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The Future of Digital Retail – a Global Perspective

  |  July 1, 2014   |  Comments   |  

As the lines continue to blur between customers' online and offline retail worlds, marketers must up their games and offer customers a "joined-up" multichannel retail experience.

Though preferences and practicalities may differ from territory to territory, there are a number of underlying truths that apply to all digital shoppers, whether they're from the West or the East. It's the duty of brands to recognize these truths and ensure their digital retail strategy matches customer expectations when it comes to providing a customer-focused path to purchase.

Customers Don't "See" Channels - They Just Want to Buy Something

While brands and technical suppliers devote a lot of time and effort to developing "omnichannel" and "multichannel" strategies - often one for each channel - the fact is that customers are oblivious to them. All they want is to be able to buy something, when, where, and how they choose. Removing business silos to give customers access to their entire product range no matter what device they are using and providing a "joined up" experience across Web, mobile, and physical stores is a must.

This is where brands can take advantage of China's enthusiasm for smartphones - a mobile-first approach allows for convergence of all business channels, both in-store and online, with the smartphone as the connecting device. It's the ultimate portable shopping assistant - customers are already using their mobiles to compare prices on- and offline and between competitors in a bid to get the best deal - it benefits brands to exploit this behavior by giving them what they want; a seamless experience whether they're at home, out and about, or in a physical store.

Brands Seeking Loyalty Should Play the Long Game

A time-limited degree of loyalty can simply be bought though special offers, loss-leading products, and deals, if the business strategy is to encourage short-term interest, which can be useful to kick-start a brand in a new territory. But most retailers are looking for something more long-term, and having that kind of staying power involves a commitment to consistently excellent customer service. This involves:

  • Knowing the customer well enough to offer personalized services.
  • Having the ability to receive payment by any means to convert the sale - online, via mobile, at a traditional checkout - whatever is convenient to the customer. E-commerce giant Alibaba has taken a step toward this with the introduction of Alipay and mobile payments, with Tencent, Baidu, and others following suit.
  • Having full visibility of staff performance and providing them with the tools to improve it.

A Three-Step Approach to "Joined-Up" Retail

The rapid development of retail technology means that retailers now have an unprecedented opportunity to provide their customers with first-class service, equipping their staff, sites, and stores with everything they need to improve operational efficiency and increase sales. There are three broad areas to consider when developing a smart, "joined-up" strategy:

1) Bring the Benefits of E-Commerce In-Store

Retailers need to make it worth their customers' while to physically visit a store by applying all the benefits offered by their online presence, including:

  • removing the need to queue via roaming tills, mobile payment options, etc.
  • provision of comparison information on prices, products, and so on
  • in-store access to exclusive content such as reviews, product details, and special offers
  • ability to order online while in-store and arrange delivery/pickup at the customer's convenience

Thanks to advances in mobile technology, these activities can transform the retail experience without the need for costly and time-consuming replatforming, opening up opportunities for brands of all sizes.

2) Clienteling - Using Customer Data to Offer Them a Personalized, VIP Service

Careful use of data, delivered via mobile devices, microlocation, and other in-store technology, to provide a personalized journey with the customer at its heart is the key to "clienteling." This is where in-store staff and e-commerce sites have access to customers' wish lists, previous orders, product reviews, and preferences, allowing them to act as a personal shopper. Sales staff empowered with all-round knowledge about the customer's wants and needs as well as stock availability and product information are able to provide exactly the right level of service, from online ordering in-store to upselling appropriate products to using microlocation to identify and prepare for click-and-collect customers as soon as they enter the store. As an example, recently, China's Yummie House ran a beacon-based campaign, which increased in-store engagement by 30 percent.

3) Sales Staff Empowerment Through Technology

Understandably, retailers have devoted a lot of time, effort, and cash to developing compelling digital experiences for customers, from mobile apps to interactive websites. However, this has resulted in an in-store knowledge gap - sales staff frequently find themselves knowing less about products than the people they are trying to serve. Equipping sales staff with the same kind of technology and information as is readily available to the customer empowers them to provide a superior service and improve their personal performance by delivering increased sales.

Apple is the best-know example of this kind of staff empowerment, with its mobile PoS solutions and salespeople equipped with iPads.

In the eyes of the customer, the lines have blurred between digital and physical retail to such a degree that divisions are non-existent. Now it's down to brands to up their technical game and close the gaps in their own operations to offer customers the "joined-up" experience they've come to expect.

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Elisa Harca

Elisa Harca is a digital retail and engagement expert with more than 13 years' experience working with some of the world's leading brands, including Swatch, MAC Cosmetics, Samsung, and Ericsson. She has worked with clients extensively in North America, Europe, and most recently Asia, and at Red Ant she is responsible for leading teams of digital specialists in Hong Kong and China in bringing its award-winning mobile retail technology to businesses across the territory. Recommended as an expert digital and mobile consultant by market leaders, she is a regular speaker at industry events including The HUB and UKTI's GREAT Weeks, and also hosts workshops for high-profile industry executives. Elisa is recognized worldwide for her professionalism, integrity, and her ability to help retailers navigate the increasingly complex global digital landscape.

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