Image: Steven de Polo (Creative Commons)
I cannot claim to be an e-commerce expert; although, the amount of time I spend online browsing stores such as www.asos.com and www.citymob.co.za, would surely make me an expert of some sort. I could think of nothing better than spending an evening sprawled out on my bed, surfing the web for my next fashion purchase. I love the idea of browsing for items I could potentially buy online, but I must admit, I’m still sceptical of the whole online shopping process and tend to spend 'research' time on the web, and make my actual purchases in-store.
This is not something a person supposedly clued up on 'digital' should be admitting to. But I know for a fact that I am not the only one. Many South Africans have yet to become comfortable with e-commerce beyond that 'research' stage. But if the international retail climate is anything to go by, e-commerce is here to stay and will inevitably become the norm all over the world.
To get more clued up on the world of online retail, I had a look at some of the trends that are currently making the rounds, and will most likely be utilised worldwide, in the foreseeable future.
Although the trend of online shopping has increased, this does not mean that retail brands should stop investing in their physical outlets. Many leading e-commerce experts have suggested that an aligned approach that allows for a seamless customer journey is the way forward. Although many South African retailers have invested in some sort of digital presence over and above their physical stores, they have yet to connect all of these avenues to create a seamless shopping experience for customers.
The term 'omni-channel' refers to a retail experience that combines various touchpoints and platforms to maximise customer experience. Essentially it means that a consumer can use a multitude of channels simultaneously. An omni-channel experience can be as simple as a customer going into a store, checking out a product and simultaneously going onto a competing retailer’s online store on their smartphone to compare prices.
Certain international stores have taken this approach even further. For example, Macy’s has partnered with Google to bring 'Google Wallet' to their stores. Customers use their smartphones at NFC (Near Field Communication) terminals when paying for a purchase.
Omni-Channel Retail: Burberry
Due to the fact that fashion is the real reason I am somewhat obsessed with retail, my favourite example of omni-channel retailing comes from the high-end fashion house, Burberry. They made a bold statement by designing their Regent Street store in London to represent a physical manifestation of their digital store.
The flagship branch cut back on the amount of product available in-store and introduced new selling methods, such as in-store ordering, as well as making iPad terminals available at various terminals throughout the store. By integrating both worlds, they have been able to create a user experience like no other high-end fashion brand.
The brand has gone even further to prove they are digitally savvy, by creating 'Burberry Retail Theatre.' This allows the brand to stream live simultaneous virtual trunk shows in stores, globally. Burberry is definitely the one to watch for innovative, never-before-seen omni-channel initiatives.
Online retailers have relied on the accumulation of data to gather insights about specific consumer groups. Data can provide adequate information to customise a consumer’s experience, but it is not quite as personal as going into a store and receiving one-on-one attention from a shop assistant. One of the main factors that the leading e-commerce retailers aim to focus on is providing each consumer with a completely customisable, personalised online shopping experience.
Although Amazon has focused on this approach in the past, the technology and data that is now available will go one step further in providing an experience that takes each individual into consideration. Additionally, Social Media, such as Facebook and Twitter, further adds to the amount of data a retailer has access to, when building an adequate personal profile for an individual.
The personalisation approach could be as simple as offering a returning visitor an opportunity to join a loyalty programme. Alternatively, it could be as complex as customising the homepage interface of an online store to fit a customer’s specific profile.
We are all aware that mobile is huge. Smartphones have replaced PCs in most digital aspects, and the amount of people who gain access to the Internet from this device, often far outweighs any other in number. By the looks of it, this trend could transcend into e-commerce and it will become increasingly important that online stores take a responsive design approach to ensure that a customer’s online shopping experience on a mobile device is maximised.
Although this is seen to be one of the main global trends in e-commerce, I think that this fad will take a while to grow here, to the level it’s at in other parts of the world. We, as South Africans, are at the stage of the online shopping cycle where we feel comfortable buying a movie ticket, for example, with our phones, but not really anything of higher value. And of course, we still prefer using this platform for the ‘product research’ phase. I think it will take a while for us to feel comfortable with ‘popping into’ a mobile store to make a bigger purchase.
What’s your view on where e-commerce is headed? Are we as South Africans starting to embrace this retail revolution, or do we remain guarded? Let us know in the ‘Make a comment’ block below.
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