It’s no secret that the 21st century has been hard on retailers. Woolworths, BHS, and more recently Toys R Us are examples of big high street names consigned to the dustbin of history. The entire retail industry has struggled, but it’s traditional brick and mortar retail that has been by far the most affected.
Retailers face stiff competition from digital competitors that offer more convenient services and better user experiences, often at lower prices. Digital companies themselves face similar challenges from competitors within their own sector, with e-commerce giants like Amazon and eBay making competition increasingly difficult. If retailers are to survive in this turbulent landscape, they must find increasingly innovative ways to provide better customer experiences than their competitors.
It’s all about content
If there’s one trend to 21st century retail, it’s that unprecedented chunks of market share is being taken up by e-commerce giants like Amazon. In this market, it’s more difficult for even smaller e-commerce platforms to compete, never mind traditional brick and mortar retail.
But all hope is not lost: developments in technology provide opportunities as well as challenges.
Nowadays, customer experience is emerging as one of the most vital areas in which today’s businesses compete. Simply put, if you provide a platform that entertains, educates and informs consumers and makes it easy for them to purchase it once they do, there’s a good chance yours will be the only ‘buy’ button they care about. Combine that with the slickest website functionality and navigation on the market, provide a reason to visit over and above the raw transactional aspect and you’ve got a 21st-century business model that stands a genuine chance of facing the competition.
Increasingly, businesses are turning to innovative retail platforms that allow them to harness the potential of new technology trends to create this unbeatable customer experience. It’s the successful businesses of tomorrow that will use emerging technology to improve this faster and better than anybody else.
Try it on – online
Augmented Reality (AR) is an important emerging technology that many organizations have already adapted to improve their customer experience. In fact, this is the same technology that was behind the immensely popular Pokémon Go app, which appeared in 2016.
Less widely publicised were the ground-breaking examples of it being used to create interactive digital marketing content. Ikea has been AR’s most successful champion; having created an app that lets users project images of Ikea products into their homes or offices; a virtual ‘try-before-you-buy’. Users can see how products will blend into the surrounding atmosphere and, crucially, whether it’ll fit.
What can we learn from this? Today’s consumers like two things: convenience and reassurance. Downloading an app and comparing projections is a lot easier than going to sample and buying physical furniture in person. If there’s a ‘buy now’ button right next to it, chances are the customer’s far more likely to simply click that then look around for alternatives.
It’s for this reason that modern retail platforms that harness this technology have become increasingly popular in recent years. The ability to take advantage of this potential, without investing significantly on innovation has clearly proved itself to be popular amongst companies everywhere.
Bigger, better data
Advanced analytics has recently emerged as the next big stage in the trend of businesses gathering more and more data on their customers.
Advanced analytics uses three main strands of technology to compile, measure and apply enormous quantities of data: big data, data mining and predictive data analytics.
It’s technology like this that allows Amazon to suggest products and Netflix suggest your next binge-worthy series. Anyone who’s come into contact with these suggestions, however, will be well aware of how unreliable they can be. The technology has some growing room yet. Advanced analytics is the tool that, in the coming years, will allow traders to compile more information on their customers and make better suggestions based upon it.
If we combine this technology with content, we find that the customer experience becomes ever more personalised – and dynamic. Data can build more complex pictures not only of what the customer is looking for, but at what stage in the process they are. After that, the most relevant content can be highlighted, the most important products selected, and a personalised customer experience created around the individual context and needs of the customer.
How to improve the physical journey
That’s all well and good when applied to e-commerce platforms – but what about physical stores? Online sales have always been the natural home of content-driven customer journeys – but that doesn’t make it their permanent home.
These days, everyone has a smart phone in their pockets, and the internet is just a few clicks away. In most stores, this opportunity is wasted. If a customer is interested in a particular product, they could scan it and find out more via a smartphone app. Interest could be generated via interactive content that allows you to find out more about it – where it came from, what are the ethical credentials, a bio of the person that made it – look at the dress selection by Duchess of Sussex during her recent tour of Australasia – all brands with high ethical standards. Technology that harnesses advanced analytics can also suggest alternatives or combinations, based on trends of what other customers enjoyed. In some cases, this might not even require the customer to scan the items; technology can communicate with the near-field communication (NFC) tags in physical products through a simply tap with the phone to present additional information on the store app or through instore smart displays, suggesting complementary products and where to locate.
More information, better content, more sales
Alone, each of these emerging technologies has great potential to improve individual facets of the retail customer experience. But it’s only when brought together that they can truly revolutionise the entire customer journey.
Each piece of content that a consumer clicks on can be used to better inform decisions about future content suggestions. Every product they look at contributes to an ever more diverse picture of their likes, dislikes, instincts and triggers.
These trends aren’t just the future of content; they’re the future of successful marketing. It’s those businesses that harness the potential of these pioneering customer experiences that will secure customers of the future, for the future. Those that ignore the potential could well become the Woolworths and BHS of tomorrow.
It’s essential that companies looking to harness the potential of tomorrow’s technology find an integrated platform from which to manage everything and the right tools to connect it to their own infrastructure. Check out our solutions to learn more.