Why retailers need to think digital to stay in business

Opinion – by Mark Finch, VP Sales, EMEA at goMoxie

Leading fashion retailer H&M recently announced that it was planning a year in which it will open fewer stores than ever.

Instead of continuing to expand along traditional lines, it will attempt to pivot to a more digital orientation by reshaping its 5,000 stores into logistical hubs serving online shoppers.

Meanwhile, the news from other retailers underscores the necessity of this move; John Lewis & Partners has warned of inevitable store closures, and M&S reported a 3.7% dip in sales over Christmas.

As bricks-and-mortar retailers scramble to remain current and successful in the digital age, businesses have come to realise they can no longer ignore their digital customers.

To meet expectations of modern-day shoppers, retailers must first understand them. Born-digital companies such as Amazon have deep experience in refining the experience they provide —traditional retailers must realise the disadvantages they face and work hard to earn the business of consumers who see them as outdated.

Find common points of friction in the customer’s journey by looking at existing analytics tools

Today, that means going beyond simply throwing product images on the web and adding a shopping cart. Being relevant starts with offering intuitive digital experiences that guide customers to success and save them time along the way.

So how exactly can retailers such as H&M and John Lewis catch-up with digital giants like Amazon?

It’s simple. Retailers have to make it easy for digital customers to do business with them. That’s a standard that alarmingly few have met to date.

For too long, the H&Ms and John Lewises of the world have given the impression that consumers owe them their business. Those days are gone.

It’s time to take the initiative to guide and interact with customers—to show that their needs matter and make the quality and success of their experience the top priority.

Smooth the customer’s path to purchase

Traditionally, retailers have left customers to struggle on their own, requiring them to seek help or dig through information in order to make informed purchasing decisions. That’s no way to show you care, or to drive sales. The result: low conversion rates, high abandonment, and a general lack of customer satisfaction, which ultimately hurts brand loyalty.

Instead of passively waiting for customers to figure out what they want, provide clarity and certainty through the purchase path. Anticipate their needs and offer useful information that answers a question before the customer even realises they have one.

Find common points of friction in the customer’s journey by looking at existing analytics tools and talking with sales agents about the questions customers most often ask. This kind of existing interaction data is invaluable for uncovering new opportunities for productive guidance.

Extend in-store expertise to digital

In-store retail associates know all about helping customers make a purchase. They read the customer’s demeanour to understand when, what, and how much assistance to offer. Digital businesses can apply the same principles to the online journey.

Remember that bricks-and-mortar associates don’t always wait to be approached to offer help — they swoop in before the customer has a chance to give up. That’s even more important online, where help is less accessible and it’s so much easier to leave.

In fact, less than one per cent of your digital customers will ask for help during the sales journey. Reach a broader set of customers by proactively offering the information you know they need to complete the purchase path. Don’t wait for the customer to understand what they need and take the time to ask a question.

To avoid fading into digital irrelevance, companies must now do all they can do eliminate points of friction and struggle

Which businesses should be making this digital transformation?

Retailers are not alone in this evolution. Insurance, banks, and travel businesses also need to eliminate friction points and apply the best customer service practices of their physical store associates. Many have invested in websites, but the model has been to wait for customers to fail and raise their hand via the customer support page. Then, and only then, have they provided assistance.

To avoid fading into digital irrelevance, companies must now do all they can do eliminate points of friction and struggle. By putting themselves in the customer’s shoes, literally taking a walk in the customers digital footsteps along the journey they provide, they can gain an understanding of the customer’s pain—and resolve it with useful guidance and clear digital interactions. That won’t just make customers happier. It’ll also improve average order values and conversions rates.

At the end of the day, the question isn’t really which businesses should be making this digital transformation; it’s why any business serving online customers would think it unnecessary.

Whether you’re buying a coat, booking a trip, or insuring a boat, you want an online experience that’s as effortless and successful as possible. The companies that best meet that expectation will lead the pack in the new age of business.

goMoxie’s digital guidance platform simplifies and provides clarity to the digital customer journey. The technology eliminates customer struggle and provides relevant guidance, increasing sales and driving business growth.