The changing world of retail: real-time, experience-driven, connected-commerce
Traditional e-commerce platforms are slowing down marketing teams and leaving them frustrated. Retail marketers need systems that don’t just talk about products, show their pictures and display prices. They want systems that help them understand customers and respond to their needs in real time with rich and compelling digital experiences that can drive sales.
Changing customer expectations and new business demands
Retailers are always looking to extend how many customers they reach. That ambition became possible when e-commerce platforms became a widespread reality. Suddenly, businesses, regardless of where they were located, were able sell to customers anywhere in the world. But now even that isn’t enough.
Take Amazon for example. Although Amazon was able to ship products to customers in over 185 countries during the holiday season in 2014[i], this reach wasn’t actually the company’s greatest success during the season. What was even more impressive was that Amazon was able to process 18 toy orders per second, and this was only from customers using mobile devices.[ii] And, as part of its Cyber Monday initiative, Amazon added a new deal every 10 minutes[iii]. Unfortunately, Amazon is the exception – most retailers can’t achieve this through traditional e-commerce strategies and platforms.
But with global B2C e-commerce becoming a trillion dollar business, marketing has become a sophisticated, technology-centered, experience-driven practice. With B2C, transactions are evolving and becoming so effortless for customers that they expect a seamless experience, and now B2B commerce is evolving in its own right. Technologies, techniques and strategies across both B2C and B2B marketing are becoming similar, even though they impact different types of buyers.
As the consumer comes to embrace technology in the increasingly connected world, speed has become critical to the success of any marketing strategy. How quickly can you understand your customers’ needs? How swiftly can you uncover their expectations and their preferences? How rapidly can you design and bring a product to market and back them with marketing campaigns? Being able to quickly and effectively process an order, the payment, and drive the logistics for delivery is critical to a retailer’s success.
Marketing executives who need to be able to quickly respond to changes are discovering that traditional e-commerce platforms are falling woefully short. For example, just making small changes to online product catalogues becomes a major task that involves content, design and technology teams. Development cycles can also be slow and tedious, resulting in lost sales opportunities. The result is low online conversion rates, ineffective personalization solutions and a lack of insight into customer preferences and behavior.
The new needs of marketing
Marketers today know that if they don’t find their way to new ways of doing business, their will become irrelevant. It’s essential for marketers to:
- Change product data, SKUs, shipping details and payment platforms – not in days but in minutes
- Leverage data to personalize the buying experience for customers across channels
- Process customer, market and supply chain information to improve ROI on their marketing campaigns on the fly
- Bring together data from multiple sources such as a customer’s online click stream, social media sentiment, purchase history, buying patterns, CRM data, demographic profile, third party databases, location, etc., and generate customer insights that result in improved buying experiences
- Deliver potent peer recommendations so that buyers hit the ‘Buy’ button for products on their website
- Generate Next Best offers in real time for effective upsell and cross sell
Traditional e-commerce platforms, however, don’t have the functionality required to succeed in a real-time, experience-driven, connected-commerce world. And the fact that the fact that current platforms are unable to design experiences that are aligned across mobile, web and in-store initiatives leaves marketers frustrated. With customers weaned on personalized and seamless experiences created by cutting edge services like Google, Facebook and Twitter, nothing less will do.
Overcoming the challenges
The challenge marketers face is being able to integrate the e-commerce and mobile commerce platforms with a data and analytics driven experience in order to bring customers closer to the product. In order to successfully do this, marketers must:
- Overcome low conversion rates and ineffective personalization through insights applied at each customer touch point, which will help improve customer acquisition and enhance loyalty
- Overcome the complexity of dealing with higher customer expectations and multiple channels through personalization and self-service models that will improve order value from end customers and reduce cost of support
- Overcome long wait times and high check out times (responsible for growing abandoned transactions) by scaling infrastructure using cost-effective technologies such as Cloud and responsive design – which provides high availability during demand spikes and ensuring a higher number of successful transactions every second
- Overcome obstacles to build a seamless experience across stores, web and mobile by empowering store associates with guided selling capabilities — and reduce showrooming
- Overcome the growth in digital content and the associated management overheads by ensuring the reuse of existing assets, defining workflows and policies – this will reduce the total cost of ownership, provide branding consistency and a unified view of customers and partners for operational efficiency
The key to success is to move towards intensive and precise digital interactions with the customer. This goal becomes achievable for businesses when great data-driven content is combined with accurate analytics and sophisticated marketing tools that help control, author, design and publish customized content across channels. Doing this automatically lifts conversions by ensuring the customer understands the product and can identify value based on personal needs.
Enhancing brick-and-mortar experiences
Marketers are also now realizing the extent that mobile and online commerce play in lifting brick-and-mortar revenues. If a digital campaign is interactive, exciting and engaging it can compel the consumer to visit a physical store and make a purchase. Yes, consumers do use their smart phones inside stores to make quick price comparisons before reaching their decisions, but if the mobile experience is memorable, chances are the customer will want to purchase the product from the store they are in. This trend tells us that marketers who are too focused on only mobile and online conversations are losing out on potential sales triggered by a happy and satisfying interaction with the brand. But those who do understand the power of a positive digital experience are demanding commerce platforms that allow them to rapidly make changes across channels.
Taking a sure step into the future
It’s important to understand the world of experience-driven connected commerce, and embrace new technologies that can aid in reaching customers across the world with digital campaigns across a multitude of platforms, or in something as seemingly simple as sharing product catalogs with customers. It is, without a doubt, complex and challenging. Without the right decisions, experience-driven commerce can be prone to failure.
Creating memorable customer experiences requires a tremendous effort from retailers to focus using technology and data effectively and accounting for customer insight, rapid execution and the ability to scale. Marketing teams should be able to take ownership of their websites to ensure local flavor and better customer interaction while still maintaining brand consistency across markets. These are critical to retailers’ success. Rigid plans need to be replaced by flexible strategies, and based sales methodologies should be replaced with processes that can create inbound value. Then retailers will be able to show customers that the product they are buying will in fact meet their needs.
[i] Amazon Prime Experiences another Record-Breaking Holiday Season, Press Release, Dec. 26, 2014:http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2002024
[ii] Amazon Prime Experiences another Record-Breaking Holiday Season, Press Release, Dec. 26, 2014:http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=2002024
[iii] Amazon Releases Best Deals of the Year on Cyber Monday – New Deals Every Ten Minutes, Press Release, Nov 28, 2014: http://phx.corporate-ir.net/phoenix.zhtml?c=176060&p=irol-newsArticle&ID=1993432
Sven Schroeter, Europe Sales Head, Connected Enterprise Services, Wipro Ltd.
Sven Schroeter has over 15 years of experience in advising global enterprise customers in how to realize business benefits with latest technologies. He has successfully led many technical engagements in a variety of industries and technical environments. In his current role, Sven heads Europe & Africa Sales for the Connected Enterprise Services Practice in Wipro Ltd. covering Digital Marketing, Content, Commerce, BPM, Integration and Mobility groups.
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