Today’s successful ecommerce retailer has to work harder to maintain a strong competitive position. This requires their leaders to implement systems that understand customer’s needs and create individual experiences that once resembled traditional retail and predict future needs, providing personalised communication experiences as a result.
Personalisation—being able to achieve a 360-degree view of the customer and enhance the buyer’s journey—carries advantages for both large enterprises and the customer. For the customer, it offers convenience, empathy with introspection. For the company, it establishes targeted ecommerce, which has the advantages of higher conversion rates. Whether you are a well-known or an up and coming brand, it’s not just about making online sales; it’s about experiences that keep the ever-demanding customers coming back.
Over the last few years, customers have spent record-shattering times on their phones, computer, and tablet screens. During that time, customers have seen everything online—their phone is always at their side. It’s the first thing they see in the morning, the last thing they see at night. They check their social media and email while they lunch. In short, they have an intimate relationship with their device, and they experience your brand in these highly personal environments, believes Norbert Morawetz, an associate professor in entrepreneurship at Henley Business School.
Moreover, when they open emails from you or visit your website to interact with you, they have read and explicitly accepted your terms to “allow you to gather and keep” data gathered on them, and also your Cookie Disclaimer popup. ‘Can we collect data on you?’, you ask them. ‘Sure,’ they say and click ‘Agree.’ They connect with your brand in personal settings, and they have consented to data collection; now they expect you to do something sensible with that data and give them a personalised experience in return.
Their expectation around a personalised experience is strongly shaped by the excellence of the big consumer technology brands. Due to the competitive market space, consumers may take the high relevancy of personalised recommendations as a must-have.
They may not be aware that this is not a trivial undertaking that requires complex custom technology built on big data. From their standpoint, this is just a ‘simple’ recommendation on the user interface, after all. The competition amongst companies has created a situation where reviews, presenting recently viewed items, and recommendations based on buying and search history, individual preferences, and navigation behaviour have become a standard in the online shopping experience.
This places the consumer in a position where dissatisfaction with the shopping experience can easily be shared on social media platforms. For instance, if the algorithms get the personalisation wrong, this can lead to #epicfail on social media. It is for this reason that the need for leaders to create a personalised omnichannel experience becomes pertinent. In other words, the customer should be able to order on a website and complete the process on a phone app or click and collect to meet the expectations of the consumers’ idea of ecommerce, which is a seamless shopping or browsing experience.
Social Media, then, is your new shop floor and where customers expect you to engage with them directly (not the other way round). As Facebook loses ground to Instagram as a platform for ecommerce Marketers, the need for visuals becomes essential. Instagram, for instance, offers a visual shopfront, and consumers can like your virtual billboards. What they want from you is an opportunity to be playful, be in on the next meme, and react with a different emoticon than merely hearting your post. If they pay a compliment to like your post, they want you to acknowledge their gesture or return the favour.
“Ecommerce, targeting, and engagement get even more personal (and fun) on TikTok, but customers don’t just want Marketing; they also demand thought-leadership,” believes Morawetz. So, consider, what are your CEO, and CIO saying on Twitter and Clubhouse? Is your Twitter feed a conversation or a muted stream of apologies to customers who vocally complain about your customer service?
Whatever the channel, since customers have explicitly given you consent to track them, they expect you to know them and bring it all together for them in an integrated experience. Wherever they click through, they want to know that you remember their details and are ready for their purchase. And once they have clicked purchase, you should have all the data in place to model when and what to put into your AI personalised automated emails to keep them coming back.
But this is where many organisations fail. Because having data is not enough.
Once leaders have data, the next step is to centralise it. Then, process and understand it. And lastly, use machine learning to provide customers with personalization: the outcome of which is a frictionless shopping experience with individually tailored content.
Most leaders that understand the importance of Artificial Intelligence and how it elevates retail experiences (online and in-store) currently employ such technology in their infrastructures. Commerce giants that implement AI are better equipped at focusing on enriching their retail engagement with customers while allowing the technical experts to focus on the training of machine learning models with real-time customer data to achieve truly personalized experiences.
But here is where many leaders run into problems—a classic build or buy decision – many chose to develop their own internal solution, often spending (and wasting) millions of dollars. Additionally, the highly transformative digital-first era is exposing the holes that exist in the digital experience. Retailers are starting to see the limitations of current legacy systems and constrained resources that may be hindering their ability to modernise and keep up with the ever-changing ecommerce landscape.
According to David Swift, SwiftERM’s CEO, “In this Digital-first era, now, more than ever, retailers need to focus on transforming the customer experience through technology. Whether you are a B2B or B2C retailer, technology is your differentiator., and only means to distinguish your company from your peers.”
Many retailers perceive adopting AI as having to establish their own laboratory or scientists and data-engineers, and heady conclusion and totally wrong. The reality of course is far simpler, merely requiring the adoption of the technology, often as easy as installing a plugin. Simple adoption of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, illustrates the power of being an early adopter.
This example of best practice certainty provides leaders everywhere with an exciting approach to emulate. After all, it appears to be the way for leaders to manage eCommerce now and beyond.