Brave new retail world: how the best leverage technology for better shopper experience

Across the globe, technology is dramatically impacting the path and pace of businesses. As Henry Stupp, CEO of Cherokee aptly reflected in his presentation at last year’s World Retail Congress, ‘it is no longer big beats little, it’s fast beats slow.’

The implication of this change is requiring businesses to think and behave in different ways. Agility, integration and speed have become the hallmarks of next-practice. Far from denying the changes at play, future-driven companies are finding ways to embrace and tackle it head on. New business models are emerging and integrated team hierarchies are meeting a new cultural emphasis on beta thinking, experimentation and well-measured risk taking. Put together, these start to form critical pathways to competitive differentiation – and better levels of customer experience. In this brave new world, the role of digital is not siloed internally or externally, rather, the emphasis is on seamless connections with customers – wherever and whenever they happen to be.

It goes without saying that this new context is also impacting shopper behaviours and expectations. Rapid adoption of smart technology continues to tilt power to the people while simultaneously redefining where and what ‘retail’ can be. Shoppers are seeking the best of online and offline together, choosing and preferring brands who deliver it.

With the notion that ‘store’ is now anywhere your shoppers are, retail and brand can no longer exist in separate vacuums. By integrating digital into the retail experience, smart brands are creating rich and immersive shopper experiences that forge new types of customer value and connection, in return, widening the gap between themselves and their competitors.

So, when it comes to leveraging technology to create smarter, better shopper experiences, what do the best have in common?

1.  They keep customers (not technology) at the centre

If there’s one thing for certain it’s that devices and platforms will continue to evolve. By starting with shopper needs and behaviours, brands stay focused on developing the right digital solutions that add the most value to the experience – before, during and after.

Macy’s continue to be an outstanding example of a brand that uses insight to steer technology development and innovate better customer experiences.  A key part of their strategy is making their online experience more tangible (eg. ‘True Fit jeans’) while at the same time looking for relevant ways to integrate digital solutions into their bricks & mortar stores (eg. digital mannequins). By using ‘big data’ to unlock customer insight they can cater to existing and emerging shopper behaviours, trialling and adapting ideas to meet these needs back into the business.

2. They match the context

If customers are the ‘who’ then context is the ‘where’. Mapping the entire customer journey – before, during and after allows brands to identify key opportunities where digital solutions can drive value. Tesco’s ‘Commuter’ grocery range or Walmart /Mattel’s ‘pop-up toy store’ offer great examples of ideas that leveraged insight about the shopper context (time poor commuters) with a digital solution (mobile commerce).

3. They create purposeful content

What you lead shoppers to is a critical determinant of success or failure. Whether it’s pure in-store theatre or a new type of mobile utility, effective content must be device-optimised, quick and easy to engage with and focused on adding value to the shopper experience. A good example was the recent ‘relief finder’ app developed by a cough syrup manufacturer to assist their customers to navigate and select the right product from crowded healthcare aisles. The brand incentivised purchases with a coupon, then added further value by helping customers track if and where other cold and flu bugs were trending.

4. They integrate channels

As shoppers increasingly bounce online and offline they will continue to expect one brand – not siloed channels. Delivering an immersive, seamless experience that invites people to shop however they want is now a critical foundation. As the new shopper companion, mobile is a key channel that helps shoppers cross between the virtual and the physical. The celebrated Burberry store in London is a world-class example of how blurring online and offline together through integration of mobile, web and digital theatre is creating new levels of brand and service experience for shoppers.

The era of digital disruption is here to stay. Shoppers expect (and respect) the brands that are willing to step up and lead the way to new and better experiences. Being customer centric, matching context, creating purposeful content and integrating channels are key to success. In this brave new digital world, we must not only be ready – but also willing, to embrace the exciting changes ahead of us.


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Caroline Ghatt
BY Caroline Ghatt ON 27 February 2013
Caroline Ghatt is planning director, brand and retail at Leo Burnett Sydney, where she leads shopper insights and retail activations. During her 14 years as a brand and retail strategist, Caroline has worked, and continues to work, with many of the world’s leading brands.