Technology expert Stefan Schmidt argues that retailers need to prepare today for changes in consumer demand that will shape retail experiences of the future.
As UK internet shopping sales growth outstrips that of any other country in the western world, it is clear that the country’s consumers are becoming ever more accustomed to using many more different, technology-enabled ways to shop and interact with retailers.
But retailers could do more to keep up, according to Stefan Schmidt, who works with companies such as Toys R Us, Mulberry, Monsoon and L.K. Bennett in his role as vice president of product strategy at ecommerce technology company hybris software.
“Consumers don’t see stores, online, mobile or even retailer’s social networking pages as separate entities, or ‘channels’ as retailers refer to them,” says Schmidt. “They just see a brand they know, interact with and hopefully love.”
The internet has increased competition by giving consumers more shopping options than ever before. They can compare prices, read reviews, and ask for advice via email, online chat or over the phone, and they can still go into a store to touch and feel a product. They can also complete a purchase in-store, online or via their smart mobile device, have it delivered, collect it in-store and even subsequently return it by either means.
“The consumer simply doesn’t see multiple channels or an omnichannel strategy, they just know how they want to shop,” Schmidt continues. “The feedback we get from retailers at hybris is that they see the opposite to the consumer. The complexity of delivering on and exceeding those expectations all falls on the retailer’s side, where they have to manage processes and data across channels in a way that is cost-effective and efficient, yet seamless to the consumer.
The message to retailers from Mr Schmidt is clear. “They need to make it easy, simple and convenient for the consumer. For me, it is not about creating new channels for additional revenue or to mitigate cannilbalisation to offline or online competition, it’s about giving the consumer everything they need to buy in confidence from you. Adding additional touchpoints, like kiosks in-store to offer an extended range in smaller format outlets or a mobile app, can help increase the likelihood the customer will complete their purchase with you rather than the competition.”
The retail technology expert advises retailers to respond by, “looking at the processes already in place in the organisation first to decide which of them deliver the most value to customers - not just in one channel but across all channels".
Central to a successful retail commerce vision is a single view of products, stock levels, orders and customers across all channels: “But the challenge for retailers is this information tends to reside in a lot of different internal systems that are disparate. Our approach is to provide the overlaying technology ‘wrapper’ that helps to bring these systems together so retailers can have full visibility of this key information.” “No one can predict the future. So retailers today need a flexible enough platform to execute a coherent, agile and customer-focused commerce strategy,” Schmidt concludes.
In the ‘always on’ economy, customer experience is the new battleground for retailers to vie for market share. The relentless pursuit of relevance and instant gratification by customers forces retailers to look hard into their data and multichannel strategy to connect the overall shopping experience. And it is more important than ever for ecommerce platforms to rise above shopping cart and product display to deliver growth, convenience and relevance based on real-time data.
SIMPLIFY GLOBAL MARKET & MULTI BRAND MANAGEMENT FOR GROWTH
Whether you want to grow a new market or launch a new brand, you need a single platform to control all of your product catalogues, customer data and localised promotions, so you can specify which products and promotions are active in each market, without duplicating work, and track your customer orders and sales at market or brand level to get a clear view of the performance.
CONNECT ONLINE & MULTI BRAND MANAGEMENT FOR GROWTH
Great customer experience goes beyond digital interactions and connects with the entire operation. Merging your online and offline channels makes it easy to buy from you - connect your ecommerce platform to your back-end systems to allow customers to buy online and collect in-store, check stock level before they visit a store, and offer express delivery for customers needing your products quickly.
OPTIMISE & PERSONALISE FOR RELEVANCE
From mobile to email to social media, customers use a variety of channels to engage with you. Your ecommerce platform must combine responsive design with customer data to personalise product merchandise and branded content for optimal effect, and using a platform that can automate the merchandising process will further improve sales efficiency and speed to market. In the fast-changing face of ecommerce, choosing a user-centric and data driven ecommerce platform such as EPiServer Commerce gives retailers a solid and agile foundation to support the evolving needs of modern customers.
The use of ecommerce technology is already extending into new channels. This has exposed the need to understand the complexities of store operations and customer cross-channel behaviour.
You will already be offering a click-and-collect service, possibly even have the ability to check and fulfill orders from store stock. The store will be web-enabled, with the ability to browse and order products from your full range and process purchases using a single combined basket for orders and store purchases with local promotions correctly applied.
While ecommerce technology is inherent in these processes, the most successful implementations recognise that both customers and retailers have different needs in different channels, and also call on functionality from the core store solution that controls store experience, stock, security, refunds and cash management.
Like many retailers, your ecommerce will be feeding a wealth of customer information into a central repository to be combined with data from each of your other channels. You will know your customers’ preferred channels and locations, shopping preferences, and their buying habits. The most profitable retailers will be leveraging this information to create targeted marketing campaigns designed to build brand loyalty and keep customers coming back.
This enriched customer profile is essential to analyse behaviour, construct and execute unified marketing campaigns through numerous channels, and then accurately evaluate the response. Importantly, it should be the engine that ensures that a customer’s experience of your brand is always relevant, personalised and consistent thereby maximising revenue.
The challenges will be to control and align relevant personalised messages across the channels, and adapt business processes quickly and effectively to drive profits. In a connected world, retailers need to leverage best-of breed functionality in each core system with the agility associated with ecommerce.
Micros has unparalleled retail expertise. We excel in understanding customer transactions and behaviour in all channels. Our solutions address your unified retailing challenges in swift implementations that minimise disruption to your business and drive return on investment yet they can be scaled and extended easily as your business requires.
Without data, it's just another opinion. Ecommerce technology has evolved into multichannel commerce, empowering retailers to drive operations across all channels - print catalogue, mobile, call centre, in-store kiosks. The centralisation of data has enabled retailers to benefit from the efficiencies of a single data set for products, content, order and customer management. The holy grail of any multichannel commerce strategy is a single view of the customer. The ability effectively to monetise this holy grail has so far been elusive for many retailers.
DATA IS THE NEW OIL
Data collection is the easy part. Every retailer is collecting data on their customers through every transaction. What does the customer buy, how frequently and through what channel? Raw data, like oil, is unrefined. How do we refine it? Flexible reporting tools enable marketing executives to more clearly see what their customers are doing, transforming data into information.
INFORMATION DOESN'T LIE
Availability of data is concrete, analysis of data is not. Online retailers are constantly making decisions on marketing and merchandising. How many of these decisions are driven by analysis of information? The time required to analyse data can be daunting. Platform-driven analytics that enable a clear view of historical trends and future forecasts are key to generating knowledge about customers.
KNOWLEDGE IS POWER
Once retailers have knowledge about customers – buying habits, likes, trends – what should they do with it? Transform the knowledge into strategies that target each customer individually. The challenge with personalisation is to make the conversation consistently relevant for each customer without missing the mark. Ecommerce platform providers are racing to deliver the tools needed by retailers to create value from their data. A key requirement of multichannel commerce technology going forward is the ability to transform data into a knowledge based strategy. Any strategy will need to encompass data collection, analysis and personalised response. Without transformation into an informed strategy, more data just creates more noise.
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The key future requirement for ecommerce technology is that it shouldn’t exist! Instead we should be building technology that is channel agnostic and built for commerce irrespective of channel. Explicitly this means that the commerce technology sector should focus on solutions that provide the customer a truly seamless experience no matter how they interact with the brand. What does this mean from a technology perspective?
Agile frameworks: commerce technology should provide pre-configured (out-of-the-box functionality) for all known channels today. These should be lightweight agile frameworks that are interoperable with other systems and easily configured to enable processes within the business.
Future proof: commerce technology should expose all platform services (API websites) to cater for emergent channels/technology (NFC, smart TV, interactive digital displays, Google glasses).
Usability: as the technology becomes more sophisticated, commerce solution providers need to spend equal time and budget on developing, solutions that are truly user configurable and usable. We still haven't solved the problem of IT, which is making IT accessible to people who aren't remotely technical, providing business users with systems that are easily configurable and programmable.
Functionality: the ecommerce landscape is filled with a quagmire of third-party solution providers (reviews and recommendations, affiliates, dynamic recommendations, merchandising tools, tagging software, search providers). Future commerce solutions so look to ship with more if not all of these offerings natively within a single admin console.
Scalability: the uptake in ecommerce wasn't predicted in the early days. Because of this, many organisations have experienced scalability and performance issues. Thus future solutions in this space should have zero excuse for not being scalable! These systems must be able to handle swings in traffic from natural peak business periods to spontaneous spikes driven by marketing or promotion activity.
There is nothing revolutionary about any of the above, but we are still waiting for people to produce solutions that tick all the above boxes - hopefully it won't be for long.