If the ecommerce boom of the past 10 years was driven by the shopification of the web, then the next 10 years of commerce innovation looks set to be shaped by a reverse process: the webification of the shop.
With consumer expectations set sky-high by the ease and convenience of online shopping, shoppers are beginning to demand nothing less than the same great experience from their visit to the local mall.
And retailers, having discovered the advantages and benefits of engaging with their customers through digital channels, are becoming increasingly keen to try out the same techniques in their physical locations.
Let me give you five live examples:
On the web: one-click checkout
In the webified shop: contactless payment
Phone-embedded payment is already here (Apple Pay, Google Wallet etc), and will soon become mainstream. (No question of this in my mind: the rapid uptake of contactless payments on mass transport systems suggests that consumers love this technology too much for it to fail in retail.)
Further ahead, prepare to see the cash desk itself becoming obsolete as forward-thinking retailers enable customers to fill their baskets, do a wireless bulk-scan to pay and de-securitize their merchandise, and then go on their way.
On the web: clicking through ‘long tail’ inventory
In the webified shop: kiosks and iPads showing an ‘endless aisle’
This is a beautifully simple proposition: “Not available in store? Not a problem – let’s find the one you want on this iPad , and then we’ll have it in stock for you tomorrow morning, or delivered to your home tomorrow night.”
This is not new – a lot of leading retailers already offer something like this today. But for those who have so far opted out, beware! This is not just a trend: this kind of experience is becoming table stakes. In a few years, this will be as mandatory as in-store heating and lighting.
On the web: “Other Customers also bought this”
In the webified shop: clientelling/assisted shopping
Here we have a wonderful opportunity for human-machine hybrid intelligence: by equipping your store associates with an apped-up iPad and a means to identify their customer (eg via a scanned loyalty card), you have a way to harness the power of your ecommerce recommendation algorithms and augment them with a common-sense human filter – to create the ultimate, smart, smiling recommendations engine.
On the web: “We deliver any time, any place, any speed”
In the webified shop: click-and-collect/store-to-door/buy-online-pay-in-store, and so on.
This is another one that is already well-established in some regions. No mistake: omni-delivery is set to become a ubiquitous fact of retail life in the coming years, and retailers not doing this (or doing it with a poorly-architected, hard-to-scale solution) will have to invest the dollars in order to stay relevant and competitive.
Marketing and analytics
On the web: clickstream analytics and cookie-marketing
In the webified shop: micro-spatial analytics and personalised promotions
The mass adoption of smartphones, the advent of low cost tracking tools like iBeacons, the relaxed attitude of the millennial generation towards data privacy, the proliferation of real-time big data analytics tools… all of this points to a tantalising (and slightly scary?) future where our every step, our every pause, our every glance in a shop can be used to engage and sell to us more effectively.
And for a rising cohort of managers weaned on Google Analytics, and a generation of facebook-obsessed shoppers, this will seem as natural as falling off a log. And this is not sci-fi: the solutions are already out there.
Well, the demand is there, the technology is there, and the future trend is clear. So the only question is this – is your business ready implement a truly webified store experience? I offer two pieces of advice in this respect:
First, have the courage to be profoundly innovative with store layout, store tools and store people-processes. Just because it always worked in the past doesn’t mean it will always work in future. Your customers’ habits are changing before your eyes. Keep up!
Second, it’s now urgent to bring store IT systems up to date using a fresh approach and philosophy. Hardware is becoming secondary to software. Running a webified shop demands that you ditch your reliance on clunky batch mode transfers and hard-coded ‘point’ integrations, and begin to fully embrace real time data, flexible APIs, and proper store connectivity.
The webified store is happening now – how are you going to react?
Joe Ballard is director of business consulting, hybris and SAP customer engagement and commerce