Shopping is Broken: Getting commerce right for today’s customer

Survival was the name of the game for many retailers in 2018 – particularly those with a strong high-street presence. Years spent neglecting innovation in technology and eCommerce has put a plethora of household names on the back foot, or worse, out of business. Toys R Us, House of Fraser, Homebase, Mothercare, Carpetright, New Look and HMV are just a few well-known retailers who’ve fallen by the wayside.

With that in mind, you’d be forgiven for thinking that business has been plain sailing for those retailers with strong eCommerce credentials. Not so. ASOS, normally a star performer, surprised many at the end of last year with profit warnings driven by unprecedented levels of discounting. However, there are many cases where we have seen retailers successfully turn it around and doing well. For example Next’s in-store sales were 9% down, but their online sales were 15% up. They are a great example of a brand who have thought about how to use their physical space in a different way: returns, as a showroom, click and collect, etc.

So how do brands, be they bricks or clicks retailers, ensure they come out on top in these fast-moving times? What are some learnings that we can pick up post-Christmas?

Don’t under-estimate the power of mobile-first design

The proliferation of smartphones into the fabric of our society has seen many changes in consumer buying behaviour. They have accelerated the erosion of the traditional consumer retailer shopping relationship, where the retailer and access to the physical product has been replaced with the speed of your mobile site and a frictionless purchase.

Those retailers who simply treat mobile as an add-on to their eCommerce presence need to urgently re-think their approach, as consumers just won’t put up with dodgy digital experiences anymore.    

Simple tools like Google’s “Test my mobile” give you a high-level sense of how quickly most people can access your mobile site. They state that ‘70% of mobile network connections globally will occur at 3G or slower speeds through to 2020’. So retailers should design for this, with highly optimised images, minified code, leveraging browser caching and reducing the number of redirects – just to name a few.

Today eCommerce accounts for one in every £5 spent at retailers, with 55% of British online purchases being made on mobile devices. Being able to deliver fast, engaging, “finger-friendly” content is the number one step to getting commerce right today.

Target customers based on needs and ‘leap moments’

It’s no longer good enough to just know who you are targeting. Brands also need to be smart in knowing who they are selling to based on the customer’s specific needs at specific points in time. This can make the difference between a sale or a bounce visit. Brands should be mapping marketing plans around customer journeys and not just their media plans. These customer journeys should be informed by the different types of needs and missions customers have and identify ‘leap moments’, the points in time when customers move closer to purchase.

This is critical today, where the ability to buy everything from a pair of socks to a holiday without having to interact with an actual person makes the act of buying somewhat binary, and simply about ‘where can I get the best price’.

To stand out in this type of marketplace, brands must connect with their customers at levels that are personal, relevant and inclusive for them.

A simple example of this is our work for Volkswagen UK, where customers who configure a car on their website are shown dynamic display car promotions that reflect the choices they have already made in their configuration. Choices such as the colour of the car and trim level make the promotion more personal and relevant. Calls to action on these promotions also change based on where they seem to be in the buying process, nudging them deeper into the funnel and closer to a conversion. Rather than just investing in a good platform, retailers need to create a strategy on how they can better appeal to their customers’ needs.

Brands must focus on what differentiates them from the competition and use this to their advantage 

In an Amazon world, where brands blend into each other, price becomes the only differentiator. Understanding what your USP is and seamlessly weaving these benefits into the consumer journey could encourage people to take their eye off the best price ball.

John Lewis for example not only competes on cost but extends the standard warranty for some consumer electronics to five years. This customer benefit encourages customers to buy from them rather than the competition, even if they may be more expensive.

Convenience is another factor that can, in some instances, trump cost. Done well and you don’t necessarily have to be as competitive on pricing. This can however, involve considerable investment in inventory management, product experience and innovation in fulfilment and logistics.  But having interesting and useful ways that make it easier for customers to experience, buy and receive goods is critical. 

If brands want to survive and thrive, they need to know the needs of those they are targeting, have a clear and real differentiation and invest in their business in the right way. Concentrating on the areas of mobile, needs and those leap moments, and investing in experiences and convenience is a great place to start to ensure more retailers don’t go the way of the Dodo.