Some would argue that the digital revolution began in the 1970’s when it all started, others in the last five years and some would argue we are only just entering the digital revolution now. Whenever you think it started, with the digital revolution, the concept of ‘online’ began.
The way consumers shop has changed drastically in that time. Thirty years ago, if a consumer wanted to purchase a fridge/freezer or a television, they would normally have gone to a local department store, view the various options and eventually buy the goods.
Only a few years ago ecommerce had a very separate identity from traditional bricks & mortar shopping - with online shopping considered fundamentally different from shopping instore. If you bought something online you could not return it to a store and visa-versa. These days, retailers need to think less about individual channels and how they fit together but more about the overall customer journey. Rather than focusing on driving customers to buy on each channel, retailers need to find the value in each channel as part of the customer journey.
As the world evolved, the consumer’s purchasing decision became more informed not just by others but new avenues such as consumer reports. Then the technology world evolved and the internet arrived in 1991 but only real massive adoption in the last ten years. Now consumers are no longer dependent on the local store as the internet has allowed them to browse, research, chat, tweet and purchase online.
The evolution has continued with laptops, smartphones and tablets, now consumers have multiple ways to make informed choices. They can choose to shop instore, via a desktop, smart device, smart TV. There are many channels for consumers to learn about new products including social media, advertising online, forums, websites as well as word of mouth, so interactions need to be consistent across all channels to ensure a seamless experience.
The structure of retail has had to adapt to meet that change, becoming omnichannel. It's no good just jumping on the latest technology bandwagon. Retailers must know what their consumer wants before they know what to deliver with everyone thinking of new ways to make more meaningful customer connections. In an age when consumers have become more promiscuous as to the brands they prefer to shop with, relationship-building is crucial if retailers want to maintain loyalty and the bottom line. The more they can learn about habits, shopping styles and even needs will put them in the driving seat when it comes to truly understanding and becoming more intuitive about the consumer and understand the channels they use to communicate with them.
The basics of retail haven’t changed, but the way we shop has. People are still buying, but they are doing it differently. Customers want more information when buying these days, knowing they are getting the best quality at the right price. Most customers use technology in every aspect of their lives, including when they shop. Therefore retailers must reinvent the store and out of store experience - with a focus on the customer journey and being there 'digitally' - to stay relevant in the changing world.
Digital technology has extended the retailer's reach by eliminating the need for shoppers to enter a bricks-and-mortar environment, or to be at a computer. With the smartphone market now more than 7.19 billion smart devices worldwide and increasing, the shopper is taking control. Never before have shoppers been able to use a smart device to get so much information before they buy. From research of the product to browsing, even choosing purchase and collection methods in order to create a personalised shopping experience. Retailers are searching for new ways to adapt to changing customer behaviour and stay relevant in the digital world.
Retailers will continue to look in depth at data in order to get to know their customers’ shopping habits and move towards more one to one commerce conversations. Retailers should in my experience be looking at delivering new omnichannel and personalised services. There is so much choice out there these days. With the rise of online marketplaces and retailers looking for growth outside the UK, it’s clear that shoppers will be able to consume on an even greater international scale. Retailers need to be agile, personable, fresh, and responsive and use various ways to help consumers shop.
Customers want ease of omnichannel fulfilment, shown by the increase in ‘order and collect’. World Wide Web now stands for what I want, when I want it and where I want it. Digital enables this. As the power moves from the seller to the consumer, some customers have more technology in their hands than a typical retailer will have in its store. Retailers need to embrace this change or the savvy shopper will shop elsewhere.
Lastly, mobile shopping has enabled retailers to find new places to sell beyond stores, such as virtual stores in subway stations and airports. Shoppers can view images of products, scan a QR code to add items to their baskets and buy through their phone. The product is delivered to their home, with no need to go to a physical store. In summary, the smart device is here to stay, with even more technology advancements coming along the way. Retailers need to adapt, increase personalisation or risk losing consumers to other retailers who have embraced the digital revolution.
In order to keep up with the pace of today’s digital journey retailers must consider: