Let’s start with a brief history lesson.
Retail history stretches back almost 3000 years, to the greek agoras. Modern retail can be traced back to a shorter timeframe, in the 18th and 19th centuries, where mom-and-pop stores were commonly the community anchor points, selling pretty much everything the neighbourhood needed. In the mid 19th century, as manufacturing and industrialisation began to take root, the retail landscape again changed with the introduction of department stores. Names like Macys, Bloomingdales and closer to home, Robinsons, now offered a more upmarket shopping experience for an increasingly affluent audience. The operative word of this era is ‘experience’. Shopping at a department store was all about the enhanced customer experience. Product displays, demos, sampling and entertainment became part of the journey, and the more astute brands knew how to tap into this.
The 20th century was boom time for retail and consumerism. In 1913, the first convenience store opened at a gas station. In the 1920s, the first credit cards were introduced, and in the 1950s the first shopping mall was conceived. More recent evolutions have included big-box malls, warehouse and retail parks. The biggest change in the last 20 or so years has been the dominance of Ecommerce.
Like all the retail revolutions before it, Ecommerce thrives because it has a place in making the customer experience of the era better. Ecommerce offers better convenience, accessibility, range and price-shopping that ever before, and these are usually the focus areas for most Ecommerce businesses. For brick-and-mortar brands moving into retail, these are also good benchmarks to set in their transformation journey.
However, it must also be emphasised that the recipe to a successful business has largely stayed the same over the years. Customers buy, because you have a good and relevant product, competitive pricing, adequate supply, instant gratification, a positive buying experience and a strong reason to come back.
In recent times, many brands have started taking Ecommerce more seriously, out of necessity. The priority in such transformations is usually on the technology, platform and the promotional angles. However, fortifying your audience is perhaps the most important thing you can do today, that will bring you rewards for years to come.
Build your own audience. You goal should be to amass a strong following of loyal customers who also use their own voice to amplify your brand. Your customers are real people, who have taken the effort to research your product, engage with it, go through the purchase journey (be it online or offline). Assuming they’ve had a positive overall experience, isn’t it a waste not to capture that positive data? We’re all aware of the damage a negative experience can do, and we’ve invested in customer service to manage the negative ones. But we’re not doing enough to leverage on the positive ones. Modern-day POS technology can get you a system that tracks customer behaviour linked to purchase history for under $100 a month. Couple this with a good CRM system, and you can begin to work your most effective marketing channel. Happy customers are your strongest marketing tool, so have plan to use them from the beginning.
Leverage on positive experiences. The customer journey doesn’t end when the product is delivered. There are 2 key moments in the customer journey when happiness is at its highest. When you make the purchase, and when you receive/unbox the product.
The unboxing is a personal experience, which the brand is very much a part of. Use the opportunity to build a stronger relationship with your customer. Every little helps…
- A personalised message or product samplers
- A discount code for a returning customer
- Ask customers what they think of your product (a QR code and a form or chatbot are fairly easy and inexpensive to setup)
- Reward engagement by getting customers to do a review video
Convert negative experiences. As Ecommerce grows, so does the potential for problems in the delivery. Delays, breakage and lost parcels will all increase temporarily until the entire supply chain sings from the same sheet. Have a quick, actionable plan for managing shipment issues and disgruntled customers. The cost to your business is not just in terms of the product, but also in terms of how much potential loss in revenue that negative experience can bring. Going the extra mile, and then some, will make sure the customer is turned into your most valuable asset. Have a clear plan for this.
Most importantly, these changes should be ingrained into your brand’s DNA and how it treats its customers, and cascaded town to every layer within your organisation.
Things will never be the same again. Bring it on!