Retailers must digitalise methods to stay in business

Charlie Spargo's picture
by Charlie Spargo

Mark Finch, VP Sales EMEA at goMoxie, has advice for physical retailers quaking in their boots at the prospect of a changing economy. It's time to harness digital and not forget that great service works whatever the medium.

Leading fashion retailer H&M recently announced that this year it will be opening fewer stores than ever. Instead, it has decided to invest in turning its already existing 5,000 stores into logistical hubs, to reshape and transform them for the digital age.

As news comes from John Lewis warning of inevitable store closures, and M&S reporting a 3.7% dip in sales over Christmas, bricks-and-mortar retailers are scrambling fast to remain current and successful in the digital age.

How can retailers catch up with digital giants?

The time is up for businesses to continue ignoring their digital customers. The modern-day shopper expects the brands they choose to shop with to provide intuitive digital experiences that can save them time. 

The problem now is how digital can be harnessed to play catch-up - especially at a time where store closures are increasing as quickly as customer expectations evolve. These businesses know how to run their physical stores, so it’s time to apply some of these best practices to their digital outlets to maximise online performance. 

There are many friction points customers face when shopping online - things that can be eliminated by providing customers with relevant information. To stay ahead in the midst of store closures, retailers have to deliver stand-out experiences to earn their customers' business.

Many retailers have shifted the burden to the customer, requiring them to seek help or dig through information to make informed purchasing decisions. Unfortunately, this has resulted in low conversion rates, high abandonment, and a general lack of customer satisfaction. It ultimately creates a negative impact on brand loyalty. 

Where are the pain points?

Customers should not have to struggle to get things done online, but they’ve been struggling for years. Retailers invest in expensive advertising and retargeting to drive digital customers to their site, then leave them alone with none of the expertise in-store assistants can provide for customers. It’s no wonder online conversion rates have stayed around 3% for the last 20-plus years.

To succeed, businesses need to eliminate friction, simplify the digital experience, and extend the expertise of in-store retail assistants to the digital world.

Similar to an in-store associate reading the body language of a customer visiting a shop, digital customers come with clues and information as to where they might need help, or when they’d be better left alone. Using this intelligence to guide customers through the digital discovery and purchase path is the key to success. Anticipate customer needs, avoid failure, and gain a loyal customer!

Simply put, we need to do more to help retailers and other businesses succeed. The good news is that we can.

Who should be making this digital transformation?

Retailers are not alone in this; insurance, banks and travel businesses have invested in websites, but the model has largely been waiting for customers to fail, and then providing support. 

Any business offering products and services to customers via digital channels has the opportunity to significantly impact business results, including average order value and conversion rate, by understanding paths that make it difficult for the customer to make an informed buying decision.  

It may seem like a Herculean task for non-digital native businesses to amend processes that have been in place for in years. Data shows this can take 10 or more years, but time is a luxury most don’t have. While working on that core transformation, companies can impact the customer experience immediately by providing relevant information to customers as they engage with the site.  

It’s been said before, but put yourself in the customer’s shoes - visit your site and experience it as your customers do. You are likely to encounter friction that can be resolved by providing clarification and information along the journey.

Customer loyalty will increase by discovering the best products for them, checking out, and coming back to your digital store that is optimised for success. 

Completing a digital transformation is essential for any retailer to stay in business, but it can take a long time, between three and five years. That’s why it’s critical to design a customer experience that meets customer expectation. Brands such as Amazon, EasyJet and Netflix have set the expectation bar high - it’s important that those looking to digitally transform match the experience that these brands have created.