If there was one takeaway from the recent Shop.org Digital Summit, it might be summarized by the president of Lilly Pulitzer, Michelle Kelly, who said that every time her company thinks they’ve made a change sufficient to keep up with consumer demands, “we get a clue that our customer is moving faster. What keeps me up at night is making sure we’re doing enough to keep up.”
In truth, it may be impossible to ever get ahead of shoppers’ expectations. But that doesn’t mean retailers shouldn’t try to spot and act on potentially disruptive patterns before they become disruptive. While it’s become a trite platitude to characterize the furious pace of technological change, retailers must acknowledge how fast technologies are impacting business trends.
“It’s like riding twenty Gutenberg moments at the same time,” said Salim Ismail, executive director of Singularity University in a keynote address. “It used to take 20 years to create a billion-dollar opportunity. Now, because of the democratization of technology, it takes months.”
Because of that, he says it’s hard for humans to process how profoundly and quickly technology is changing everyday life.
But process they must.
Two of the key themes throughout the event were, not surprisingly, mobile and personalization. Here’s what some experts had to say.
If it weren’t already plainly obvious, shoppers are very willing to discover, browse and buy using their smartphones. Retailers must not only take a mobile-first approach to UI development and design, but also a mobile customer first approach, and understand precisely how consumers are engaging with your brand on their device.
Michael Griffin, CEO of AdLucent, said that consumers spend 59% of their digital time on mobile devices, split into hundreds of micro-moments lasting about 70 seconds. That’s how much time you have to engage with the shopper in a meaningful and productive way; i.e. deliver extremely relevant content and a completely frictionless checkout. Anything less is an invitation for your consumers to tap over to a site delivering a better experience.
According to Sucharita Mulpuru of Forrester Research, conversion rates on phones are only about 12%, as the vast majority of consumers encounter some kind of problem shopping on a mobile site. One-touch ‘buy buttons’ and mobile wallets may ease the process in 2016.
At the same time, mobile is becoming a much more significant driver of in-store activity, and retailers must bridge the gap between the online and offline shopping journey – and fast. Deloitte Digital says that mobile influenced 28% of in-store sales in 2014, five times the rate in 2012.
Because there are many more touchpoints than ever, shoppers have many more choices when it comes to where to spend their money. So retailers need to deliver hyper-personalized content on a one-to-one level. This is vastly different, and more complex, than demographic targeting where large groups of consumers get lumped into broad categories because they share one or two traits.
Ken Morris of Boston Retail Partners offered some statistics on some of the ways retailers will personalize the in-store experience:
- 70% plan to use beacons to identify customers upon entering a store within five years, up from 6% today
- 224% more retailers will use geo-location to deliver personalized, real-time promotions and directional assistance within three years
QVC president Mike George said his company, where half of its $8.8 billion in sales comes from online, has made a massive investment in content to create a better experience for its shoppers, post-sale. One example: the company emails videos to buyers on how to wear the scarf they just bought, or how to set up the Christmas tree or use the beauty device.
Molly Baab, vice president of product management at Rue La La, an Internet pure-play retailer with 15 million members, said its goal is to have hundreds of versions of its homepage, which recognize return shoppers and display relevant products.
“I’m always disappointed when that retailers don’t know me when I go to their sites,” she said.
Stitch Fix is one retailer taking personalization to a new level. The company’s COO, Julie Bornstein, says the 4-year old online retailer employs 50 data scientists to develop algorithms designed to help its stylists hand-select apparel and accessories for its subscribers.
“Many retailers don’t even employ one data scientist,” she said during the closing keynote address.
The goal, she said, is to reach a level of personalization – at scale – that will give it an edge against much larger online retailers.
“There will be a sea change in personalization,” she said. “Amazon won’t be the only disrupter in retail.”