By Brett Raven, CIO, Big Red Group
In the same way necessity is the mother of invention; customer expectation has become the mother of tech transformation in the world of ecommerce. It is the new battleground for retailers who are in an arms race for every customer acquisition. The weaponry includes anything from AI marketing technologies like Albert, to the full bells and whistles offerings from the likes of Salesforce.
The fact is, many retailers can see their business models eroding and becoming less relevant for today’s consumers. One example is how the timing of key marketing campaigns on the retail calendar need to shift in line with consumer expectations, such as the demand for sales and the trend to shop earlier for Christmas. In addition, new retail-created occasions like ClickFrenzy, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are having a material impact. These are now turning into week-long sale events in their own right: The Hallmark Holidays of a new generation. Large retailers are also bringing forward their Boxing Day sales.
This 'race to the bottom' will hurt smaller retailers profoundly, which, in my opinion, is by design. The big players want to redefine the rules of engagement and push SMEs out of business, taking even more market share. This creates a perfect storm for the retail behemoths like Amazon to flourish and fill the vacuum across countless retail verticals.
Ultimately, this means consumers have more choice to find the cheapest product available. According to insights from Salesforce, 50 percent of people had completed their Christmas shopping by December 3 in 2018 - this is unprecedented and is proof of an evolving consumer. In addition, mobile traffic is over 70 per cent for many retailers (with much lower conversion rates than desktop).
So the big question here is, how can technology help? Here are my top five tips for making technology work for your retail business in this age of high customer expectation.
1. Work with your product team to ensure the focus is squarely on what the customer wants. Too often we see websites that are focused on delivering features that may seem interesting, but miss the point on the fundamentals of user experience. This isn’t about your tech team leaving their mark or playing with the shiniest new toys; it’s about delivering value to the customer. Every single time. Customers have choice, and retailers must understand and respect that fact.
2. Page Speed. You must have a quick experience on your site, especially for the key pages (landing pages, search results, category listing, product details). Anything over five or six seconds of the 'above the fold' page view will be extremely detrimental to your conversion rate (and organic listings). There are loads of tools out there that will help you measure and gain insights - www.gtmetrix.com is one of them. Rip out your ailing 'tech debt' and bring your UI components as close to leading edge as possible (e.g. Accelerated Mobile Pages). And leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN) whenever you can.
4. Search Engine Optimisation. Don't rely on just Google Analytics (GA) or Search Console to tell you how you’re performing. Leverage other tools, or find a trustworthy SEO agency to keep an eye on your market 'voice' and page rankings. Organic listings are not free; they cost you in a significant investment in time - but your payoff will be material. You absolutely need to invest in this channel. Tech directly influences SEO beyond just the copy on a page - it provides more efficient pages, appropriate page URLs, acceptable navigation and managing redirects and missing pages. All of this is critical to organic listing performance. I recommend taking a look at https://www.screamingfrog. co.uk/ SEO spider software, for analysis of your website and tips on how to improve your organic performance technically.
Your marketing dollars work very hard to bring traffic to your site. Whilst technology is not the magic bullet for ensuring a successful ecommerce business, it can make or break a sale. There are countless things you can do to respond to changing customer needs and expectations, including product range, merchandising, the use of rich content on-site, and more. But ideally, the platform you use to run your ecommerce site should allow for these additional items to be managed without tech team intervention. If that’s not the case, you may need to consider going back to stage one and re-thinking your platform choice. But that’s a conversation for another day...