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The way forward for retail

Online ShoppingWith mobile users now tipping the scales at greater than 50 per cent of e-commerce traffic, traditional retailers need to ‘sharpen their saw’, writes Popai’s Lee McClymont and Tim Stitt, of Social Media Monitors.

With a proliferation of online shopping, retailers need to be increasingly vigilant with their instore execution, specifically in the areas of customer service, consistency of offer, and ease of doing business.

The e-commerce trend has been hotly debated and watched since the dot-com bubble more than a decade ago.

Now, in 2015, its popularity is indisputable.

For retailers, the question of whether they should make the venture into mobile shopping no longer exists – it is now just a matter of when and how.

Fuelled by the overall marketing trend of social media discovery, mobile phone traffic to online stores is exponentially rising.

This year, Shopify compiled data from more than 100,000 e-commerce stores that use the platform and found for the first time that 50.3 per cent of traffic came from mobile phones, with just 49.7 per cent from computers.

Retailers can now interact with customers through innumerable channels – social media platforms, physical stores, mail, mobile devices, televisions, radio, gaming consoles, and many more.

Quite simply, consumers no longer have to go shopping; rather, shopping comes directly to them.

In the face of competition, smart retailers are focusing on omni-channel retailing, providing an integrated sales experience that combines all the advantages of a physical store with the information rich environment that is online shopping (Rigby, 2011).

US technology analyst, Bret Swanson, has estimated the equivalent computing power of an iPhone 5 would have had a price tag of $3.5million in 1991.

Today, more than 1.7 billion people have a smartphone in their possession – that’s a whole lot of consumers with a great deal of access, knowledge, and power.

Consequently, today’s smartphone savvy consumer is more informed than any other time in the history of retailing.

The implications for retailers can be condensed into three core categories.

1. Customer service

Customer service is a critical point in overall customer satisfaction and retention, and in turn, profitability.

Successful retailers are providing multi-channel support for the online customer, including a support centre on the company website, and where possible, 24/7 live help – whether that is in the form of email, social media, live chat, or by phone.

E-tailing group, LogMeIn, found  that 77 per cent of customers were positively influenced in their opinion about a retailer after an online chat, with 84 per cent reporting they were very likely to do business with a company if it responded via phone in less than a minute.

Think about the last time a customer service experience exceeded your every expectation for timeliness, empathy, understanding, and resolve. Shopify calls this the “wow experience”, and retailers will do well to align their business accordingly.

Don’t forget social. Research by revealed that 78 per cent of customers believe social media is the new tier of customer service, while 88 per cent are less likely to buy from companies who leave social media complaints unanswered.

Therefore, as social media continues to rise in popularity, it is essential for retailers to understand and embrace this new breed of online customers, while handling them in a personal, professional, and timely manner.

2. Consistency of offer

Retailers face pros and cons in both a face to face selling environment and an online sales environment. Ultimately, the game is about providing a seamless integration between the two; where the brand experience is consistent, but the execution is appropriate to the communication channel.

With a proliferation of mobile savvy retail customers, expectations of the face to face retail environment are higher than ever before.

Customers engage positively with well organised, visually appealing store environments, that play to their unique ‘mission’ or ‘occasion’ i.e. why they are there.

Similarly, the online experience needs to be easy navigate and relevant in both content and creative.

It’s about mapping every touchpoint in the customer journey, and ensuring that the role of each is understood; right message, right activation, right place, and time.

3. Ease of doing business

Stronger mobile use in the retail environment has placed more pressure on traditional retailers as a result of heightened expectations in the paradigm of ‘ease of doing business’.

As the online checkout process becomes more streamlined and convenient, customers are demanding exceptional standards of customer service while buying face to face.

They crave simple, easy, low/no wait transactions, as they more readily compare their face to face experience with the online retail space.

Where to from here?

All the benefits of face to face customer relationship and physical store experience continue to be relevant. So much so that online retailers are now entering the physical store space to provide an immersion experience – Google and Amazon, to name two.

Equally , in order to truly thrive in a changing retail landscape, bricks and mortar businesses must adapt to the digital world by combining elements of face to face and online interaction in a way that ensures the shopping experience is swift, consistent, and easy, while maintaining a degree of personalisation and care throughout the process.

Blending the consumer advantages of digital and physical stores is the clear way forward for retail.

Lee McClymont is GM of Popai Australia and New Zealand and Tim Stitt, director of Social Media Monitors.

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