Retail is an industry that undergoes constant change. The way people make purchasing decisions has changed dramatically since the days of the corner shop 50 years ago, where we bought largely what we needed from what was available - supermarkets have replaced such stores now. As people began to earn more disposable income, shopping centres were created in order to cater to peoples broader aspirations, some of which have become large household brands. However, retail has always been an industry easily subject to disruption and what might be considered to be irreplaceable and established can also be impacted severely because of such dramatic shifts in trends, most recent examples include some well-known British high street stores. Today, we are in the realm of new players such as Amazon, EBAY, Rakuten and the reinvented Walmart (formerly better known as a supermarket).
When internet retailing went global, e-commerce allowed new entrants to position the right products at the right price, and appear outwardly to sell from everywhere. Consumables that required little expertise to select, and could easily be shipped around the world, offered the prime domains for new retailers online. The world of the fast moving consumables, such as groceries, books, music, toys and consumer electronics was changed forever by the PC and the browser. This was the first wave of digital and e-commerce.
The history of retail tells us that change is not only inevitable, but constantly taking place. Consumer engagement is the new and current battleground in retail, where forward looking retailers are looking beyond simplifying the task of transacting and are using technology to engage customers in all stages of the sales cycle, such as:
- Generating greater potential customer traffic
- The conversion of more potential customers into actual customers
- Increasing the order size on conversion
- Understanding your long term customers better through two-way loyalty programs
By focusing on all four of the above elements - traffic, conversion, order size and loyalty - digital retail can enter new arenas that previously proved more resilient against e-commerce ventures; for example, luxury, specialist and high value goods. By better understanding your clients, what they want and why, the above areas can be addressed.
A key factor that has acted as a catalyst for these changes is the mobile device. Smart phones and tablets bring digital into play even as the customer enters a traditional brick and mortar store. This makes having a digital strategy a necessity for today’s retailers. Additionally, this strategy must be aligned with a traditional retail approach, to the extent that one should not be able to differentiate the two. The following tips offer a guide towards considering a digital strategy in retail.
Customers will now spend some time planning shopping trips looking for who provides the goods and brands they want. It is therefore key that retailers have a web presence that works for their customers. This web presence should work equally well, be it from a browser or a phone, and it should reflect the values of the company.
Consider how the right customers would want to find you online. How should you align what your business provides, with your Search Engine Optimisation strategy? Do you want to be found according to the services you provide, the brands you stock or are you lucky enough to have your strong own brand identity that people will look for? Whatever the approach, how are you going to identify yourself to the right customers and gain an advantage on your competition?
From the outset, one should start by considering how to convert a prospective visit into a sale, be that contact online or a walk-in customer in a traditional store.
Where the initial contact is online, confirming pricing and availability is often key to the customer. It is also an opportunity to provide bespoke offers and promotions. Ideally, promotions would be consistent regardless of whether the customer wanted to continue online and check-out, or visit a store and see the product before making a decision. A simple way to manage this would be by issuing coupon codes that can be exchanged both at the store or online.
The technology to recognise when a customer enters a store and who they are is also improving. This can be via the use of a mobile application on a phone, or Near Field Communication (NFC) built into loyalty cards. This provides the means to alert staff about key customers and to offer a bespoke service which would be more likely to assist in closing a sale.
When adding an item to the shopping basket online, it is quite common to find that you will be provided with details of associated items that other consumers tend to buy with the same selection as yours. Practices similar to this can be applied in-store, by merchandising goods well and consistently between web presence and within stores.
Utilising loyalty data more efficiently and offering a more personalised shopping experience will help; for example, in fashion retail, by maintaining customer size data and allowing clients to select items online and subsequently try them on in-store, which allows a retailer to accessorise in advance and provide alternatives. It also facilitates the potential to have “home fittings”, enabling clients to keep and pay for what they liked, while returning other items there and then to a visiting personal shopper.
A quality loyalty program is the key to making all the other above elements come together. It should not only be about encouraging a customer to come back to spend again in order to realise a discount. The information gathered can be used to drive a deeper understanding of your customers and therefore your business. What are your customer types? How do they engage with your business? How often do they buy and how much do they spend?
Knowing what type of customer generates the most income for your business and then how to attract more of this type of customer, can make a profound difference. This is where business analytics comes into play and can help to directly influence your top line. So, if you are not using the data well from your loyalty program, then you need to think again.
In summary, a digital retail business has the potential to engage clients and consumers much more frequently and therefore offers the potential toward understanding them better. It utilises the best of e-commerce and blends seamlessly with the traditional brick and mortar, providing the customer with a single, consistent and personal service that will allow you to differentiate your business from the competition. Through the variety of services that digital can facilitate, your business can benefit by demonstrating greater loyalty to your customer and in turn generate greater loyalty from them. Does that sound like a win-win?