The fundamental working of several businesses is undergoing change because of digital platforms. The internet and, more recently, mobile devices have empowered consumers and are continuously changing how they connect and transact with businesses.
On account of those and several other technologies, an apparent revolution is taking place in retail. The speed at which change is taking place is faster than analysts predicted even a couple of years ago. Digital devices are influencing the shopping journey and how consumers make decisions in store and how they shop. That is leading to new expectations regarding how retailers help customers through digital means to collect relevant information for making shopping decisions.
Retail has reached a tipping point where the digital channels can no more be considered a distinct or separate business. Digital is now an essential part of the whole shopping experience and the entire business of retail, inside as well as outside the store. As the impact continues to increase, the way retailers think of digital and invest in it, besides addressing the digital wants and needs of their customers, is changing dramatically.
Retailers have stopped viewing their digital and customer strategies as separate and distinct issues. Integrating digital with the customer experience is a business requirement for them as digital devices and their owners have become inseparable. Retailers who have ignored this are trapped in the gap that separates the experiences that retailers are providing shoppers and the shoppers’ expectations and needs based on digital technologies.
The positive impact on loyalty, store traffic, order size and conversion for retailers who have incorporated digital in their processes and strategies is there to be seen. It represents the huge opportunity that digital has provided retail with.
- Retailers are adopting an omni-channel strategy
The worlds of commerce, eCommerce and m-commerce have merged seamlessly and everything has become omni-channel. It’s no longer about the store or the desktop or the smartphone, but all of them. For instance, a customer may be in a retail store and accessing offers and information available on the store’s website or mobile application. Technology has transformed the retail industry in this manner mostly in the last 2-3 years.
E-commerce has been an interesting trend for many years. However, now the offline and online worlds have come together in such a way that retailers require an omni-channel strategy for survival. Most large retailers are implementing a retail omni-channel strategy through digital transformation and offer e-commerce and brick and mortar stores as channels. Many also provide mobile apps.
- Stores are getting transformed and not dying
The physical store dying because of the advent of digital technologies is an exaggeration. Some might say that e-commerce signifies the demise of stores, but that is not the case. That is partly because people enjoy shopping and the chance of finding something more than they were looking for, which often happens while shopping in a store. Shopping is as much about utility as it is about engagement and entertainment.
However, stores are becoming more and more technology enabled. Technology helps attract people to the stores and to provide them with a higher level of service than before. Beacons, wearables, augmented reality and 3D printing are among the technologies quickly making their way into retail stores.
Another effect of digital has been that stores, along with providing full-fledged shopping experiences, are also increasingly taking on the role of fulfillment and distribution centers.
The showroom may be occupying a much smaller part of the footprint, but it is still a significant one. So, despite a fundamental restructuring of real estate in retail, the store is not dying and offers technology enabled shopping.
- Retail is moving beyond mobile and connecting more devices
Faster technology and smartphones have made internet shopping available at people’s fingertips. Mobile technology has also transformed the shopping experience in stores. Several stores provide iPads for customers to view product specifications and provide information for marketing lists and customer relationship management.
Retailers can sell through virtual stores in airports and subway stations through mobile shopping. Shoppers can buy without going to a brick and mortar store or being at a computer.
However, digital retail is moving ahead of the mobile trend towards a world of connected and technology enabled devices of various sizes. Some may be at a store, some on the shoppers’ wrists and yet others in their hands. Retailers are thus moving towards a connected devices strategy, which is ahead of a mobile strategy.
- Social retailing is rising and online research drives buying
Before they make a purchase, consumers who are price savvy are researching products on the internet. Shoppers frequently browse consumer forums and websites for price comparison before they actually buy.
Social media affects the way in which shoppers approach products and brands. They generally trust reviews by other shoppers more than they trust sales people.
Social media has gone far beyond merely being a source of information and has become a key tool for selling. Brands and retailers are allocating resources towards social media efforts as they have realized social media’s significance in shopping decisions.
According to recent research by Ernst & Young, it is in categories such as groceries, baby products, clothing, pet products and books that online research drives the highest rates of conversion. For some other products such as cars, however, those looking for online information may not intend buying immediately.
- Marketing is engaging with customers in ways customers want
Most retailers have concentrated on building engaging experiences for shoppers who visit their stores. In the digital world, however, they have to connect with their customers in every way that the customers want to connect. So, retail marketers are developing the skills for connecting with the customers in the way the customers want instead of the other way round. This requires product and design management and an understanding of marketing in a digital world.
Digital transformation solutions help commerce companies build customer facing systems of engagement. Retail marketers are learning to optimize engagement through digital catalogs, online search and social networks, among others, and developing the skills required for that.
However, old school marketing efforts such as major television campaigns to attract shoppers to the stores are still important and marketers have to learn to combine the old with the new.
- Retailers are using data to build competitive advantage
Data provides retailers with sustainable advantage in digital commerce. It helps them make consumers’ experience highly relevant by letting the consumers reach what they are looking for out of the huge selections of products that retailers have to offer.
Quantitative analysis provides a number of ways to look at customers when retailers design and integrate digital channels and platforms. However, retailers are using human judgment and insight of people who have experience of running stores, along with those of mathematicians, to build insights that are actionable.
Big data has become a popular concept but small transactions are of greater significance for retailers. That is because, rather than large behaviors of large groups of people, a retail transaction is generally about an individual connecting with a business for buying a few items. Retailers use insights gained in a discreet and seemingly natural way during such transactions to build competitive advantage.
- Supply chains are being impacted by digital
In the world of digital, where a multichannel model is in use and there are fewer physical stores, there is less inventory in stores. Leading retailers are making use of new technologies for enhancement of their supply chains, as they identify cost effectiveness and efficiencies as components critical for the achievement of competitive advantage.
- Trends such as click and collect are reshaping the industry
Those developing eCommerce solutions for retail companies have come up with the innovative concept of click and collect. The concept has become very popular. It involves the customer purchases something online. Then, instead of waiting for the postal service or a courier to deliver it, he goes to a shop to collect it. Delivery charges are either waived or much cheaper than post or courier.
Beacons are being used to solve problems such as long queues at delivery counters and improve customers’ experience.
Retail is being revolutionized by digital as retailers are adopting new technology to make their systems and organizations more efficient and cost effective. They are also changing in accordance with the newer ways that are now available for them to engage with tech savvy customers.
Do you think there are other ways as well in which digital is significantly impacting or can impact the retail sector? Please share your ideas, opinions and points of view with us in the comments section below.