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GUEST COMMENT Disrupting the disruptor: taking on Amazon

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Amazon has taken every retail sector by storm in the past few years. From cutting down delivery times by one week to one day, to creating a global retail holiday, all eyes are on this marketplace behemoth.

Amazon has expanded into almost every vertical possible from books to food, clothing to electricals – posing a threat to traditional retailers. The pressure is mounting for merchandisers and brands to differentiate but for those not able to replicate a global retail holiday brimming with unmissable deals, what can be done to keep customers engaged?

Retailers must be wary of falling into the trap of going head-to-head with Amazon on a combination of prices, delivery, and customer service. Instead, as research analysts L2 point out, fashion shoppers are seeking different products on Amazon – focusing on fairly basic essential items such as T-shirts, underwear and socks.

The benefit this provides for retailers is that they can leverage brand value at premium prices to succeed. However, customer behaviour has changed: shoppers expect a great deal from the online experience, which is no longer seen as a labourious chore of scrolling through grainy stock images, but a journey in its own right.

With big ticket and luxury purchases customers are buying into the experience and not just the item – after all, buying a Chanel handbag from Chanel itself should have a lot more value than purchasing it from Amazon. The key to expressing and showing this value to customers is in digital content.

Content is king

Digital content should be a retailer’s main vehicle for communicating with customers, especially since the in-store shopping experience has become less personal due to the shift in interest to online shopping. To reflect this shift, retailers are upping their content game to get one step ahead of Amazon.

Using the brand voice and native expertise to create interesting, relevant editorial content is key to challenging Amazon. How-to guides, buying guides, as well as articles about the latest trends, technology, or essential information that the customer needs to know will be key in differentiating the brand and establishing value.

Without the ability to touch and physically interact with a product in-store, customers rely on elements such as videos, integrated image zoom, 360-degree spin and roundels. One of Amazon’s weaknesses is that the quality of media on its product pages varies widely because of the limitations of its strict image specifications.

Compare Amazon’s product zoom for a luxury handbag to Mulberry’s below. Both products are priced at a premium, but only Mulberry’s website provides a rich experience that would make the customer want to part with their money.

For online shoppers, these features play a critical role in creating the closest thing possible to an in-store experience. In the coming years the incorporation of these elements will no longer be a ‘nice to have’ but a necessity for those retailers that want to remain competitive online.

Social shopping

Shoppers are wooed by features that deliver value and convenience as well as those tools that incorporate socially-curated content. When used correctly, shoppable social content can be a great way to tap into the social proof shoppers crave before making a purchase, helping to boost engagement and ultimately, sales.

The rise of user generated content (UGC) has created a low-cost way for consumers to engage with a brand using social channels. Although Amazon relies on its review system, a form of UGC to encourage sales, it hasn’t branched out to compelling image-based reviews, which are important for lifestyle products such as clothing.

Fashion and footwear company Dune has a ‘styled by you section’. Here, customers can see its shoes being worn by actual customers via Instagram photos shared by shoppers and fans of the label. Importantly, Dune has made sure that these images are shoppable, smoothing the journey from inspiration to purchase for shoppers.

This type of content feels more authentic than traditional brand shots, which is key when shoppers are making purchase decisions. Just as consumers will consider reviews a key point of validation, they are also persuaded by seeing products used by real people. Likewise, incorporating images from social channels allows brands to engage with their community of fans and customers.

Adding a personal touch

Gartner revealed that in 2016, 89 per cent of marketers expect to compete primarily on the basis of the customer experience their brand, product, and service delivers to the client or the consumer. Personalisation is a key way for retailers to enhance the customer experience, yet surprisingly, few are actually successfully executing personalisation strategies. There is a fine line between a genuinely considered set of recommendations and generic suggestions to upsell certain products.

To get personalisation right is tricky and to make customers feel like the service they are receiving is truly bespoke and individual is a tall order. The last thing retailers want to do is bombard the customer with content that is neither relevant nor interesting. If retailers master the art of using customer data effectively and create the content needed to take advantage of this data they will reap the benefits for years to come.

Deploying a content strategy in order to build these personalised experiences is the next logical step for retailers who want to ramp up sales. Customers are becoming more demanding and expect more from the shopping experience. Successful retailers will be implementing personalisation strategies to provide a service that rivals one they would receive in store and to make their customers feel valued.

Connecting the dots

As shoppers move between brick and mortar shops to desktop and mobile shopping they expect a seamless transition and great service across all platforms. As a result, retailers are forced to find more meaningful ways to connect with their customers.

When consumers have a wealth of offers to shop from online, a shopping experience that is efficient, seamless and relevant can make or break a sale. Shoppers are increasingly time-poor and impatient so if online retailers have any time lag and are not up to scratch they will be quick to abandon their baskets and take their business elsewhere.

The opportunity is there for retailers to respond to an Amazon-shaped threat.

In order to prise consumer eyes away from Amazon, it has never been more important to keep shoppers engaged and leverage a rich, engaging and relevant offering to loyal customers. After all, a satisfied customer will return for years to come bringing their friends and wallets with them.

James Brooke is CEO at Amplience

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