"Recent events make it essential for retailers to establish how they can turn aspirations into becoming disruptive digital leaders" says Greenlight Commerce MD, Kevin Murray.
If 2020 has been anything, it’s turned out to be a wake-up call for retailers who were not able to switch seamlessly to ecommerce.
Some were already prepared and so flourished, while others have struggled. Which camp retailers finding themselves in can usually be tracked to where they stand on the Prospero Digital Maturity Curve. It is a five-stage curve detailing a retailer’s progress from starting out as ‘digital beginners’, where they tackle being hampered by siloes, all the way up to being data-led, customer-focussed ‘digital leaders’.
At the beginner stage, things will feel a little ad-hoc and led by decisions made inside the business looking within itself, rather than being informed by the retailer looking outside to establish how best to serve its customers. To become a digital leader, the retailer will need to have the voice of the customer in everything they do and be truly digital-first, understanding cross-channel data, embracing automation to offer a helpful, frictionless service.
For the end-user, using a beginner’s service means re-entering details on a site that does not know them, has no idea if items are in stock or when the warehouse will be replenished. Shopping with a leader like Amazon where a retailer knows the customer, can make recommendations, can match items with additional purchases and always knows if an item is in stock and when it will be delivered.
Start with honesty
There is never a bad time for a retailer to plot where they are on the curve but, given the year retailers have had to endure so far, it is now imperative. To be brutal, if they are not already working on progressing beyond stage one as part of a commitment to digitally transforming from beginner to leader, then it could be too late.
Every retailer will benefit from plotting where they are on the five-step curve but perhaps those who will get the most from some detailed self-reflection are businesses in the middle of the curve, as what Prospero has called the “Inflection Point”. It is here where small, iterative changes to a business no longer bring sizeable gain, as they might have done at the start of the journey. It is here where fundamental change is required to push on to ‘leader’ level.
It is a little like joining a gym. The first pounds are normally the easiest to lose but after a few months, progress seems to slow down and it is here when people either quit or step up and try new routines and classes to reach their goal.
Reaching the inflection point
The crucial moment will vary from one retailer to another. It will typically be reached when a business is at the “Digital Aspirations” half-way stage, having already committed to digital transformation by combating data siloes. At this point, data from different sources will be shared and decisions will be validated against KPIs with attribution modelling in place.
The big early ‘wins’ will have been achieved and from here on in, the rest of the journey will rely on a retailer becoming truly digital-first with a fanatical dedication of hearing the voice of the customer in everything they do.
Reaching for disruption
When they choose to cross the Rubicon and go all-in on digital, the next steps will be to combine data across different channels and embrace automation with a dedication to optimisation. At this stage a retailer will find some roles will either be filled by, or need to be filled by, specialists rather than having generalists working across the entire ecommerce operation.
The final stage is for a retailer to embrace being truly transformed, with no separate P&L for a standalone digital unit because the entire business is digital-first. Its ecommerce strategy will be designed to deliver on its wider business goals and smart teams provide agility and resilience to the retailers by being trusted to make their own decisions.
A retailer will know it is digitally mature when the voice of the customer is present in every data-led decision and, crucially, they consider themselves a disruptor. This not only means challenging how things are done in their sector but being committed to a path where they are constantly disrupting themselves by trialling new ways of operating.
Plot your course
There has never been a more pressing time for retailers to plot where they are on the five-stage journey. By definition, that means they also need to be determining where they would place rivals. It may uncover some inconvenient truths, but it will at least give a business an accurate appraisal of where it stands in its sector.
For those that are serious about finding where they are, and discovering how they can progress, the process should be undertaken with an independent set of eyes. Outside experts can be more neutral on progress made so far by a business and, crucially, its competitors. Expert observers are also best placed to explain what the next steps should be and, based on previous experience, where the challenges are and how they will be overcome.
Every journey begins with the same appraisal process and a good place to start is downloading this easy-to-understand, brief white paper from Prospero Commerce and Greenlight Commerce. It details the five stages so retailers can quickly find where they are on the path to maturity and discover what the next steps should be.