Retail CIOs have always had a tough job, but digital makes it tougher. Emerging digital technologies threaten to transform retail experiences both in stores and at home. Without a good business case, CIOs at large retailers will find it hard to prepare their business to compete with small, nimble startups. My latest report highlights the potential of today's digital technologies to radically disrupt the retail industry once more. It serves as a call to CIOs to begin shaping their strategy to digitize the end-to-end customer experience and start proving the business case in time to make the investments needed.
Specialty fashion retailer Rebecca Minkoff is creating a truly differentiated in-store customer experience by combining RFID tags with new technologies like digital mirrors in the changing room connected to employee mobile devices. At the NYC Rebecca Minkoff store, customers can select products from racks or a digital fashion wall and head to the dressing room, where they meet their personal fashion consultant. Once in the dressing room, a digital mirror displays all the products and sizes the customer has in the room. The customer can easily request a new size by selecting it on the mirror. The consultant delivers the new sizes to the dressing room without the customer having to redress or wander the store half-undressed. By extending what Rebecca Minkoff has already achieved, we get a glimpse of a future in-store experience that helps each customer quickly find more products that satisfy their desires.
As far as digital store initiatives go, iron-clad success stories are notoriously hard to come by. Mobile point-of-service (mPOS) is one of the few digital store technologies that has garnered the attention and investment dollars of retail executives—but the return on investment has been nonetheless elusive. Despite large-scale deployments by a number of leading players (including Nordstrom, Urban Outfitters, and Bloomingdales, among others), key questions such as “will this drive incremental revenue?” and “which use cases deliver the most customer and retailer value?” remain. Our newly published report “The Business Case For mPOS Is Associate Enablement” answers these questions and addresses common opportunities and challenges for eBusiness leaders rolling out an mPOS program. In the report, we find that:
Consumers expect digitally-enabled associates to facilitate in-store engagement. Retailers must change their thinking and start to view mPOS as more than just a “mobile cash register.” When shoppers see a store associate armed with a mobile device, they expect to receive contextualized assistance when and where they want it. In addition to ringing up sales in aisle, your associates should be prepared to use their devices to access enterprise inventory, provide product information, and give personalized product recommendations.
Recently, I talked with the CEO and founder of reBuy about the shifting dynamics in the retail sector as a result of digitalization. The use of data has evolved to the point where data has become the enterprise’s most critical business asset in the age of the customer. The business model of reBuy reCommerce — the leading German marketplace for secondhand goods — can help CIOs understand how the intelligent use of data can significantly disrupt a market such as retail.
The case of reBuy offers interesting insights into how the wider trends of the sharing and collaborative economy affect retail. If you can buy a good-quality used product with a guarantee for half the price, many people will not buy the product new. Many consumers increasingly accept product reuse and see it as an opportunity to obtain cheaper products and reduce their environmental footprint by avoiding the production of items that wouldn’t be used efficiently. The reBuy case study highlights that:
Business technology is taking the sharing economy into new realms. The reBuy business model demonstrates that consumers are starting to push the ideas of the sharing economy deep into the retail space. CIOs in all industries must prepare for the implications that this will have for their businesses.
Standalone products are at particular risk of sharing dynamics. The example of reBuy shows that businesses that sell plain products will come under even more pressure from shifting shopping behavior, where people are increasingly satisfied with buying used goods. These businesses need to add value to those products that are not available for secondhand purchase.
Black Friday has been a constant feature in the postmortem of the 2014 UK holiday sales season. It has gradually extended its influence across the Atlantic over the years; despite having no cultural significance outside of the US (Black Friday is a sales day that traditionally follows the US Thanksgiving holiday). Retailers in France, Germany and Spain tested the waters with Black Friday promotions in 2014. But it was in the UK where Black Friday sales surged to new heights.
UK retailers who embraced Black Friday reported massive sales uplift on the day. Department store House of Fraser recorded a 125% increase in year on year sales while Very.co.uk saw orders jump 134% compared to Black Friday 2013.Yet, for most, this uplift did not translate to an overall sales increase or the holiday season.
Black Friday Has Changes The Cadence Of Holiday Sales. Black Friday has arrived in the UK with a bang, but for most eBusiness executives it hasn’t driven a massive sales uplift. Instead, it’s pulled customer purchasing forward in the holiday season, leaving like-for-like sales reasonably static.
Thanksgiving weekend has traditionally been highly lucrative for retailers, but this year saw another drop in spending specifically on Black Friday. In the meantime, online shopping continues to soar, and the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving weekend provided consumers with deep-discount sales. In short, the weekend itself is becoming less valuable to the average consumer. But how does consumer sentiment match up with this shift in behavior? How do perceptions of the 2014 holiday season differ from those of years past and consumers’ initial expectations?
As part of our recent research efforts, we leveraged Forrester’s Technographics® 360 multimethodology research approach to gain a better understanding of consumers’ shopping habits (using our ConsumerVoices Market Research Online Community) and to track online conversation and sentiment relative to Black Friday and Cyber Monday leading up to the holidays and afterwards (using NetBase aggregated social listening data).
The in-store shopping experience is increasingly being transformed into a digitally enhanced experience for both the customer and retailer. Technologies such as beacons, retail store analytics, and store fulfillment programs are rapidly changing the definition of how a retail store operates and engages with customers. While 68% of customers use a mobile device while in a store, retailers are just beginning to take an active role in that in-store digital experience.
Forrester believes that, in the future, retail stores that drive convenience, service, and relevant personalized experiences through the use of digital store technology will succeed. Why? Because today. customers show an affinity for digital store technology. In fact, 66% of luxury apparel customers are more likely to shop with a digitally-enabled associate. Those retailers who wait on the sidelines are at risk of maintaining the status quo and may only grow marginally.
As mobile becomes a critical component of your digital strategy and overall business, eBusiness professionals should have an answer when their executive teams ask, “Who does mobile commerce well?” Forrester has answered that question for you in our new report published today. Using a proprietary framework, we analyzed top retailers’ mobile experiences (sites and apps) and measured how well they addressed key challenges to mobile commerce sales and supported mobile-enabled commerce in other channels. We selected the best of the best for our review to highlight the strongest functionality and uncover cross-category best practices.
Our framework evaluates the strengths of these mobile phone websites and their corresponding apps across six elements:
Findability. The ease of finding a mobile site or app altogether.
Utility. How useful the site or app is for shoppers.
Searchability. How well search and search functionality like predictive text works on mobile phones.
Browsability. How easy it is to browse the retailer’s mobile site or app.
Buyability. How easy and frictionless the buying process is on the mobile site or app.
Overall design. The ease of navigating content on mobile sites and apps, as well as other mobile content that shoppers engage with including email and text messages.
As we enter the 2014 holiday season, retail news outlets are latching on to dramatic headlines highlighting the risk of showrooming - the act of checking prices on a mobile device in a store and then purchasing at another retailer. Yes it’s true; customers use their mobile phones to compare prices in-stores. However the behavior of shopping multiple stores to find the lowest price is nothing new. My grandmother often "showroomed" a bag of peanuts at the farmers market just to save a few cents. I suspect this behavior has been occurring as long as humans have been bartering goods.
While the behavior is not new, mobile phones have enabled customers to compare prices immediately across a vast set of digital retailers. As mobile phones afford customers greater choice in-aisle, showrooming has instilled fear in legacy retail organizations who quickly realized they no longer completely control the experience in their stores. At first, retailers responded with force by removing Wi-Fi, which in a world with rich cellular connectivity did little to curb showrooming behavior. Today retailers are reacting to showrooming by providing margin-eroding offers in-aisle. In the future, advanced retailers will begin to embrace showrooming, using the signals from price-checking on mobile phones (either by observing behavior or using retail store analytics) to offer greater convenience and rich experiences at the customer’s moment of need.
Here in the US, all signs point to winter: Daylight savings has just begun; specialty holiday drinks have been added to cafe menus; and several cities have already witnessed the first snowfall. And with the arrival of the chilly season comes preparation for the mad rush of holiday shoppers.
Although the holiday retail season is shorter this year, given fewer days than average between Thanksgiving and Christmas, consumer expectations of retailers during this holiday season are greater than ever. When it comes to online retail specifically, consumers seek out – and have come to expect – great deals and free shipping throughout their holiday gift hunt. In fact, Forrester’s Consumer Technographics® data shows that shipping cost is the most important factor in a consumer’s decision to purchase from a retail website (such as Amazon.com or Gap.com):
I love Europe. I especially love the fact that in a very real sense there is no “Europe” as such: The UK experience is not the German experience, which is not the French experience, which is not the Italian experience, and so on.
Yet all of these countries are so close together that once I’m over there, I can visit a variety of very different cultures and architectures more easily than I can travel from Boston to Denver. And in any given city, just walking between buildings from one business meeting to another can make me feel like I’m on vacation. Then there’s the food . . .
Although European variety is amazing, it can also create challenges. On a recent trip, I was in London, Rome, Milan, and Budapest within a two-week period. That often brought me into contact with people in service industries — like taxis, restaurants, and hotels — who had very different ideas of what “service” means than I do.
I began to wonder: Do the locals also find some of this service subpar, or am I just being a parochial American? As it turns out, our recent research shows that European customer experience as judged by local customers does vary wildly depending on country and industry, ranging from truly great to truly awful.
Which is one reason why I’m so excited by Forrester’s upcoming Forum For Customer Experience Professionals EMEA on November 17th and 18th in London. We recruited speakers from companies with customers who say that they’re already doing a standout job as well as speakers from companies that are in the midst of tackling tough CX challenges.