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Experience is emerging as a critical differentiator in personalised retail. Consumers are moving beyond transactional commerce and aligning with brands that they connect with on a more emotive level. The challenge for Retailers is establishing this level of authenticity in an environment that remains fractured between physical and digital.
We convened a virtual panel to hear how Angus McDonald, Chief Executive, BBQ Galore, Shane Lenton, Chief Information and Digital Officer, Cue Clothing, and Scott Treller, Executive General Manager, SAP Customer Experience are moving towards a unified view of customers. Moderated by Paul Waddy, CEO, The Horse, their conversation identified some of the key challenges and opportunities of omnichannel experience. We are sharing some of the salient insights from this executive conversation with you today.
We have accelerated rapidly down the path from analogue to digital Retail. Traditional levers, such as product range, and pace, precision and flexibility in fulfilment options have been widely implemented and so muted as competitive differentiators. To effectively ignite the interest of consumers and propel them down the path to purchase, Retailers need an e-commerce engine that responds personally and empathetically to customer needs. How can Retailers build this level of responsiveness across physical and digital environments?
It’s important to recognise that we live and operate in a borderless Retail world. We have witnessed a real shift in the maturity of e-commerce over the last twelve months, evinced by significant growth in online as a percentage share of overall Retail sales. As e-commerce builds momentum, the challenge for traditional Retailers becomes leveraging the physical footprint as a site of advantage. There is growing recognition of the tremendous potential a physical presence holds for delivering rich customer experiences. But these physical, human experiences hinge on a more fundamental omnichannel position: that the sum is greater than the parts. E-commerce was born as a function of marketing, and the dissonance that customers experience can often be traced to gaps in business integration. It is essential that Retailers recognise the power of a single view of the customer, appreciating that this view is contingent on facilitating the flow of information across the organisation.
E-commerce is all about identifying moments where we can push recommendations based on behaviour, how we can leverage data to inform a whole gamut of activities at relevant stages of the customer’s digital journey. But this level of personalisation and precision has historically been foreign to physical environments. When we speak of unified commerce, we are talking about taking a single-view of customers across channels. The challenge is translating the deep consumer knowledge we use to tailor digital experiences into a physical environment. We need to think more deeply about the information dialogue between online and brick-and-mortar; how we can empower staff with real-time, consumer insights to deliver personalised in-store experiences, and how we can capture in-store information to continue a conversation with customers in a digital setting.
We sometimes fall into the trap of viewing online Retail as a form of cannibalisation. But once we adopt a more holistic view, we see that it’s all about building a unified view of the customer. Practically, you can’t redesign your entire physical store for every customer that comes through in the same way you can for a digital environment. But there are tremendous opportunities to augment in-store experiences with the same real-time insights that drive personalisation in online environments. The challenge for Retailers is to recognise the opportunity that a physical footprints represents for creating highly personalised experiences.
Everyone is looking for connectivity, and Retailers cannot lose this opportunity to reimagine how they resonate with customers. This is a time for retailers to be braver, to think deeply about creating an emotional tie through e-commerce. So how do we create a connection that not only attracts, but retains customers?
We often hear claims that brick-and-mortar presents unrivalled opportunities for connection based on the power of the human touch. But in theory, creating a lasting emotional connection is more achievable from a digital angle. When a person walks through the door of your store, they are not followed by all the data points that otherwise accompany them on a digital journey. All they carry is an expectation of the brand that has been informed by their digital experiences. So the challenge for Retailers when it comes to creating a connection with customers is how do we meet these expectations? We need to empower staff with the information to deliver informed experiences.
We begin by identifying the information that is lost when the customer leaves the store. There is so much depth to the research piece that happen in-store, troves of information that are being forfeited instead of captured. Consider that there is no equivalent of a wishlist in a physical setting, no way to track the consumer’s interest in related products or adjacent shelf items, and no way to record what inhibited the purchase or why the cart was abandoned. Now consider how we could not only bridge this information gap, but fill the void with a personal and meaningful interaction. Think of the potential of e-receipts, not just as a wishlist or ledger, but as a vehicle for a personalised and ongoing dialogue between the customer and the in-store staff around the products that interested them and when inventory or prices may change. If we capture information, we can create a dialogue, and if we create a dialogue, we will retain customers.
It’s easier to create loyalty and drive business results if you remember that customers are not statistics. The ongoing pandemic has further demonstrated the dangers of business silos and relying on a fragmented view of customers. It is essential that Retailers gain a wholistic picture of consumers, that they look beyond their own data and implement a strategy that is driven by numbers, not a narrow-focussed impression of these numbers. How can Retailers build this capability?
There is a hygiene level when it comes to technology and data, a baseline of proficiency and functionality that Retailers must meet. We must continually invest in our digital capability to keep pace and remain in consumer consideration as this baseline rises. But technology only goes so far – it can help you find an audience, but it can’t create the message. It is vital to recognise that the most powerful brands alive are increasingly tribal, inspiring a more emotive following than others have in the past. While the historical levers of differentiation were incredibly rational, now people are motivated by brands they can align with on a deeper level. To resonate in this way, Retailers need to have structures in place that empower creative thinking. We need to approach challenges on their merits rather than retrospectively fitting the outcomes that our current technology accommodates.
We can only truly know our customers if they trust us. Retailers should aspire to build trust with personalisation rather than erode it by being overly familiar without context. We are custodians of data that customers own, and we need to reflect this ownership by implementing robust, consent-driven capabilities. Loyalty and retention have shifted away from reward programmes towards creating intimate experiences at scale. Strong, consensual data practices are the bedrock for creating authentic consumer experiences. Without it, your commerce infrastructure is vulnerable and your potential for knowing your customers is limited.
The pandemic heralded great change and uncertainty for the nation’s Retail community. In many ways, the extreme conditions of the pandemic provided consumers and retailers alike with a rare opportunity to reassess their relationship. In response to the ambiguity and chaos, Retailers found opportunities to reflect on the role that consumer experience will play in the sector moving forward. While many challenges lay ahead, there are real opportunities to elevate and improve the ways we connect with consumers in a meaningful manner. Connect Media and SAP will continue to connect Retailers with the aim of furthering this dialogue, combating shared challenges and enlivening collective opportunities.