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Q&A with Hero – Digital Retail

(Image credit: Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock)

ITProPortal sat down with e-commerce expert and repeat entrepreneur Adam Levene, co-Founder at Hero, to discuss digital trends in retail. In this interview, Adam shares his perspective on the future of the physical retail store in the age of e-commerce. He also discusses how brands can use technology to better understand and personalize their offer to each customer. In a context of spectacular store closures, and ever growing domination of e-commerce giants, Adam highlights the importance of offering a seamless and tailored experience between online and offline.   

The Internet has been around for 20 years, and e-commerce is far from being a new phenomenon. Why are we still talking about the challenges of understanding one’s online customer? Why is it taking retailers so long to figure out their online customer? 

Particular verticals have been slower to adapt to ecommerce than others. For example, the luxury industry has been late to e-commerce, however with the rapid rise of marketplaces such as Net-a-Porter, Farfetch and Matches Fashion, luxury brands are realizing faster than ever that the luxury customer values the convenience of online shopping.   

Why so many luxury and premium retailers are starting to offer a personalized shopping experience online is because they do not want to lose the human touch of their stores and boutiques. By arriving later to ecommerce, luxury fashion brands actually have an advantage to provide a far richer, personal and human online shopping experience, learning from the mistakes of the many websites that exist today. 

What’s missing in today’s online shopping experience? Why are users still abandoning shopping carts at alarming rates?   

Today’s online shopping experience is still mostly transactional. As e-commerce has boomed so have the number of options available to browse, meaning more complex search results, more reviews to navigate and more friction to finding the right item. What’s been missing for too long is the human touch that shoppers depend on in-store. That’s why Hero allows an online shopper to tap a button and connect live with an associate in their nearest store who can provide inspiration, assistance and the comfort they need to buy. 

Why are retailers so focused on online conversions? Do you think that’s the right unit of measure today? 

Conversion certainly remains an important metric - but with the right technology and a single view of the customer, smart retailers are starting to track customer lifetime value as a more important metric. They are investing heavily in the tools to build communities of customers that they can proactively communicate with through highly personalized communications, not mass emails that go straight to the junk folder. 

Do you think the physical store is doomed? Or do you think it still has its role to play, even for newer brands? 

Over the past 12 months in particular, the retail industry has shifted to appreciate that their stores and their sales associates are the new competitive edge. Whilst Amazon has built a phenomenal data and logistics business, the one thing they can’t do is offer a human, physical customer experience that connects with a shopper emotionally. That’s why Amazon is now investing so heavily in opening or acquiring brick and mortar businesses like Whole Foods. Retailers have this powerful weapon in their existing arsenal, but now more than ever they must give their stores and their people the technology to thrive in 21st century, omnichannel retail. 

Do you see a blurring of lines between the offline and the online shopping experience? Or are they two distinct experience which require distinct strategies?   

The greatest retail trend of 2018 will be how retailers continue to tie together their online and offline experiences. The greatest retail partners we work with realize they are now digital businesses with stores, not stores with an online business as they once were. This trend is certainly being influenced by the number of online retailers moving into brick and mortar. In fact, a recent study we ran  found that 67% of ecommerce businesses with more than $6m in funding have opened an offline store in the past 36 months.   

We are seeing more and more brands using personalization in increasingly sophisticated ways. What can customers expect to see from innovative retailers in the next 5 years? 

Personalization is crucial to the survival of retailers. Personalization is happening in every part of our digital lives. My Facebook feed is different from yours. Your Airbnb recommendations are different to mine. The consumer of today expects personalization because it makes their lives effortless. For many years, some retailers continued to have generic versions of their website and simply send the same mass communications via email. 

That’s changing with new digital tools that make it easier for brands to personalize their customers’ experience. Hero' technology offers sales associates a way to stay in touch with each and every shopper who’s unique style and past purchases they know - all via chat, anytime, anywhere. 

What do you think brands should keep top of mind as they continue to invest in their digital strategy? 

Retail brands have traditionally kept their digital and brick and mortar businesses siloed but the consumer of today certainly doesn’t see these channels in isolation. A shopper is seamlessly switching between channels. They may start their search on an iPhone in the morning, head into store later in the afternoon and then buy from their iPad that evening. This is why so many retailers are adopting the tools to capture the customer across those channels and tie together the experience at every touchpoint.   

Internally, a retailer’s culture should reflect this new world of seamless shopping. Shared data, tools, communications and even P&Ls will help meet the changing needs of the 21st century shopper’s behaviour.    

Adam Levene, Co-Founder at Hero 

Image Credit: Zapp2Photo / Shutterstock

Adam Levene
Adam Levene is a co-Founder at Hero. Adam is a repeat entrepreneur and Founding Partner at Grapple, the digital transformation and innovation partner to FIFA, Virgin, Adidas - acquired for $90m in September 2013.