With around 60 shopping days left until Christmas it is timely to share a few insights into today’s retail industry. Although we are witnessing job losses from the high street, we are also filling new roles emerging from the digital transformation of retail.
New channels are driving growth. Most of us shop (and bank) very differently now, and in the near future we might find ourselves forced to buy online as our preferred brand no longer provides a local store. The economics of property rents and rates has forced many retailers to close parts of their network. Some, while reducing the number of outlets, are creating better stores and experiences – as encapsulated in the term “destination shopping”. Louis Vuitton’s new Bond Street store is a prime example.
Shopping experiences are often motivated by social media and influencers, with technology increasingly playing a role in this. The technologists and digital marketing experts are using AI to great effect in creating brilliant online experiences. It’s no wonder that e-commerce accounted for 20% of all retail sales in the first half of 2019.
Expert insight: the retail journey
Valerie Eldenmalm worked with Russam whilst at Levi Strauss and has been building e-commerce experiences for established and new brands since 2010. Her experience with Rocket Internet and Levi Strauss, Ralph Lauren, St Laurent - and now as CEO of online destination store www.smuklondon.co.uk - means she is well placed to comment on how brands respond to technology, and the tech itself. Valerie says that stores are now thought of as boring:
“Digital is changing the shape of shopping: it is all about experience, even if you are buying a coffee. A coffee shop now has to be Instagramable so the consumer wants to share the experience.
“Shops like Gucci now look almost like a gallery or a museum. You go there for the experience. This can be high cost to retailers to change the layout of their space.
The human touch
“But recognising how important ‘opinion’ can be whilst shopping is important. Levi and Ralph Lauren tried to reproduce an online version of the shopping assistant, because our consumers wanted feedback on how they looked. We used various technologies including deep learning tools that can dig on social media such as Pinterest. It enables us to suggest styling. The approach has not yet resulted in conversion to sales, but we can see it is being used by the consumer.
“It is vital to constantly explore and test new technologies. We know now that customers love to browse, and clothing brands like that. In the beauty and hair business we use ‘What Face’ – which leads to bookings. We are constantly looking at different apps and video is very important. A face on screen will make people engage more with the content – all the data analytics proves this.
“Online experiences are great, but people are still craving the human touch. Today’s customers are staying online longer, playing with tools and exploring products. However, we are still limited by server capacity, with video and imaging putting a strain on them, but the tools are developing so fast.
“However, good videos are expensive, especially when they need to work for all channels. One campaign at Levi’s was used for over two years because of the investment we made in it. It was an inspirational film for the brand which conveyed brand value and unique selling points and it connected humans. We need videos to drive emotions.”
“Today, the e-commerce director is at the heart of any retail business. The role has changed completely, with the shift taking place around 2 years ago. At this point I found I was rapidly taking more responsibility in the business.
“The ecommerce director is the business owner. They must be consumer centric, responsible for driving traffic, and then owning the journey right through to payments and warehouse management. It is vital to keep up with developments. You are solicited by technology vendors and must constantly be on the lookout for something new.
In this we must listen to young people who are finding new apps constantly. We have to make time for new ideas brought by everyone in the business.
“An area of great interest is personalisation. Looking a year ahead from now – consumers will go less and less to stores – and only for a transactional purchase. The biggest shift will be the opening of hybrid concept stores: mixing cafes with fashion, creating a hair salon that sells activewear.
“The shift to more conscious consumerism could also mean a focus on local businesses. We are seeing lots of shops offering something that cannot be automated - like barbers’ shops, but they will have to offer more than a haircut. Even small businesses will need to have a strong relationship with customers and build this relationship through all the channels available.
“The ‘blended retailer’ will offer great customer experience online and instore. They rely on great, technology-enabled systems from customer interface through to fulfilment.”
At Russam we have a network of experts leading digital transformation projects for established and emerging retailers. Our experience spans new banking applications as well as well-known brands moving their business to the web.
Strategy, data analytics, User Interface design, customer experience, supply chain and logistics are vital roles. The rise of social media and the teams driving engagement with customers are vital too. The connection between the technology teams and the marketing organisation has never been so important, and hiring leaders with strong technology and marketing acumen is proving vital.