their purchase and search history.
Another key to immersive shopping is the seamless experience. Customers don't just want, they expect that the retailer will deliver excellent, personalised service no matter whether they're shopping in-store or online. However, many retailers are still trying to work out what the seamless experience for their brand will be and how to make that happen.
For instance, just 7 percent of retailers offer the ability to start a sale on one channel and finish it elsewhere. Sainsbury's, the iconic UK supermarket chain, is one of the retailers leading on this front. They're testing a SmartShop app that allows customers to make purchases as they take products off the shelf, eliminating the worst part of an in-store visit: the queue at the till point.
Online, a key hallmark of the seamless experience is simplicity. It's not uncommon to see a large corporation that manages many different brands spend much more time on IT than needed because they haven't fully embraced headless e-commerce. One need only look at Nestle's success, a multinational corporation with around 450 brands in many different languages. Headless architecture allows for a free transition of content from one site to another, across platforms and even languages, giving their customers a free-flowing experience that's consistent with their corporate message.
Conclusion: Making Good Things Happen
Basically, what was “disruptive” technology in the recent past is now essential for success across retail channels. By not listening to the consumer's desire for an immersive, seamless retail experience, brands risk falling behind. Fortunately, cloud-based services can deliver the personalised multi-platform experience that keeps up with consumer demands and in a rapidly moving industry.
This kind of “reinvention” is perfectly accessible to every brand since retailing is no longer a zero sum game. A brick-and-mortar store doesn't lose the pound it's customer spends on its e-commerce site. But the key is how the retailer blends the channels to give customers a wide-ranging, personal experience that encourages repeat sales and lifetime engagement.