The Challenges in Delivering an Enticing Digital Retail Experience
Futurum Research principal analyst Dan Newman said it best: “Retailers are no longer selling things. They’re selling the experience of buying those things.” The new consumer expectation is one of instant, coordinated, automated and personalized shopping experiences in an omnichannel fashion. It’s no wonder retailers are racing to digitally transform, and their challenges are many.
By now, most major retailers have launched and currently maintain e-commerce websites and mobile apps. However, there’s much more than that to retail digital transformation. Now there’s omnichannel integration of digital technologies for the in-store customer experience. There are countless examples of retail digital transformation initiatives, from in-store mobile app modes that present information relevant to a particular store location, to real-time coupon and loyalty program offers via mobile app and social media when a customer is near a retailer's brick-and-mortar store.
The ideal end state is a seamless customer experience that, for example, could start on an e-commerce website, move to a mobile app that helps find items in the brick-and-mortar store thanks to Internet of Things location beacons, and then end with a purchase on a mobile device, digital point-of-sale kiosk, or with a roving sales associate equipped to check them out wherever they are.
And if coordinating digital efforts across multiple channels weren’t enough of a challenge, speed and responsiveness are critical to digital experience, regardless which retail channel customers engage through. Just as an e-commerce customer will abandon a cart if response times take longer than two seconds, the user experience that lags during inventory location, getting customer service or attempting a digital checkout will create costly friction for in-store conversion.
Meet the Internet: Digital’s Best Friend and Worst Enemy
Delivering that sort of snappy digital experience via the internet isn’t a trivial matter. Modern e-commerce websites and mobile apps are already incredibly complex and rely on a large, interconnected swath of applications, infrastructure, networks and services — the majority of which are outside the direct control of retail IT teams. There are numerous third-party providers that play an integral role in every digital customer experience, from CDN, DNS and DDoS security providers, to IaaS, SaaS and cloud API gateway providers. More specifically, many POS, e-commerce and marketing technology solutions from companies like SAP, Oracle, Microsoft, Demandware and Marketo are now SaaS-based.
With retail digital transformation, that constellation of service providers required to make your customers’ digital experiences flawless only grows larger and more complex. Mobile apps that are enabled with location are providing real-time data to retail systems. IoT beacons placed throughout brick-and-mortar stores must be able to communicate seamlessly to the back-end systems that then need to curate big data and machine learning-driven recommendations to new digital mirrors and mobile apps. Coupon offers and inventory notifications must present immediately across social media and text/SMS messaging.
Digital experience is not just a point of competitive advantage for retail business; it’s an existential matter. Ultimately, the availability and performance of any of these apps, services, providers, or the multiple internet networks and paths that connect them all will dramatically impact digital experience, and therefore customer experience. Any retailer that hopes to withstand the great test of Amazon.com must prioritize their digital backbone and treat it as the valuable asset it is. Retail IT teams must be equipped with the right tools and resources to understand its inner workings so that when things go wrong — which they inevitably do — they can cut off the issue at the pass, leaving their customers basking in the blissful ignorance of the tumultuous nature of the internet, with a full cart and a frictionless consumer experience.
Alex Henthorn-Iwane is the vice president of product marketing at ThousandEyes, a SaaS-based platform that monitors network infrastructure, troubleshoots application delivery and maps internet performance.
Related story: Godiva Sweetens the Customer Experience With Technology