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Retailers have to increasingly focus on delivering a seamless customer journey across channels following the rapid shift online, and greater adoption of technology, by consumers as a result of Covid-19, which dramatically changed their behaviours.
Speaking at the first part of The Retail Bulletin Digital Transformation Strategy 2022 webinar René Schrama, managing director at Peak Technologies, suggested the shopping patterns changed as people were forced online and there was great uncertainty with the various lockdowns and pressure on supply chains.
In-store behaviour shifts
“Shopping trips were suddenly not available so it forced people online. Now retailers are trying to understand the role of the store – as a showroom or for experiences. On the grocery side it’s about being as frictionless as you can be. There’s a focus on both cost control and the customer experience,” he says.
An integral part of this experience involves the adoption of digital devices in-store, according to Ben Holland, head of retail & enterprise sales at Extreme Networks, who says: “There has been a proliferation of connected devices. Large grocery stores are using wayfinding solutions to show customers where products are in-store, and there has been an increase in voice and video applications. Also there is now a connection between the online and offline worlds with employees armed with iPads showing customers the full range (for ordering online) if they cannot find the right size or colour in-store.”
Growth in checkout-free stores
For all these elements to work Holland says retailers need a secure wireless network. This is absolutely the case in the checkout-free stores that are heavily reliant on technology and which he says will grow in number. Orit Bar-Ad, portfolio director at GK Software, says they are particularly successful in attracting a younger demographic as well freeing up store staff to undertake more meaningful roles in-store such as offering a more personal service to shoppers.
However, she warns that certain checkout-free solutions are far too rigid in their format and provide an underwhelming experience to shoppers. “There is a rigidity to the journey in-store. Typically there is only one way to check out and customers can feel like the personal touch has been lost. It can feel like the brands have lost their feeling,” suggests Bar-Ad.
The GK Software solution has sufficient flexibility to enable various options in the way people check out and pay. And because the solution is linked to retailers’ other channels there is a richer data set that enables promotions to be sent to the customer mid-shopping journey.
Customer data is critical
Customer data is absolutely critical to the improvement of the customer journey and thankfully Chris Bull, CTO at Stitched, says the tools required to store and then gain insights from the data are now very affordable.
Victoria Betts, chief commercial officer at Unbound, agrees that retailers are indeed fortunate to have great technology solutions available that can make the customer journey more frictionless without it feeling like Big Brother: “The more we know the better it as because we can give them a better service. We’re collecting data from customers to improve their experience.”
Bull suggests simply learning SQL to interrogate the customer data can be a very cost effective and very beneficial way to gain insights: “Every new data tool will say it solves all your needs but just a basic ability with SQL is enough. It’s been a superpower for us. It’s not coding, it’s really advanced Excel.”
Need for single customer view
What retailers should ideally be interrogating is a single view of the customer that straddles all the channels over which shoppers interact with the retailer. But achieving this is a tough one for many companies, according to James Coughlan, digital transformation strategist, who says: “It’s a challenge that’s more common than retailers will admit. But they don’t need to panic because a single customer view in some capacity will be possible. But it needs representation from all departments and retailers should not make it an IT department problem. They need a core focus group…who need to be clear on the key data points.”
Rachael Kotadia, head of marketing at RedEye, says that only when retailers are armed with this relevant data is it possible for them to implement an effective marketing strategy. “It’s about knowing your customer. It will be inefficient if you do not know them. It’s very important for b2c marketers to focus their strategy around this data. Having a single customer view is the answer and it should include behavourial data. It needs to be actionable and to have the potential for personalisation down to a single person,” she says.
Care certainly has to be taken though, according to Neil Tunbridge, co-founder of Mellow, who says it is a fine line between the amount of communications that are sent to a customer and the relevance of them: “We do lots of chats with customers on the website. They often have a problem and they need it solving. We’re personalising things through our help.”
Not all about selling
Richard Piper, senior director of new business development at Webloyalty, agrees it should not always be about selling to someone all the time: “Sometimes retailers should communicate feelings and thoughts. They can put out relevant messages, advice and suggestions. It’s about getting them to think about the retailer ahead of a potential purchase at a later date. They’re then front-of-mind.”
He is also an advocate of not just focusing on customer acquisition but also on retention. A key element of this should be a focus on the next purchase and managing an incentive programme that provides discounts and things like free entries into prize draws based on the potential lifetime value of specific customers.
What is also an imperative is making it as easy as possible for customers to deal with a retailer, says Nick King, market research & insight director at Auto Trader, who reveals Covid-19 pushed up unique users per month on the Auto Trader site from nine million to 11 million.
Making life easy
“People are doing more things online. So can you make it easy for them? Simple, easy, quick and transparent are key tenets to being successful. Thirty percent of people said if it was easier to buy a car online then they would do. We’ve therefore looked at enabling everything online. There has been a mass take-up because it’s so much easier,” he says.
For Leona de Graft, VP of e-commerce in Europe at Levi Strauss & Co., the customer journey is something that needs to be constantly optimised. This is not about offering up the flashiest website because what people want is operational expertise to be displayed: “The idea is that we’re constantly obsessing about the customer journey and if there is any friction then we try and fix it in real-time.”
She says the company also ensures there is a constant loop of customer feedback and in addition it runs large-scale audits. “I also pivot to the customer service team in order to learn what’s going right and wrong for [us delivering] a frictionless service,” explains de Graft.
As well as optimising the journey Levi’s is not immune from undertaking ongoing innovation such as experimenting with NFTs. Mei Chen, head of fashion & luxury for the UK & head of US luxury at Alibaba Group, highlighted how there have been some great innovations taking place in China where the Alibaba customer base is “incredibly digital”. To this end the company has been testing the selling of collectibles with NFTs through work with the likes of Burberry and La Perla.
The company had also developed a virtual store with Macy’s in the US some years ago but Chen says the limited number of VR headsets held back engagement with the proposition. “We realised the technology was too far ahead of the consumer,” she says, adding that this has not deterred the company from its recent exploration of the Metaverse with partner retailers.
Words by Glynn Davis.
If you would like to watch again, click on the links below to view the recorded sessions:
Session No 1: Digital technology innovations Click here to watch the session.
Session No 2: Digital eCommerce transformation Click here to watch the session.
Session No 3: Customer journey management Click here to watch the session.
Session No 4: Scan-less shopping done right Click here to watch the session.