It’s Time to Embrace Digital Evolution in Retail

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It’s Time to Embrace Digital Evolution in Retail

The COVID-19 pandemic had a massive impact on the retail space. With lockdowns and shelter-in-place restrictions, consumers couldn’t visit their favourite stores, and retailers had to find other ways of reaching their customers. People turned to their mobile phones and laptops to make purchases online that they could pick up at the store or have delivered. In light of this shift, it’s no surprise that retail e-commerce sales leaped from US$3.4 billion in 2019 to US$4.3 billion in 2020. That’s over 25% of growth

That’s not to say that retailers weren’t already incorporating e-commerce into their business models. The last decade has shown an ongoing transition towards omnichannel shopping experiences, where customers have the option to either purchase products online or in-store. What the pandemic did was accelerate this phenomenon, pushing retailers that were on the fence to really invest in building a digital presence and allowing their customers to shop in ways that make sense to them. 

Today, building a digital arm for the business model is a no-brainer for most retailers. Beyond being a necessity as we continue to deal with COVID-19, it’s also key for delivering better, more personalized customer experiences across multiple channels. 

But, what does that look like in practice? Let’s take a look. 

Omnichannel: First and Foremost

One of the key building blocks of an omnichannel presence is adopting a headless commerce model. In this approach, the user interface (UI) or front end is completely decoupled from the e-commerce back end. Instead of being tied together, information is transferred between both sides of the ecommerce platform via APIs.

The benefits are manifold. For one, this means that retailers can keep their UI current and equipped with the digital features that their customers are used to, without having to bring their back end into the equation. 

This takes away a lot of the complexity from deployments and makes them faster – making it easier for brands to stay on top of any changes happening in the industry. In addition, this approach makes the front end much quicker from a load time perspective, reducing the risk of customers leaving their cart before completing a purchase. 

Retailers that are adopting this approach are partnering with enterprise e-commerce platforms and digital solutions that can bring it to life. For enterprise retailers that have been operating with a traditional model for years, for instance, there will be a lot of work to do to decouple their existing systems and incorporate this more agile methodology. 

And as the industry continues to evolve, we’re also seeing SaaS offerings that open the door for smaller retailers to make the same shift. With scalable models that allow businesses to pay by usage, these pre-built solutions are more accessible for small businesses with a limited digital transformation budget. 

The Other Pillars for a Robust Digital Solution

Setting up an omnichannel presence based on a headless commerce solution is a great first step, but there’s also more brands can do. 

  • AI and machine learning capabilities play an important role in delivering personalized offerings to your customers — particularly if you pair them with analytics solutions. With the right technology, you can get a better sense of how your customers engage with your brands, what products appeal to them, and how they progress through the customer journey. Then, you can use that information to automatically offer them promotions and product suggestions that align with their needs and behaviours. 
  • Loyalty programmes are an important tool for capturing customer activity both online and in-store. With a loyalty card or customer number that’s linked to their online account, you’ll be able to know when your customers are shopping on-site and when they are browsing online. In short, you can connect the dots between online and offline interactions, creating a clearer picture of your customers. 
  • Big data analytics is another element that is driving the retail industry forward. Many retailers are operating with big data warehouse platforms that extract data from the other digital solutions upholding the business. By collecting a robust set of customer data and analysing it with the right tools, you can then feed marketing and campaign automation platforms to make them as effective as possible. In short, you use data from lower in the marketing funnel to improve your performance at the top of the funnel.

In parallel to these systems, you also need to make sure that your customers can find you online. Optimizing your content for search engine queries, building a strong social media presence, and investing in digital marketing campaigns will be key here. 

It’s important to note that implementing these various digital solutions doesn’t have to happen all at once. For many retailers, the move to a robust ecommerce system takes a lot of time and money — and they can’t always afford to do it in a single big move. In these cases, we suggest a phased approach where you prioritize the headless commerce approach. Once you have a well-designed, seamless, and interactive UI that’s decoupled from your back-end, you’ll have a lot more room to deploy features that make life easier for your customers. 

Follow this with step-by-step adoption of the digital features we’ve outlined above. 

Where to Next?

As the retail industry continues to evolve and adopt different ways of doing things, there are even more opportunities on the horizon. Particularly, we’re keeping our eye on loyalty management solutions and the role they play in sale attribution, engagement building, and organizational partnerships. We believe that there will be growth both in in-house development and third-party adoption of these platforms.

Other trends that are bound to shape the industry are a growth in microservices, an ongoing focus on user experience, and social commerce on networks like Instagram and Facebook. The growth of digital marketplaces may also spell a change for how small retailers engage with customers and sell their products. Interactional Commerce, As-a-Service Models, and Progressive Web Apps (PWA) are also poised to make an impact.

Operating purely in brick & mortar stores is no longer an option. The retailers that want to continue delivering optimized omnichannel experiences to their customers will need to be ready to adapt and evolve to incorporate these new features. And we’re looking forward to helping our customers do just that. 

For more information on how InTWO partners with leading digital solutions to help you improve your online retail experience, get in touch