Digital innovation, a well-managed omnichannel offering, and an ability to understand the individual shopper should be at the heart of any digital-first strategy, writes Meyar Sheik, CEO and founder, Certona. For many retailers, this will require a dramatic cultural shift which, while daunting, is essential for both the longevity of their business and the satisfaction of their customers.
Expanding a retail business used to mean replicating and opening another brick-and-mortar shop, based on the success of your flagship store. Processes, operations, and management could simply be replicated. However, the downbeat forecast of the state of our high streets, the growth of e-commerce, and the increasing expectations of shoppers mean this is no longer a viable way for retailers to extend their footprint.
The alternative – entering the online domain, launching new channels, and embracing technology – is a lot more complex. Yet, if retailers plan and implement digital transformation (DX) strategies carefully, they’ll unlock opportunities, rather than face adversity. It will take investment – that’s a given – but it will also require a cultural shift.
Technology has changed the way we shop, so retail businesses too must start thinking differently, and operating as cohesive collectives. Frequent communication and sharing of resources and expertise across departments is key; every individual in every team must understand how – and why – new solutions are implemented, and the way they can be used to enhance the customer experience. Get DX right, and retailers can aim to follow in the footsteps of Amazon, Alibaba, and Walmart, and avoid the fate of so many high-street names.
‘Omnichannel’ is the most oft-repeated word in retail’s vocab; but is rarely heard amongst consumers. Shoppers don’t see various channels as separate entities. To them it’s a single, homogenous brand experience.
Many shoppers expect to be able to scan the barcode of a product using their phone in-store, then check reviews and ratings when they’re at home. They might then head to the retailer’s Instagram page to find images of the product, put an item in an online cart, and later that day use a laptop to purchase. After purchasing the item, they’ll expect to be able to exchange it for a different size or return in-store – and, all the while, receive tailored email updates, delivery status texts, and loyalty-programme-based push notifications about relevant special offers.
The only way of delivering this frictionless experience is if retailers view their business in a similar holistic fashion. Employees in all sectors must adopt a new way of thinking and move away from the traditional notion of departments as disparate sectors. Instead, data must be shared across all segments of a business, with every team member understanding how their role or channel fits into the wider customer experience.
Bringing together data from all aspects of the business (marketing, e-commerce, customer service, in-store, email, social media, and more) means retailers can create comprehensive profiles of shoppers. By using tools and techniques such as artificial intelligence, this wealth of data can be analysed and interpreted at scale to provide highly individualised, in-the-moment customer experiences across all channels – anytime and anywhere.
Understanding the individual
Integrating data is crucial; but retailers must also ensure they can gain insight into each shopper and their actions on a one-to-one basis. This involves having a common shopper identifier and ensuring every enterprise system in a retail business uses the same shopper IDs. As the shopper logs in or makes purchases across various retail channels, the data gathered can be amalgamated and associated with a single shopper.
How does this translate to the shopping experience? A shopper buys a bicycle helmet on a bike retailer’s website and chooses to try it on and collect it in-store. She then goes to the store, picks up the bike helmet and, while there, she notices some bike lights that she adds to her basket and ends up checking out with both items.
Instead of this data lying dormant on an in-store system, it can be shared across departments and channels via a system that registers both online and offline purchases. The next day, the shopper receives a personalised email, the content of which reflects the bike retailer’s comprehensive view of the shopper’s behaviour. So, rather than bike lights like the set she bought yesterday (which would happen if the retailer only had sight of the online purchase), recommendations are generated based on both purchases.
Achieving business & e-commerce cohesion
Understanding your shoppers on an individual level is only one part of the wider cultural shift all retail businesses must make.
It’s typical in a retail business to have different departments using different solutions to select, organise, and display various elements of an online channel. Without proper integration and communication, this can create major stumbling blocks. For example, a CMO may have spent a lot of money with advertising agencies and invested heavily in developing a strong brand identity, which they want to reflect via the website with lots of aspirational lifestyle images. A sales director, on the other hand, will be keen to push product images and have these displayed more prominently on the website.
To the eye of the shopper, a retail website appears as a cohesive environment. However, when you break apart a site and examine who manages which element, things can get very complicated very quickly! While the website may have a great aesthetic, if the people – and the data – at the backend aren’t talking to one another, the platform cannot be enhanced and used as a tool for personalising the shopping experience.
Retailers must break down silos and develop an informed cross-channel strategy. Integrated teams can share expertise and shopper data – both historic and real-time – to inform digital transformation strategies and trial new approaches.
A wholly integrated retail business will translate to a joined-up, personalised e-commerce experience. So, for the shopper with her bike purchases: the marketing team will be able to send her relevant emails, the product development team will be able to log and learn from her purchase feedback, the social media team will know whether to address the shopper via this channel, and those in charge of imagery and recommendations will avoid pushing any more bike helmets or bike lights to the shopper after her purchases.
We’ve witnessed the results of too many retailers that have failed to update, and to harness, the opportunities of DX. High-street closures should be a motivating factor to alter the philosophies and internal structures of their companies. Just as shopper data and retail channels must be interlinked, the departments within, and technologies used by, a retail business must also come together, communicate regularly, and share expertise. This will inform unique, individual shopper insights and result in an ‘invisible’, frictionless shopping experience.