This article was originally published in the Spring 2019 issue of The Record. Subscribe for FREE here to get the next issue delivered directly to your inbox.
Consumers have been conditioned by online retailers like Amazon to expect high service levels, easy-to-use interfaces and customised buying experiences. Much has been written about retailers needing to provide an omnichannel experience across multiple platforms – recent data from research group IDC found that 71% of consumers prefer omnichannel retailers and those retailers now account for 35% of e-commerce growth. However, for omnichannel to have real power, retailers must go beyond simply enabling customers to interact with them via mobile devices, call centres or physical stores. Instead, they need to ensure that the buying experience improves as consumers move from platform to platform.
Here’s an example. A business traveller is preparing for a trip and wants to take a new smart toothbrush with her. She uses her laptop to look online and puts a couple of options into her electronic shopping cart, but then decides she wants to see them up close. When she arrives at the store, her smartphone recognises that she has already chosen some options online and directs her to the toothbrush aisle. Here, she receives a notification about a special offer for toothbrushes via her phone, as well as recommendations for other toiletry items she may need for her trip. Her experience is therefore enhanced from the time she starts her online search on the laptop, to the time she enters the shop and purchases the toothbrush.
There are five key factors for retailers to consider if they want to deliver enhanced, cross-platform digital customer experiences.
First, retailers have to create environments where they can try new digital products and features and then absorb them if they work or move on to the next innovation if they don’t. To do this, they must recruit the right people and foster a collaborative environment where they feel safe to experiment and sometimes fail.
Second, they must build security into all new digital products. Much has been written about DevOps and agile development, but when pursuing digital transformation nothing moves forward without security. That’s why retailers have to focus on DevSecOps where security gets built into the core product or feature as they get rolled out.
Retailers must also understand the customer’s digital footprint. They need to track their customers from a behavioural perspective, which means watching their buying patterns carefully. If a customer suddenly buys lots of baby products, then it’s clear that they have either become parents or grandparents and the retailer should send special baby care offers the customer’s way.
Tracking customers’ social media activity is also essential. Customers are always giving opinions on products and retailers must become a part of the conversation. This means that, at a minimum, retailers must understand Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram.
Finally, retailers have to embrace new technologies. For example, 3D printers are more common in homes today, so retailers might consider giving customers the option of printing a 3D version of a product so they can see if they want to make a purchase. Retailers might also need to offer an augmented reality option on their websites so customers can see how the product might fit into a living room or kitchen. Drones are also gaining momentum as a viable delivery option. People don’t want to wait three to five days to receive a package and drones can accelerate the delivery process by delivering products to customers’ front door in the way delivery companies traditionally would.
To transform into a digital enterprise, retailers must update all their back-end systems so they appear seamless to the end user. The consumer doesn’t care about the technical complexity of how to create a label for a return, they just want to have that option when they decide they don’t want an item that has been delivered to their home. This will be challenging for retailers because their systems have traditionally been point solutions that get rolled out one by one.
Going digital is hard work, but by creating a collaborative environment, focusing on DevSecOps, taking time to understand the customer’s digital footprint, being on top of social media and embracing new technologies, retailers can make it happen.
René Aerdts is a distinguished engineer and chief technologist for Consumer Industries and Retail at DXC Technology
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