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Retailers are at a new digital tipping point

(Image credit: Image Credit: WNDJ / Pixabay)

Since the pandemic began, 46 percent of UK consumers have purchased a product online that they had previously only ever purchased in-store. In order to take advantage of this shift, retailers will need to operate in a digital-first marketplace. This means not just using technology but also being alert to the fast-changing buying patterns of digital consumers and organizations. Here Mark Bennigsen, Head of Commerce at Columbus UK, identifies the four technologies that will enable ‘digitally mature’ retailers to not only cope with accelerated changes in the industry but collect and analyze the data that will future-proof their business in this digital ecosystem. He warns that those failing to adapt risk joining the growing list of established brands that have fallen by the wayside.

Let me define ‘digitally mature’ retailers. They have a solid commerce platform that enables new and existing customers to easily find products on the device of their choice – and ensures that promises regarding delivery, pricing and availability can be consistently met. But the advantages of this type of platform are huge for business intelligence. It allows a business to collect insightful customer data, process it faster and adapt to meet evolving customer demands. 

Here are the four technologies that are essential for retailers to plot their commerce journey and stay ahead of the digital curve throughout this decade.

1. Product Information Management (PIM) 

An effective PIM system has the potential to save businesses time, money and energy. PIM enables businesses to collect all information and material used for marketing in a single location and keep customers’ needs top of mind at all times. A PIM system makes a retailer think from the perspective of the customer – considering the type of information customers need during their purchasing journey. This type of solution can then be used to not just gather the data but also enrich product information to create and deliver a compelling product experience. 

PIM implementations support multiple content types spanning textual materials, product images, videos and more. With the right information in the right place, businesses can improve their product content and category managers can ensure that accurate, timely and high-quality product data is available across all sales channels.

2. Content Management Systems (CMS) 

Recent data has shown that personalization can reduce website bounce rates by 30 percent, so it is essential to create personalized web content that reinforces and improves brand messaging and engagement. An advanced CMS does just this by allowing an organization to quickly manage and update web content to best align its brand to match buying behaviors. 

The journey towards complete personalization starts with attracting customers via increased SEO efficiency and engaging them through effective seasonal and trending content curation. This converts to increased customer relevancy and personalization – analytics being a key factor in optimizing the journey – which leads onto the creation of content-rich emails that target specific customers. 

In this way CMS helps retailers work more intelligently – delivering a comprehensive customer journey and experience from landing pages through to payment and checkout, while also enhancing product and catalog management.

3. Customer Relationship Management (CRM) 

According to a recent survey, 74 percent of customers are very likely to buy from a company based entirely on their experience, regardless of the product price – so ensuring that experience is right is essential to future success in the digital marketplace. Modern CRM systems enable retailers to effectively engage with customers throughout their entire lifecycle – from marketing and sales to customer service and advocacy. 

An effective CRM solution supports the automation of manual tasks, but more importantly it allows businesses to better understand their customer base and provides the opportunity to engage with them. A recent survey revealed 39 percent of consumers agree that good customer service would encourage them to shop again with an online retailer and an additional 27 percent said poor customer service would deter them. This is where technology will make a difference. CRM software can centralize, optimize and streamline communication by storing customer data, including purchase history, in one location. This helps the support team easily find the case information they need to provide a personalized and efficient service, turning more consumers into long-term customers.

As the market evolves and new technologies continue to be embraced, businesses must assess how they are interweaving digital tools with sales, marketing and customer service, and a CRM solution will be a key component for any retailer on their commerce journey.

4. Artificial Intelligence (AI) 

By the end of 2021, 77 percent of retailers will survey plans to have AI in place as they look to digitally transform and provide their customers with the best experience possible. AI is key to creating a highly personalized customer journey by using customer history to predict future needs and purchases. Powerful, connected algorithms lead to intelligent content suggestions, product recommendations and customer profiling which all help to accelerate business growth. These algorithms can ensure customers are provided with relevant content, while business dashboards can be used to monitor and direct algorithms to ensure their effectiveness. 

In this way, AI can also provide an intelligent solution to basket abandonment combined with a personal touch during chatbot interactions. According to a recent survey, 38 percent of UK shoppers abandon a purchase at least once a week and a further 21 percent claim to do so more regularly. The introduction of AI-based chatbots, whether in the form of FAQs or customer engagement, can provide both the guidance and interaction that compels a shopper to fully commit and make a purchase.

The way consumers interact with brands is changing as the retail market keenly adopts emerging technologies, and businesses must take advantage of AI to drive product innovation and enhance their processes to advance in this digital world.

Sink or swim in today’s digital marketplace 

Operating a commerce platform made up of these four technologies will help businesses secure their futures in today’s digital marketplace. Businesses must redefine their market proposition and harness valuable insights generated from emerging technologies to shape their future brand messaging. With an expected 2.14 billion global digital buyers in 2021 and this figure trending upwards year-on-year, companies that can adapt their operations to meet ever-changing customer demands and market trends will benefit from increased sales from existing customers, and consistently attract new customers to grow their customer base. 

Mark Bennigsen, Head of Commerce, Columbus UK

Mark Bennigsen is Head of Commerce at Columbus UK, where his expertise covers eCommerce, PIM, ERP, Integrations, Customer Experience and related disciplines and systems.