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Though trends show that online spending is plateauing, there are still plenty of opportunities to thrive in this digital landscape.
However, with the steep rise and influx of new tech and digital channels, nearly half of brand leaders feel unsure of which direction to take. From personalized experiences to seamless communication across channels, new tech is rapidly redefining the way consumers make buying decisions.
The question is: what should you do to stand out and stay ahead?
This important topic was addressed at length over an exclusive dinner at The Ned, London, on Wednesday, October 11th. The evening brought 25 of the UK’s digital and tech leaders in the retail industry together to discuss how to accelerate growth in this world of digital prioritization.
Moderated by Thomas Clayson, Head of Solution Engineering at our CMS partner Contentful , the evening’s expert panel was made up of the following digital leaders:
Mike Saar, Director of EMEA Sales, Vue Storefront
Charles Heal, Commercial Director, Vaimo
Jason Birth, Chief Technology Officer at Beauty Pie *
Lee Longhurst, Head of E-Commerce at La Perla **
Let’s dive into the insights from the discussion!
How do you assess your organization’s readiness for digital transformation, especially in the context of enhancing user or customer experience? And most importantly, how do you choose the right technology for you?
I think the key thing is to start with the fundamentals. We are big into the composable journey, leaning into headless services in which we can decide to plug or not plug all the various bits and pieces.
Our journey started by having to replace all our old systems and understanding that we were going to have to live with some pain in the short to medium term to achieve our goals as a business. Aligning with things like MACH Alliance and all those kinds of architectural practices has really helped us along our journey.
In terms of making decisions, I think there are patterns to follow. For example, do you go API-first or mobile-centric? But for me, it’s all about having a plan, understanding your technological state, and understanding where to retire, maintain or invest in particular technologies. And I think with Beauty Pie’s journey, the growth mindset I mentioned is more around investing in the customer experience side of things, even if we sometimes have to take somewhat of a short-term hit on the backend and Opps processing side of things.
If someone is looking to re-platform and isn’t sure where they should be extending and what they should choose to start with or get rid of first, what advice would you give them?
For me, it’s all about risk. We have these discussions a lot, typically with the C-Suite, and they’ve usually got a historic investment in some form of technology, some form of ERP system order management system, and you can’t just tell them to rip it all out and start again. It’s too crazy! There are one or two instances where that happens, normally when there’s been a takeover of a business and it’s mandated by the company that’s taken over.
But I think most organizations actually want to go on some evolutionary path, and they want to do it in a way that is agile; this is actually going to give them benefits early rather than later. If you think about eCommerce, where does it happen? It happens on a user interface, whether it’s on a smartphone or a web browser, and if you want to make a change, the best place to make a change is the customer experience. And if you work back from the customer experience to all the pieces that you need to assemble, then that’s actually going to give you your journey.
My advice to the C-Suite is: lower your risk by taking a path of least resistance, but look at it from the perspective of “Where do I get the biggest bang for my buck?” And that’s typically at the frontend, not the back.
What kind of KPIs would you look at tracking to determine the success of a digital transformation project?
The approach to KPIs has evolved significantly.
Previously, the primary focus was on assessing the overall conversion rate. However, the current perspective emphasises the assessment of individual components. Instead of asking, “Can I increase my conversion rate from 3.5% to 4.5% over the next three months?” there’s now a concentration on specific elements within the process.
For instance, in one cycle, we might be addressing productivity improvements. This could involve streamlining the process of making a product digitally presentable. Previously, it took us a week to achieve this, but now we’ve reduced it to just 2,5 days.
Alternatively, we may be concentrating on the frontend, examining specific metrics that directly impact conversion rates or drive website traffic, ultimately enhancing SEO. In essence, the approach has shifted towards a more granular evaluation of various aspects, making it distinct from the previous focus on overall conversion rates.
In this age of personalization, how do you ensure that your customer experience strategy aligns with the ever-evolving expectations of your customers?
I think it’s about taking a holistic view. What you have to try and get away from is assuming that you’re only going to use one tool for one specific use case. You have to look across all customer touchpoints and consider which ones are going to provide value across the entire front end of your business.
Historically, CMS was often used exclusively to drive specific functions, such as an eCommerce engine. Meanwhile, the brand's storefront and physical stores operated separately. The shift in perspective involves considering how to use CMS holistically across the entire organization. This is where the real value emerges. When organizations begin to explore this holistic approach, they can achieve cost savings, maximize utility, and effectively manage and plan their resources.
These days, we have hundreds of digital touchpoints, but we also have hundreds of physical touchpoints, whether that’s calling a call center or going into a store. What are some of the best ways of achieving seamless communication with your customers both online and offline?
What I’ve noticed more and more is that organizations are eager to assist customers who’ve added items to their online cart but want to physically see and touch these items before making a purchase in-store. They aim to facilitate a seamless transition from the online wish list or cart to an in-store transaction. This is where technologies like mobile apps or web browsers come into play.
What’s particularly intriguing is the use of Bluetooth signalling, used to alert customers about nearby opportunities, such as a store they’ve shown interest in or a product from their wish list. This proactive approach not only reminds customers about their intended purchase but also tempts them with personalized offers or suggestions. It’s the next logical step in enhancing the shopping experience.
If we take a step back and look holistically at all the channels that you market to—whether that’s online or offline—what technologies or approaches have you found most effective?
We’re exploring ways to make inventory available across multiple locations and facilitate returns tracking.
For instance, if a customer tries something on in one boutique, and it’s not available there, we can direct them to another nearby store where they can try it. We often promote products through email marketing that aren't actually in stock at the local boutique. Unfortunately, our boutiques can’t order items for direct shipment to customers, but we’ve developed a system that allows boutique staff to curate a basket of items and share it with customers via WhatsApp or other messaging platforms. The customer can then choose the delivery country, and our system guides them to the appropriate online store. This is particularly useful for international travellers. We’re still refining this system because it involves more than just technology; it also touches on the cultural aspects within our organization. Store staff see the customers as their own, and they seek recognition for their part in the sale, even if it’s fulfilled elsewhere. We’re working through issues related to attribution, incentives, and handling returns, as well as dealing with currency and pricing variations in different markets. This all ties back to enhancing the overall customer experience. Understanding where customers are and what they’re doing is crucial. There are instances where I visit a physical store to see and try a product, take a picture of the barcode, and later order it online.
Analyzing data, we can see that regions with boutiques tend to have higher online sales. It’s precisely these kinds of scenarios that we’re trying to address, whether it’s the result of advertising or an in-store experience.
When we unpack this insightful discussion on digital transformation in retail, a few resonating themes emerge:
Strategic planning: Success begins by assessing current technological infrastructures and planning for the future. You need to be willing and able to accept some of the short-term challenges to achieve long-term advancements.
Prioritizing customer experience: Building a user-centered frontend is central to improving the customer journey and building more advanced flows. The right frontend provides immediate benefits to the customer and enables business to understand their user touchpoints better.
Seamless omni-channel transition: Fluid online-to-offline transition is a must nowadays. The businesses should enable a cohesive shopping experience in order to achieve success.
Adaptive technologies: Last but not least, it’s important to keep an eye on emerging tech in order to ensure your customers’ retention and engagement don’t plummet.
The digital revolution in retail is driven by an agile approach, a deep understanding of evolving customer touchpoints, and the integration of technologies that make shopping more personal and seamless. For retailers scaling up, the mandate is clear: embed the customer at the heart of your digital strategy and adopt flexible technologies to deliver unparalleled experiences.
*Beauty Pie is an exclusive online luxury buyers club that gives its members direct access to the best quality beauty and wellness products from leading labs around the world. Beauty Pie is using tech to lead the charge in understanding rapidly changing consumer behavior and how brands can reshape the landscape curved by established luxury brands through e-commerce.
**La Perla is a London-based Italian luxury lingerie and swimwear brand committed to interpreting the evolution of femininity through the art of lingerie. La Perla is available through a network of flagship stores, shop-in-shops, department stores and specialized boutiques, located in the heart of the most important fashion districts in the world.
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