Next Gen E-Commerce : Keeping Up With The Joneses
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Retailers recognize that in today’s world consumers’ shopping journeys frequently begin in the digital domain. Thus, they view the ability to offer a more personalized experience as the best counter-measure to E-commerce giants like Amazon and Walmart and others who have successfully reduced their value propositions to low price and availability. For most retailers, personalization is really about “relevance” as opposed to a having a true one-to-one interaction. Retailers hope that by being able to deduce a consumer’s shopping objective quickly, the experience can be fine-tuned to meet the consumer’s objective: offering products, prices, content, and services that the consumer will find relevant.
In February, RSR conducted a study to better understand how retailers are addressing this challenge. The report (sponsored by Coveo) is entitled Winning At Customer Acquisition In The Digital Shopping Age, and it’s a fascinating look at what retailers are trying to accomplish with their digital offerings (aside from the obvious, to “increase sales”), and how well they think they are doing at it. We recommend that you read the full report or its short-form e-Book equivalent. As always, the content is free to you – just click on the links.
But if you’re really short on time and just want to get to the punchline, below are the seven recommendations we make to retailers. These recommendations come from observations we make in the report about how over-performing retailers address business challenges and opportunities. They are pragmatic and to the point – things your company can and should do right now to “keep up with the Joneses”!
So without further ado, here are our recommendations for winning at E-Commerce:
- Answer The Question: What Are Your Brand’s Differentiating Qualities?
The E-commerce site is the new front door to every retailer’s brand. Companies spend an enormous amount of energy to ensure that their physical stores are reflective of the Brand. Retailers need to make at least as much of an effort ensuring that their digital stores are as in-sync with the Brand as the stores are. The fundamental questions that must be answered are, “what do we want the consumer experience to be?”, and “what is our unique value to them?”
- SEO & SEM Will Remain Important – It’s What Happens Next Really That Matters
It’s highly unlikely that consumers will break away from the habit of starting their shopping journeys for what they are looking for via a search engine like Google. That ship sailed several years ago. And so, it’s also highly unlikely that organic search result optimization (SEO) or pay-per-click search prioritization (SEM) are going away either. While it’s tempting to think that getting your offering at the top of the search results list is enough to win a consumer’s business, it’s what happens after the next click that really matters most. The moment a retailer acquires a potential shopper, recognition of that shopper’s intent is critically important.
- Develop A Single View Of The Customer
Knowing the shopper’s intent is much more than having a customer profile and shopping history on file. Observing consumers’ behaviors during their digital paths-to-purchase is vital to understanding more about intent, and that in turn enriches the retailer’s ability to personalize each interaction – no matter where the consumer touchpoint is. This requires an enterprise capability to see every aspect of a customer’s experience with the Brand, accurately and in real time.
- Get The Consumer To The Right Solution
To find the right solution to a lifestyle need, too many retailers force the consumer to follow a merchandise hierarchy (for example, “click-on ‘Footwear’, then click-on ’Men’s’, then click-on ‘Item’, etc.”). To differentiate from the “low price and convenience” eComm masters, the retailer’s landing page (as it might be a product listing page) needs to establish the consumer’s intent very quickly and direct the shopper in a way that is both focused and compelling. This is the essence of hyper-personalization, surely the next E-commerce battlefront. The experience needs to feel personal and relevant.
- Experiment More
Historically, retailers have been averse to experimentation. But in this digital-first age, practitioners must recognize that consumers experiment with new technology-enabled innovations continuously, and some of the innovations that they experiment with will reach widespread adoption. If retailers aren’t leading with consumer-facing innovations, they should at least dedicate themselves to being fast followers. This commitment to innovation starts at the organizational level; retail leaders need to dedicate staff and resources to identifying emerging technology enablers, experimenting with them, and adopting them in step with new consumer behaviors.
- The Legacy E-commerce Platform May Be Wrong For Today
The industry is now arguably entering the third generation of E-commerce. Gen 1 was a standalone channel. Gen 2 was E-commerce integrated with other retail operations. Gen 3.0 is all about E-commerce services being integral to enterprise operations. There are software architectural implications to that new orientation. Instead of tightly integrated capabilities, service objects need to be loosely integrated, able to be called on an as-needed basis to perform a certain function (a perfect example: “process this payment”). The technical infrastructure required to reliably deliver a service to the point of need is different than what some retailers may be accustomed to; cloud-based, API-centric, micro-services based.
- Be Ready For New User Interfaces
If there’s anything that retailers should have learned when smart mobile technologies gained their dominant position with consumers, it’s that while human interfaces will continue to emerge, the rules and data that drive them need to be consistent across all UI’s. That takes us to the last recommendation – that the technical infrastructure needs to be designed specifically to enable new UI’s and new functionality in step with consumer expectations.