Are you being served?

Good old-fashioned service is at the heart of lasting retail relationships with customers. Today’s ecommerce platforms can help

There’s a world of choice out there for online shoppers. But although customers could buy from a different site every time they shop, research suggests that in fact they tend to frequent just a handful of tried and tested websites.

Customer engagement today has to be real time and contextual

A PwC study, Achieving Total Retail: Consumer Expectations Driving the Next Retail Business Model, published earlier this year, suggested that while many consumers now shop more often, they tend to use only five or fewer retailers when they do so. Retailers that want to join this select and trusted group have to start by understanding how customers want to buy and engage, and then go the extra mile to deliver that experience. It’s a case of old-fashioned service, amplified by 21st-century technology.

Understand the customer
The PwC research, which quizzed 15,000 internet shoppers across 15 countries last summer, showed shoppers favouring mobile devices ahead of the PC to do that shopping. More recently, UK e-retail association the IMRG [IRDX VIMR] identified a “tipping point” in mcommerce when the IMRG Capgemini Quarterly Benchmarking Report for the second quarter of 2014 showed 52 per cent of ecommerce website visitors now came from mobile devices, though a more moderate 36 per cent of online sales complete on mobile.

“I think the reality is that mobile’s growing at an exponential rate,” says Ian McCaig, chief marketing officer at personalisation specialist Qubit. “We find that research is done during commuting hours. Then there’s an increase in laptop and tablet activity in the evenings when people are making a sale. That’s why the laptop and desktop still have higher conversion rates when the customer makes a purchase.”

This is important because understanding and responding to the way customers want to buy is key to engaging them in relevant ways to develop a long-term relationship. “You just can’t afford to lose a customer any more,” says McCaig. “Spend time getting a customer to your website and if you don’t convert them, not only are you losing that sale, but with their ability to share negative experiences through social media, it means that there’s just a low margin of error when comes to creating that experience.

“Marketers are turning to data to understand how they can figure out both why users aren’t converting and how we help them make repeat purchases. It’s about lifetime value.”
Brian Walker, chief strategy officer at ecommerce platform provider Hybris [IRDX VHYB], points out that many shoppers are not frequent visitors to a website – and retailers may need to give customers a reason to return more often. “One of the success stories of the flash sales model is they’ve created a compelling reason for a customer to visit very frequently: it’s a new product assortment, it’s very time sensitive.”

Welcome and reassure
Customers may visit a site briefly but leave fast. They’re likely to leave most quickly when they can’t find the product or information that they’re looking for. Retailers retain consumers’ interest – and win their business – by showing them goods that are likely to be of interest, in the way that best suits the device the customer is using, and using a product recommendation engine that has learned both from a website’s previous visitors and from the way the individual visitor is using the site right now.

“Customer engagement today has to be real time and contextual,” says Hybris’ Walker. “Retailers need to be thinking differently about how they aggregate customer data and to create opportunities to engage with customers in a way that’s responsive and contextual.”

To achieve this context, the ecommerce platform behind the website must be capable of understanding and responding to the customer. Geolocation functionality tells the retailer whereabouts the consumer is, while analytics tell the retailer what device they are using to visit the website and what they look at once there. Intelligent and self-learning data solutions can also add the context of factors such as the time of day and the weather, while product information systems or warehouse management solutions bring current stock levels to the mix.

Speaking from experience
Crucial data
“Data is no longer a nice to have but a strategic imperative for businesses who pretty much base their entire engagement strategy with their end user.”
Ian McCaig, CMO, Qubit

Business case
“Customer engagement is not just about what the end customer is experiencing, it’s also about optimising the business. I think most commerce platform providers out there haven’t been able to move to that next level. They’re only really serving one channel.”
Brian Walker, chief strategy officer, Hybris

Empowering the customer
“Retailers do best when they support their customers to do the
things they want to do but better, more easily, and in a more convenient manner.”
Samuel Mueller, chief executive, Scandit

Finally, responsive design adapts the content to fit the screen of the device that’s being used, whether mobile, laptop or tablet, and enables the touch controls that work to such effect on mobile devices. When these technologies are combined, retailers can, for example, identify a customer who is visiting its website on a sunny day using a mobile phone. The retailer can then show the consumer warm weather items that are currently stocked in that shop, on an interface that’s optimised for the device they’re using.

Go the extra mile
Offering proactive help to website visitors can help keep them interested. Live chat, for example, gives consumers the chance to ask questions rather than leaving when they can’t find answers, while proactive messaging based on real-time user behaviour can have a similar effect. To give an example of how that works, marketplace Farfetch [IRDX RFFE], for example, using the Qubit personalisation platform, started to serve up a message that asked visitors who had looked at more than 10 pages whether they needed help, and pointed them to the FAQ system to find out how the site worked. The result was a 17 per cent boost to conversions.

Reviews and ratings also reassure customers. Matt Eames, sales director of reviews and ratings provider Feefo, says the business benefit goes well beyond reassuring customers that the product they are considering will meet their needs and be delivered on time. For example, the fact that reviews feed into Google seller ratings can mean that positive ratings result in higher click-through and conversion rates. Eames says: “There’s also a nice knock-on effect that seems to have happened to some merchants where, because of the increase in click-through rates and of course the high amount of benefit that Google [IRDX RGOO] puts on genuine ratings and reviews, some merchants have seen a decrease in their cost-per-click every month.”

In order to really figure out what’s driving the revenue, marketers are now critically evaluating different applications and tools to see what value they are driving

Retailers can also consider adding value for the customer by developing mobile applications. Samuel Mueller, chief executive of barcode scanning developer Scandit, points to the utility of applications as simple as a shopping list. A simple list already provides value for the customer when it saves them from writing down the items repeated times and learns from previous lists.
“When you have a shopping list,” says Mueller, “then you can start to engage the consumer through that application. You can interact with the consumer as you learn about their behaviour.

You can send a push notification if a certain item regularly appears on shopping list to say it’s now available with a special promotion, and draw a segment into your stores.” The addition of barcode scanning means the shopper can tick items off the list as they shop while potentially building a basket on the shopper’s own phone that could be checked out by generating a barcode for scanning and payment at an in-store kiosk.

Whatever the added feature, however, it’s important, says Ian McCaig of Qubit, for retailers to make sure it works for customers.

“In order to really figure out what’s driving the revenue, where they’re getting the biggest bang for their buck, the marketers are now critically evaluating all these different applications and tools to see what value they are driving.” That, he says, includes testing features before they’re fully added to a website.

Get to know your customer across channels
By getting to know visitors individually, whether they visit online, in the store or via mobile, retailers can start to gain the kind of information that can power strong customer relationships. Relationship building can start before the first purchase: Gap [IRDX RGAP], for example, offers a 15 per cent discount on a first order from anyone who signs up to receive the company’s email newsletter and alerts, while Asos [IRDX RASO] offers voucher prizes for competitions run via social media. Both approaches give the customer an offer that may help them convert, while retailers gain the means to recognise the customer on a future occasion, offering relevant messages and showing products that will matter to them.

It’s common practice to offer customers who do buy the chance to open an account, where their delivery and contact details and, possibly, payment information are stored for a future occasion. Customers who opt in can then make future purchases more easily. Amazon [IRDX RAZC], for example, greets users by name, enables them to make one-click payments without the need to re-enter information and stores the contents of their basket for the long-term. Those contents are visible no matter which device the customer accesses it from, with a user name and password giving access across devices.

Tony Bryant, business development manager at multichannel retail solutions developer K3 Retail, says the next step is to extend that basket visibility to the store. He points to M&S [IRDX RMAS], where it’s already possible at some branches, to generate a code that can pull up ecommerce baskets on the in-store point of sale or at a kiosk. In a similar way, he says, look-books can also be created and shared across channels: a typical sequence might see a customer create a look-book in store, view it online and share it on social media, with prices and stock availability updating as they change. Thus, he says, “You start to get that creation part of our own personal ‘go anywhere’ basket. The ecommerce platform is the trigger to make that happen.”

Taking that on a step, retailers using today’s intelligent platforms could then bring together each customer’s ‘go anywhere’ basket information in the same part of the website as the customer’s account information, social media links and settings such as newsletter opt-ins.

“It gives the opportunity to the customer to exploit that experience, but it also gives a real opportunity as a retailer to have further access to that customer and, most important, to his or her network,” says Bryant. “Like anything, the customer has to buy in or opt into this, but when you have your ‘go anywhere’ basket in the same place as ‘my account’, it starts to give you opportunities to widen that brand experience.”

Underlying all of this is the single view of the customer. Being able to offer an omnichannel platform that monitors interactions wherever they occur is valuable, says Hybris’ Walker. “The challenge is in understanding a single view of the customer in that context,” he says. “It’s very difficult to aggregate customer data that’s being generated at a wide variety of different point solution providers.” And that, he argues, means retailers find it difficult to evaluate results: a discount email that generates high levels of sales might at the same time “erode profitability”. Walker adds: “You might be driving a loss by doubling down on what a marketer may think is a successful campaign.”

But by understanding how customers want to buy – and how they are buying – retailers can respond with engagement campaigns that deliver great customer service and are also profitable.

What’s changed
The customers have changed. They’re using mobile devices and, as retailers grow Facebook and Twitter followings, are becoming more likely to engage with retailers on social media. Retailers that follow this direction of travel have more opportunities to engage in different ways, on more occasions, through whatever touchpoint the customer chooses. All of this goes towards making the retailer one of those few traders that each customer spends regular time with.

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