Retail is currently facing one of the greatest opportunities and challenges in its history: the shift to digital channels.
Across the entire retail landscape, online sales continue to increase while store-based retail sales stall or decline. In fact, according to a survey done by UPS, consumers made more purchases online than in stores in 2015 for the first year ever. As consumers spend less time in stores and more time (and money) online, brick-and-mortar retailers ability to orchestrate the overall customer experience dramatically declines.
This new imbalance that retailers face can be described as the digital experience paradox — i.e., the increasing shift to digital touchpoints and decrease in brick-and-mortar retailer influence. If not navigated correctly, this paradox could have a serious impact on a retailer’s ability to stay competitive in this new evolving market.
To stay relevant, retailers need to transform their approach to the digital customer experience. Here are five tips retailers can use to right the digital ship:
1. Simplify the customer experience. In a sea of digital gimmicks and tricks, never underestimate the power and importance of a straightforward user experience. Many current digital offerings require multiple steps, causing gaps and disconnect in the customer experience. To enhance the customer experience, all channels and touchpoints should be incorporated into a seamless and simple design, eliminating complication and disconnect, and bringing control back to the retailer.
2. Innovate to influence. Retailers are constantly competing to successfully find the next big thing. Emerging technologies like artificial intelligence, virtual reality, chatbots and the Internet of Things are becoming increasingly common — and almost expected — in consumers’ lives. Retailers should develop strategies that incorporate new approaches, such as integrating virtual assistants (like Apple’s Siri, Amazon’s Alexa or Google’s Assistant) and embracing social commerce via chatbots (such as Taco Bell’s "Tacobot," which lets you order from Taco Bell via the Slack messaging platform).
3. Integrate technology. With the explosion of digital capabilities and a variety of different touchpoints, a retailer's ability to integrate these technologies will become the new competitive advantage for successful companies. Retailers must reinvent the way they approach systems integration and increasingly embrace cloud-based web services, wireless, Bluetooth-based and near-field-communication-based integration solutions.
4. Boost digital capabilities. Retailers must remember that this is channel and ecosystem warfare. To remain competitive and relevant, retailers must boost their digital capabilities on a channel-by-channel basis, from new approaches to e-commerce and seamless mobile experiences to advances in interactive content, integrated social commerce and artificial intelligence. In addition, they'll need to align and assemble a portfolio of capabilities into an ecosystem of digital solutions to help customers track, manage and achieve their personal goals.
5. Leverage digital consumer insights. Retailers need to make sure all digital channels are incorporated into their customer insight capabilities, which will likely require some reinventing. By tracking (and tapping into) consumer insights, retailers can rapidly identify and react to changing consumer perceptions and behaviors.
While many retailers have been working to quickly adapt to the evolving digital landscape, the continuously quickening pace of digital disruption has made it difficult to keep up. These navigation tips should help retailers design, innovate, integrate and adapt to evolving digital capabilities and ever-changing consumer preferences.
Rob Howard is a partner at Kurt Salmon Digital, a full-service digital design consultancy.