If you had any doubt that digital transformation isn’t a given for the majority of retailers or brands that want to succeed in the modern retail environment, just take a look at the empty shops on the high street. During the first half of 2018 shops were closing at a rate of almost 14 a day and the Centre for Retail Research predicts about 10,000 shops to close this year.
Technology has completely changed the way consumers shop and interact with a brand. Smartphone visits have overtaken desktop visits for every retailer we work with, which means that consumers are engaging with brands on the go, often within minutes of the high street.
Customer experience has become more and more important as the consumer, and how they interact with the world, online and offline, has changed dramatically. To survive and navigate these changes, retailers need to undergo a customer-centric digital transformation that is focused on meeting the growing needs of an ever more complex and demanding consumer.
Not a surprise
The need for digital transformation certainly won’t come as any surprise to retailers. We recently carried out research of the UK Top500 retailers to understand their attitudes towards digital transformation, and 66% rated it as crucial and 45% are ‘well on their way’ to digital transformation.
In recent years, we have seen retailers experimenting with a myriad of ways to respond to new shopper expectations, bridge digital and physical shopping experiences, and try a variety of techniques to transform the retail experience, improve the handling of back-office processes and much more.
Customers are quick, retailers need to be quicker
The pace of disruption is driven by the speed at which consumers can adopt technology, and this is getting faster and faster. Modern digital transformation has to be all about customer experience. Almost half (49%) of survey respondents highlighted this rapid pace of change as one of the main hurdles to making digital transformation easy – and this challenge is present at both the back and front-ends of the business.
Gone are the days of multi-million pound, multi-year IT projects that remain in place for prolonged periods of time. By the time a retailer has implemented a digital initiative the customer has moved on again, leaving the retailer playing catch up. Our research found 68% of respondents admit that it takes longer than six months to digitally transform and meet customer demand. This is not fast enough, so it is important for retailers to focus on the future and ensure its digital transformation strategy is agile and flexible.
Delivering a personal experience
Customers want an experience personal to them. They want the content and experience delivered on the right channel and at the right time. The majority of consumers are permanently glued to their mobile phones, and expect to be contacted by brands that know not just their name, but also what they like and don’t like.
Delivering this personalisation demanded by consumers is no simple task as it requires using technology to be more human. Engineers are used to building things that are functional, and don’t take into account the fact that humans don’t always behave as machines expect them to. This is the key reason that the front end – the part that the customer sees – requires digital transformation.
In a nutshell, front-end customer-centric digital transformation means getting the right message to the right consumer, and getting that right message delivered to the right device. This will ensure the customer is satisfied with the most personalized experience possible.
Transforming the back-end
To deliver this digital transformation in the front-end, retailers must have a complete rethink of how all of its back-end systems work. Without doing so, it will not be possible to move to omni-channel model that delivers the coherent and relevant experience consumers are needing.
Digital transformation means putting the consumer front and centre meaning data systems, CRMs, EMPs, marcomm tech and IT all have to work together – rather than in silos for each channel – to deliver what they ‘know’ about the customer. The customer is at the heart of digital transformation and is the crux of the challenge of making it happen.
Don’t transform without help
Digital transformation isn’t a process that retailers should perform alone. By partnering with third-party specialists, the process can be more efficient and more successful. It is important to pick a vendor that shares your digital vision, is flexible, and understands exactly what you are hoping to achieve. Their ability to understand how to re-integrate systems already in place to deliver a holistic view of the customer is absolutely vital to customer-centric digital transformation.
According to our research, many retailers and brands already realise they shouldn’t go this alone, with 32% working with five or more third parties both in the front and back-end of their marketing communications – but for retailers to succeed all of them need to be following such a strategy.
Don’t miss the train
Digital transformation is a company-wide undertaking that requires having the technology, culture, processes and data to make your business and systems truly customer-centric. This isn’t a one off process and will require constant attention.
Businesses who are yet to change and modernise their e-commerce customer experience are finding this increasingly difficult to do. Customer expectations are accelerating to such an extent that if your business isn’t on the train now, it may miss it.
Kevin Murray, Managing Director at Greenlight Commerce.