Senior retailers from across Europe gathered at this year’s InternetRetailing Summit in Berlin this week to share their experiences.
These are some of the key themes that emerged from discussions over the course of the event, which was held under the Chatham House Rule.
Operations & logistics
Convenience, said one speaker, is driving the development of fulfilment. It’s all about choice through click and collect, home delivery and other options since that reflects “what’s most convenient for me” at any moment, as well as the difference between different shopping missions.
Issues here, said one delegate, include introducing a process to refund the 15% of click and collect orders that are paid for but not collected.
It’s important, said another, to attribute sales to stores, while being able to recognise where the conversion took place. Connecting email addresses to store transactions helps retailers do that but, asked one delegate, how can that be encouraged? Another suggested offering discounts and e-receipts to customers via email. E-receipts, said one speaker, were “very popular with customers” since they enable them to trace previous purchases in order to make returns and to reorder or recommend products that they liked.
What do we mean by the seamless customer experience – the aim of multichannel retailers? This was the starting question for one leadership panel. Such an experience, suggested one speaker, would be “very easy to use, predictable, delivering on expectations with real time updates that can adapt to interruptions and change”. Another said that while the seamless experience was hard to define “we should improve every day”.
“If we’re convenient they’ll come back to us,” said one speaker, adding that this meant it was important to keep focusing on what was changing and what customers were demanding.
One speaker said their organisation had added video to parcel tracking so that shoppers could see for themselves where their delivery was, while another said that customers wanted to talk to the organisation all the time: by taking some administrative tasks overnight it had been possible to create 24-hour availability for the contact centre. This had led both to service improvements and to late night sales. “If you don’t do these things, someone else will,” concluded the speaker.
The seamless customer experience rests on a single customer view: one participant said that when small changes “honing” the single view were made that had a knock on effect on all connected systems. It might also mean that decisions taken three years ago were no longer the right decision.
One delegate said that newcomers to multichannel retailing might benefit in the short term by having the latest technology – but within a few years that might mean they were tied into technology that was already outdated. “The challenge,” said another speaker, “is to remain agile, being connected and disconnected at the same time in order to make changes.”
Strategy & innovation
Strategic planning in retail usefully reflects demand from customers, said one speaker. Research shows that the next generation of customers want to have physical contact with the store, said another, while another delegate said that younger shoppers were keen to feel part of a community, and were happy to join in by submitting videos to their retail brand for sharing on the website. Useful innovations might help to connect data in ways that give a view of customer behaviour from inspiration to the POS (point-of-sale) system, or to match customer data with the products that they buy.
Reviews and rankings could be connected with shopper profiles in order to show customers relevant products.
How could artificial intelligence be used most effectively in retail? asked the chair of one session. Delegate contributions included the idea that it should be used “to do what the customer wants. If you don’t, someone will,” and that users should be “ruthless with rules” to make sure that it works as intended. Equally, empowering staff is important in order to ensure that they enjoy what they are doing and can give good customer service.
Innovation, said one speaker, had to be “part and parcel of the culture” – and maintaining that is about expecting new approaches and thinking. It’s about building credibility through success cases, that lead to efficiency, savings and enable understanding of the shopper experience.
Another spoke of a standalone unit set up in the business they worked for in order to bring digital into a historically offline business. This aimed to bring a new mindset to the business, and a new approach to solving problems. Here again, it was about “building understanding, trust and credibility by delivering results”. Even failed projects, said the speaker, can bring lots of learnings and innovation. “It’s about restarting the innovation muscle,” they said.
Disruption can drive success, said one speaker, but it reaches a plateau, with the challenge then of how to get past that point. One challenge is to decide which ideas are worth pursuing. A speaker suggested focusng on the parts of the business that need to be improved and where friction was being felt and then “testing lots of ideas with as little resources as possible. Kill the bad ideas through the process, and that will lead to good ideas emerging.”
Mobile & multichannel
One speaker said their business had seen a significant trend among mobile app users: they tended to spend more on an individual product but to have less items in the basket.
Another speaker said it was seeing around 70% of customers now choosing to visit its website via mobile devices. But conversion was typically a half or a third of that on desktop. Boosting mobile conversion was a priority. The speaker said their business was now “focusing on not waiting to check out” and “giving a sense of urgency” to the transaction. In order to achieve that it had looked to strip out the amount of data that needed to be entered during the checkout, while stock indicators on the product page showed how much stock was remaining and had a “huge” impact on conversion.
The mobile commerce landscape was evolving along with smartphone features. It’s important, said the speaker, “to start with what the customer wants”, using technology to support the experience. Meanwhile, encouraging app downloads in the store was also a priority. International customers might download an app in a tax-free lounge, with the result that they take back the brand to their own country, while super apps that control many elements of life have potential.
One delegate said it was important “to respond to what people want to do, rather than ‘getting them to do’ something.” Another said that giving added value through the app can create a need for it.
Asked about the role of the mobile in connecting the store and digital, various speakers suggested that apps could offer assistance, information, and offers via text where they are relevant.
Marketplaces are playing a more important role in many retailers’ businesses – but how can they retain control of the process while selling through a third-party platform? One delegate suggested using branded boxes, while another suggested including a free gift or a thank you note. It was also important said another to “measure brand damage: does selling via a marketplace help or hinder.”
How do brands best measure engagement with customers? one session at InternetRetailing Summit asked. Suggestions from delegates including measuring return on investment for customer engagement, measuring customer lifetime value, and considering what investment was required in order to increase net promoter scores by one point – and whether the end would justify the means. Cutting the time taken to complete a shop, said one, was likely to lead to higher conversions.
Promotion, said one speaker, is at the heart of what customers now want, while reviews are also increasingly important: 65% of customers at this business looked at reviews before buying.
Using data is about “making customers life simple,” said one speaker. Machine learning is making it easier to search.
Personalisation on the website and via emails was, said one delegate “the only way to keep relevant”. At the same time, it’s important to maintain core messages, said another.
Data can be a way to reach shoppers and show them relevant ancillary products, said one speaker.