I had dinner with a group of retail ecommerce and digital marketing professionals recently, and things got interesting. Like most seasoned ecommerce and retail people, they’d all been at a few big brands, knew the same people, and struggled with largely the same things – mainly managing a mixed stack of different ecommerce, marketing, analytics and CRM vendors.
While we spent some of the evening talking about promising new tech and what brands want to do with it, it became clear that everyone was still in the wanting stage: thinking about what they’d like to do.
Zooming out, virtually every brand I talk to, whether they’re a household name or boutique brand, is in a similar holding pattern. People want to learn about the new shiny stuff, like how AI, conversational commerce, and alternative payments can boost their business. But who is doing it well today?
Is competing with Amazon creating innovation fatigue?
In an industry where everyone wants to know “who else” is doing it first, there’s not a lot to share in terms of bleeding edge experience innovation (when there’s more readily-available tech than ever). Has the burn from trying to beat Amazon at their own game created innovation fatigue? Are platforms aging and making it harder to move fast? Is being safe viewed as the better bet right now?
A VP of Ecommerce mentioned that it feels like retail is taking a knee. Others lamented that even the big brands, who were the leaders of Web 2.0, are pausing innovation to seemingly take a breath.
Things feel fast and slow – lots of shiny opportunities, but tough timing for many.
Shiny objects don’t solve core CX issues
Mobile also came up during the dinner conversation, specifically how it caught almost everyone completely off-guard ten years ago. At the table, many were hypothesizing what the next “mobile” would be to surprise the industry. While brands can’t afford to be flat-footed, they’re still gun-shy about being the guinea pig on emerging tech. Most are being relatively safe in terms of site, stores and marketing experiences — only a few brands are standing out from what’s become the norm.
The market gets caught up with buzz on the latest shiny object, but shiny objects don’t solve core customer experience issues. Maybe the next thing that’s catching retail ecommerce “off guard” has been right under our noses: consumer-driven disruption.
Feelings = experiences
We also discussed emerging brands that were having a moment, and it wasn’t because of site features, it was feelings the experience gave them. Simple, different looking sites that are well curated. PDPs with giant, glossy images. Creative copy. A sense of brand community. Different ways to get products through loyalty and subscription. Stark, uncluttered stores with decent lighting.
Nothing earth shattering. Basic things. Amazon-proof things.
Retailers who have grown during disruption have stayed laser focused on executing their core brand value and customer experience. In the quest to “win” in digital retail, the simplest answer is best. Give shoppers the experience they want. Make their lives easier. Give them the feels – whatever that means to your distinct brand experience.
Consumers aren’t asking for AI-powered personalization, but they’ll like the way it feels if it’s pulled off gracefully. Shoppers don’t want to be bombarded with generic SMS messages – but they’ll welcome them if brands speak to them like a friend with the latest scoop.
For the long game, it will take a unified platform that can keep brands agile enough for the new consumer-driven retail experience – where the customer is king and there’s an ecosystem of connected apps ready to serve them.
In the meantime – back to basics! Serve shoppers with easy, inspiring experiences they want that are true to your brand. There’s still plenty of opportunity.