By Graham Jackson, CEO of Fluent Commerce.
The retail landscape has evolved rapidly in recent years. Some retailers have been moving towards an online-only strategy, yet many are failing to keep up with the ever-changing needs of their customers.
Shopping is now no longer just delivering the products that consumers want, but increasingly about how they want to receive them. The promise of next-day delivery is no longer enough to meet these needs, leading to many merchants struggling to keep pace with customers' omnichannel expectations.
This means that they no longer want, but expect to, shop seamlessly across multiple devices, have greater visibility of a retailer's in-store inventory and be provided with a number of fulfilment options that offers the most convenience. Customers are no longer viewing online and offline as separate entities, instead treating the entire purchasing process as one connected, seamless journey. It's therefore imperative that retailers think the same way.
Changing role of mobile
Perhaps one of the most significant catalysts for this shift is in the changing utilisation of mobile. Recent research conducted by OC&C Strategy Consultants, Google, and PayPal forecasted that approximately two thirds of UK online retail - worth around £43bn annually - will be conducted via mobile by 2020.
As smartphones have become increasingly sophisticated, retailers have tried to capitalise on their added functionality by optimising their websites for mobile devices, creating dedicated apps and driving mobile payments.
However, if we look at some retailers' mobile strategies, we can see a clear difference between those who have a solid plan and those who are scrambling to keep pace. With retail giants such as Amazon already having an established mobile strategy, while traditional 'high street' names such as Toys R Us and Maplin close their doors, how can retailers ensure they win at mobile?
Utilising the available data
When Apple released its first phone in 2007, many recognised the device would have a significant impact on the ecommerce landscape. Yet, over a decade later, the sector is no closer to fully understanding or utilising the opportunities it presents.
Many retailers are still seeing mobile as an extension of the web, when in fact it is a completely separate entity; connecting retailers to customers in a way that has never been done and giving them access to more data than previously possible. The challenge retailers are facing with refining their mobile strategies is what to do with this data; they are lacking the right analytics tools to use these insights to really understand their customers.
It is this understanding that will really drive a retailer's omnichannel offering; this all starts with data. This can be in-house customer data or social media insights, which enables retailers to identify customers and the products they want; the more a retailer knows about their target audience, the more effective their mobile strategies will be; creating cross-channel promotions, increasing brand awareness and driving customer loyalty.
The opportunities afforded by mobile
As mobile has become such a ubiquitous part of consumers' lives, it has emerged as one of the most important tools for retailers to reach their customers. Not only can they offer multi-channel purchasing options, but they are able to provide personalised promotions and customer loyalty programmes directly to mobile devices.
The key to an enhanced mobile strategy is ensuring it is seamlessly integrated into the business's existing strategy, not treated as an additional, optional offering. Customers want a seamless purchasing experience, whereby they have options such as the ability to order products via their mobile and have multiple fulfilment options including click & collect and buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS). Retailers are struggling to understand the importance of the overall customer journey and therefore failing to deliver on the opportunities mobile presents.
As well as a lack of understanding, many traditional retailers remain reluctant to adopt new technologies that will drive their mobile strategies. Harnessing technologies that allow retailers to analyse their customer's behaviour across multiple channels should be standard for all merchants.
Gaining a 360-degree view of customer behaviour will not only give retailers insight into the products they are currently looking at but also products they might be interested in, for future purchases, ensuring a personalised shopping experience. In addition, this level of in-depth analysis will bolster engagement and drive long-term customer loyalty.
Retailers need to also ensure they have the infrastructure in place to deliver on the promise of omnichannel, offering their customers more convenience and flexibility to receive their purchase when and how they want.
The retail landscape has become more competitive than ever as we are continuing to see long-established brands close their doors. However, retailers have an opportunity to fight back and enhance their mobile strategies to provide a truly cross-channel experience. The key to making this a reality is to firstly understand who your customers are and then use all channels available to deliver a completely seamless customer experience.