Business director at smpView Author Profile
Want to succeed in online retail? Focus on the customer journey.
Amid the ever-increasing turmoil of the high street, brands are facing a growing number of challenges. While the bricks-and-mortar model seems to be in a tailspin, e-commerce is booming, with 2018 sales accounting for 11.9% of all retail sales worldwide.
The figure is set to move skywards, reaching 17.5% by 2021. The e-commerce boom has seen a large number of more affordable brands join established behemoths, dramatically increasing the number of products available to the online shopper.
In an increasingly crowded marketplace, where shoppers are spoilt for choice, but brand value may be diluted through continuous discounts, navigating the complex world of e-commerce can be a daunting task.
From zeroing in on the critical touchpoints that will place brands in front of shoppers and increase brand awareness, to creating cutting edge content that will engage them, brands need to embrace new models of communications to survive.
In order to capitalise on opportunities propelled by Amazon and the millions of eShops that have popped up over the last decade, brands need to understand who their customers are and how best to reach them.
This will enable them to create a communications strategy that delivers on customer experience, which is expected to overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator by 2020. In mapping out customer journeys, brands can identify touchpoints that can influence shopper behaviour and create content that will fulfil these.
So, where to start?
Auditing existing channels can help shed light on successes so far. What has worked? What hasn’t and why? How has the competition tackled comms? Are they appearing in the spaces identified? If so, what have they done differently?
Once existing customer journeys have been mapped out, brands can undertake audience research to help them better understand target shoppers, evaluating what touchpoints they’ve neglected in their strategy and how to incorporate these going forward.
Of course, not all channels will be suitable to carry out a brand’s objectives. Undertaking pilot initiatives can therefore act as a catalyst in determining which channels have the greatest potential in influencing shopper behaviour and how they can be incorporated into the overall strategy.
Identifying the critical touchpoints is only the first step. How these touchpoints will be utilised to address and engage customers is far more important, as this will determine the content that should be used to populate them.
Are the touchpoints facilitating discovery? Are they assisting in closing the sale? Shoppers have unparalleled choice; therefore, brands must think carefully about how they communicate in each part of the shopper journey.
A one-size-fits-all approach will not work, and content will depend on the touchpoint: the type of customer engagement and interaction it is striving to achieve, and the degree of personalisation required.
Of course, setting a media plan and activating it is by no means a one-time event. How consumers respond to content will determine the evaluation and longevity of the touchpoint and associated content.
If the content isn’t engaging, the audience will not respond to it. Depending on the objective, certain touchpoints may be switched on and off at different stages throughout a particular programme of activity, in line with shopper behaviour.
In an ever-evolving consumer journey, brands need to adapt to new ways of operating and respond to new trends to ensure the relevance of all touchpoints. This is where digital has the upper hand, enabling brands to be flexible in how they tailor their messaging across the shopper journey and how they update it.
This doesn’t mean physical touchpoints are obsolete. Physical stores are in fact critical, especially for categories where trial is important to consumers. Offering shoppers the opportunity to touch and try products goes a long way to increasing footfall and influencing purchase decisions.
How brands identify the role physical stores will play in their customer journey depends largely on their category, but, overall, effective in-store experiences are the future of physical retail.
To deliver on seamless customer experience, brands need to work with their retail partners to gain an understanding of their wider business strategies and how these fit with their own vision. Increasingly, determining the role of physical stores rests on determining the in-store experiences offered therein.
Effective store experiences however go beyond the store visit. Brands need to join offline and online journeys, integrating physical retail into the overall customer journey, rather than seeing it as a separate touchpoint.
How did the customer get to the store? What content were they exposed to pre-visit and how did it influence their decision to visit? What happened after? Will they share their experience?
The recent struggles of the high street have shifted the power balance between retailers and brands, allowing collaboration to flourish – both retailers and brands are targeting the same audience after all.
While retailers are responsible for being knowledgeable about what they’re selling and how it will integrate into consumers’ lives in order to deliver exceptional customer experiences, it is down to brands to educate them.
Brands have better insight into their products and customers and sharing this intel will allow the relationship to evolve, creating innovation in customer experience.
Similarly, retailers need to share their own data with brands to better inform their strategies. This insight will enable brands to determine influential locations, by identifying relevant audiences and possible in-store footfall, the scale of in-store experiences possible and their capacity in influencing the frequency of store visits.
Integrating offline and online journeys to ensure a seamless experience and a consistency in communications is how brands maximise their capacity to thrive.
Understanding consumer motivation enables brands to uncover the purpose of different touchpoints in a customer journey and how these can be activated with great content. Ultimately, it comes down to targeting shoppers with the right message through the right channel at the right time.
Mark Burgess is business director at smp.
How Brands Can Win In eCommerce