By Susanne Zander, Partner Syskoplan Reply and Reply Practice Lead “Digital Commerce”
The first few months of 2021 have been challenging for retailers as we are continuing to see the lasting impact of COVID-19 on how consumers shop. Department and clothing store sales have plummeted while online spending has soared. In the last year, there was an average 24% drop in outdoor visits to food and beverage destinations in the UK and interest in online grocery delivery increased by a skyrocketing 844%. Having grown accustomed to buying online, many will continue to shop this way even as the high street begins to reopen on the 12th April.
For retailers to survive and come back stronger than ever before, they must champion the online shopper and embrace digital commerce. They must prioritise hyper-personalisation and ‘micro-moment’ technologies in order to create a successful e-commerce strategy. This is according to new findings from Reply, which gathered data from a series of surveys, interviews and bootcamps to reveal future digital commerce trends and strategies.
For all retailers, this change in consumer preference means the race is on to find or enhance a digital strategy that allows it to establish a deeper relationship with customers and stand out from the competition.
Investing in data driven technologies for unique experiences
As shoppers’ budgets shrink and spending falls, engaging and retaining customers is important now more than ever. One way to achieve this is by harnessing data to create unique online experiences. As consumers spend more time online, retailers can capture behavioural data and use those insights to offer bespoke customer experiences. This will not be new information to retailers with websites littered with advertising cookies and GDPR agreements, however, retailers should be using this data more cleverly.
By investing in new technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) retailers can use data-driven processes to drive more sales by offering customers suggestions based on previous purchases or anticipating their needs. There are many different technologies specifically designed to streamline the retail experience and offer this personalisation at an individual level. Digital shopping assistants, interactive shop windows, digital twins, and voice commerce are all ways to take this online shopping experience to a new level. Targeted tech such as adverts and chatbots can facilitate direct communication with customers, addressing them in surprising and individual ways. Retailers cannot just deliver technically efficient work, they must also provide creative solutions to problems which keep customers onside and engaged using data.
However, for many retailers the amount of data they have available is growing unwieldly and overwhelming, something that cannot be maintained in the long-term. Stable and accurate algorithms and predictions must be put in place to ensure the added value of the data. Data-driven technologies as already outlined are therefore at the top of retailers’ priority lists.
Personalising online shopping experiences
In today’s digital age, customer power is at an all-time high. With thousands of retailers marketing the same or similar products to the same customer pool, retailers must fight to stand out from their competitors.
One way to do this is to create emotional shopping experiences through the use of hyper-personalisation to win and retain customers. This is the process of offering a bespoke and unique shopping experience to each customer, such as offering deals based on their usual shopping habits or showing suggestions for alternate brands they might like on their weekly food shop.
As more companies integrate this hyper-personalisation into their services, retailers must become aware of individual considerations and needs. This poses a challenge for retailers who are balancing consumer changes with streamlining and improving internal processes such as the automation of resolving customer complaints and supply chain issues.
While automation is vital to improving operations and customer experience, personalisation is key to retaining and attracting customers. Online shops can only do this if they are willing to embrace creativity and a tailored approach. This means sending customers promotions for what they want to buy and not continuing to share offers for products that customers have already purchased or ones they are clearly not interested in. Conveniently, data can also help here.
The challenges of the future are to attract and enthral new shoppers while transferring your existing in-person customer base online. To do this, retailers must make skilful use of new technologies, such as AI and ML, which, perhaps ironically, means the creation of a more personal approach. As retailers prepare for an uncertain future, those which will survive and thrive are ones who use intelligent digital shopping assistants that close the gap between “attraction” and “conversion” in the customer journey.