The Ultimate Guide To Retail Technology
The way that retailers operate has shifted. Where once digital technologies like the internet and eCommerce were seen as threats, now, they’re seen as opportunities. As consumers continue to demand more and more from their shopping experiences, new technologies give retailers the chance to better connect and engage.
Uncover ways to harness data, technology and digital strategies to create better customer experiences and thrive in the digital age.
Whether you’re just dipping your toes in the digital water, or you’ve been digital for a while and are looking for new ways to get an edge on your competitors, we’ve got you covered. Our guide to digital for retailers takes you through all the things you need to elevate your business.
- Establishing a digital strategy
- Growing your business
- Getting your operational systems right
- Expanding your business
- Bringing it all together
Establishing a digital strategy
There has been a fundamental shift in the way that consumers engage with retailers. Decades ago, it was easy to guide potential customers through your sales funnel, since most buyers followed similar steps in the decision-making journey. But in the age of information, the customer journey is no longer linear.
Today, consumers interact with your brand at multiple touchpoints, and there are many different paths they can take before making that final purchasing decision. Any given customer might browse your website, like one of your Instagram posts, try to find you on Google, see one of your paid ads on Facebook, ask for help from one of your customer service representatives, or visit your brick-and-mortar store. And at every single one of these touchpoints, they expect a fantastic and consistent experience.
Embracing technology is critical for delivering strong branded experiences to customers at every touchpoint. That could entail a targeted ad, a personalised shopping experience, a virtual showroom, a seamless checkout, real-time order tracking, post-purchase customer nurturing...and myriad other creative ways to engage customers. Whatever your customer journey looks like, technology is a core aspect of your brand strategy.
While your overarching brand strategy is critical in how consumers perceive your brand, your customer experience strategy is all about the day-to-day interactions your business has with its customers, both online and offline.
Your brand strategy will drive customers to your store, while your customer experience strategy will ensure that those customers are properly looked after when they get there. Even if your brand is strong, if a customer has a poor experience navigating a clunky website, or struggling to get answers from a chatbot, that's an unhappy customer and a potential loss of a sale.
A good customer experience strategy, on the other hand, enhances:
- Customer retention and loyalty
- Sales and customer advocacy
- Customer lifetime value
So what exactly is a “good customer experience strategy”? It’s one that blends online and offline to create an omnichannel experience - buy online, pick up instore; browse online, purchase instore; browse instore, purchase online.
What’s clear is that retailers don’t compete on price anymore. It’s all about the experience. From the moment a customer starts researching your brand online, to when they enter your brick-and-mortar store, to purchase, delivery and post-purchase nurturing, every interaction at every touchpoint is important.
Delivering this kind of experience requires a 360-degree view of your customer, with up-to-date data so you can engage with them in a personalised way. Retailers must understand their customers to deliver more engaging and personalised experiences.
What’s probably becoming pretty clear at this point is that to successfully operate in today’s retail environment, you need a strategy that accounts for both online and offline, otherwise known as an ‘omnichannel’ strategy.
An omnichannel strategy allows you to quickly funnel resources into the channels when the demand warrants it. So when lockdown sends us all inside, you can pivot to online. Or when business at your brick-and-mortar store is booming, you’ve got that covered too.
According to Shopify, in the wake of COVID-19, retailers with an omnichannel strategy in place were quickly able to replace 94% of their POS purchases with online sales. But an omnichannel strategy requires the technological platforms to support it. To truly deliver a consistent and exceptional customer experience at every touchpoint, you need a single view of the customer, so you can serve them the same experience, no matter the channel they engage with.
Growing your business
Customer relationship management
So how do you get the kind of customer insight you need to support an omnichannel strategy and a personalised customer experience?
Digital tools, like an online shop-front integrated with a CRM, will enable you to store and analyse all the data you collect on your customers throughout the customer lifecycle. A good CRM collects data on your customers from your website, live chat, direct mail, socials, email...and any other digital channel you use to interact with them.
A good CRM system also empowers your people by connecting the dots between marketing, sales and customer service. While your brand and marketing efforts will generate leads, it’s your sales staff that will get those leads over the line, and it's your customer service staff who will ensure the interactions and relationships your business has with its customers are positive ones. Your CRM streamlines the handover process from marketing to sales to service by giving everyone in your business the customer information they need to deliver the best possible experience, whatever the channel.
In the last decade, eCommerce has seen enormous growth. According to a study by Australia Post, in 2018 Australians spent $27.5 billion buying goods online, up 24.4% from the previous year. And of course, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated this move to online, driving a decade of eCommerce growth in the space of a few months.
But the eCommerce boom isn’t a blip. It’s an evolution of retail that was always destined to be. eCommerce is great for buyers - it’s convenient, transactions are quick and easy, and goods are delivered straight to your door. But it’s also great for sellers - eCommerce gives your business the ability to sell in any geographic location and at any time, often without the overheads associated with a brick-and-mortar store.
eCommerce platforms like Shopify have made it easy for retailers to start or grow an online business, enabling them to reach more customers with ease. But despite it being easier for retailers to pivot online, eCommerce is getting more and more competitive. It’s simply not enough to set up a digital store and watch as the cash piles up. To build an online presence, you need to market your business.
Here are some statistics to get you thinking. In 2021 in Australia:
- There were 20.5 million social media users. That’s 79.9% of Australia’s population
- 34.9% of people used social media to research brands before making a purchase
- Users aged 16 to 64 spent an average of 1 hour and 46 minutes on social media per day
- Users between 16 and 64 have on average 7.2 social media accounts per person, with YoutTube and Facebook being the most popular platforms
Today's consumers are social. And they expect their favourite brands to be too. Interacting with your audience through social media is just one part of delivering the brand experience that your customers expect. It’s so important to build a strong social media presence. Just some of the benefits include:
- Establishing and building your brand
- Engaging and building relationships with your audience
- Driving traffic to your website
- Increasing store sales (both in-store and online)
- Providing customer service - social media is often the first place a consumer will turn if they have questions or need help
- Social commerce - Most social platforms now give users the ability to purchase products directly in-app, meaning a smoother path to conversion
Consumers engage with social media at every stage of the decision journey, and with so many different platforms to choose from, it can be hard to know exactly which channel is right for your brand.
The key to finding the right channels is to understand your customer. What media do they consume? Where do they spend their time? Know this and you’re one step closer to establishing a social media presence that will drive customers back to your store.
Search engine optimisation
Of course, there’s no point in having an online store, if no one can find it. SEO is the practice of getting your website to rank higher in search engines - it has long been one of the most important activities for retailers to maximise store visibility, traffic and sales. That’s because 80% of shoppers do research online before making a purchase and almost 70% of users click on a link on the first page of a search engine.
Aside from generating more clicks, SEO gives your brand credibility by giving it a position above your competitors in search engines.
SEO also has relatively lower marketing costs than paid advertising campaigns, because you’re earning your position in the search engine for free. Yes, there will be an investment into your SEO, but generally speaking, that investment will be well below what you might spend on paid advertising to achieve the same result.
While there’s a lot that goes into a good SEO strategy, there are two key pillars that should be a part of any plan to boost your online visibility:
- Creating great content that people are looking for
- Optimising the technical health of your site to create a website that search engines love
It’s also important to remember that SEO is not a set-and-forget activity. You don’t ‘do SEO’ once and then it’s done. It’s something that should be monitored, adjusted and improved on an ongoing basis.
But while SEO is one of the most cost-effective strategies for establishing a digital presence, it’s also a long-term strategy. It might take months for businesses to see their first leads convert through an organic channel.
Retailers looking for a faster way to build brand awareness or reach customers online should explore paid advertising. Paid ads can be highly targeted to reach a very specific audience, and can drive traffic to your site instantaneously.
The pay-per-click model also means it’s much easier to track your advertising budget and measure ROI. You only pay for displaying an ad when a user clicks on it and navigates through to your website, so it’s easy to adjust your marketing spend based on the performance of your ads.
If you’re thinking about investing in paid ads, there are several types to consider:
- Social media ads: These ads display on social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter and are typically displayed directly on viewers' feeds.
- Google Shopping ads: For retailers, Google Shopping is a no-brainer. These ads provide basic information on your products, such as a picture, price, and website link to drive traffic to your store.
- Search ads: Want your brand to shoot straight to the top of Google? Search ads are displayed above the organic listings at the top of search results, giving you an enviable position above your competitors.
- Display ads: These ads are great for reaching customers that have previously visited your website. Displaying on other websites, display ads keep your brand and product front-of-mind as potential customers browse elsewhere.
Getting your operational systems right
Getting customers through the door is all well and good, but if your business can’t service them properly, then they won’t remain customers for long. Inefficient behind-the-scenes processes can lead to all manner of operational issues, from wasted stock and unhappy customers to lost sales.
Fortunately, there are many digital tools that can support you to streamline your business and establish a seamless operating environment.
Inventory and logistics
Good inventory management can make or break a retail business. Tracking inventory in spreadsheets equals hours of manual work, double handling of data and inaccuracies. Not only is it a waste of time, but you also risk operating at a loss, or not being able to fulfil orders on time. It’s bad for your reputation and it’s bad for your bottom line.
Cloud inventory, on the other hand, enables you to:
- Get real-time visibility on your stock so you know when to reorder
- Provide a better service to your customers by reducing the occurrence of delayed orders
- Keep the customer up to date at all times, providing a better customer experience
That last point is important, because in the age of Amazon, customers expect to track their purchases from warehouse to doorstep in real-time. Having this kind of visibility is key to customer satisfaction, especially when it comes to the “last mile”.
The last mile is the final step in the product’s journey, when the parcel reaches the customer. It’s the most expensive, inefficient and time-consuming part of the shipping process because it typically involves multiple stops to drop off lots of individual packages.
Shipment management software will help you calculate shipping rates, print packing labels, notify your customers with tracking updates, ensure on-time deliveries and streamline the returns process.
The key thing to look for when choosing a shipment management software is that it integrates with your other platforms. By connecting your eCommerce store to your inventory management software, to your shipment management software, you can connect the dots between order, fulfilment and delivery, optimising your last-mile logistics and keeping your customer happy.
Point of Sale
For retailers that operate both brick-and-mortar and eCommerce stores, having a point-of-sale (POS) system that connects the online and offline experience is critical if you want to establish a true omnichannel strategy.
A digital POS system, coupled with the necessary hardware for your brick-and-mortar store, enables you to process online and offline sales all in one spot, sync your physical inventory with your eCommerce store so you never miss a sale, and keep a record or purchases so you can easily personalise your marketing and customer service for a more engaging customer experience. A good POS system can also integrate with membership programs to build brand loyalty, and make returns and exchanges so much simpler (no matter where the customer made the purchase), saving your business money.
An integrated POS system, such as the solution offered by Shopify enables you to engage your customers in a consistent way. One brand, one experience.
Many retailers believe that once they've made the sale, their job is done. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Your aftersale strategy is equally as important as your presale.
While often overlooked, returns are one of the most costly aspects of running a retail business. As eCommerce has grown, so too has the rate of returns. Which is no surprise given the buyer isn’t able to physically see or touch a product.
But there are strategies retailers can use to reduce the rate of returns. These include:
- Implementing easy to use communication channels, like Facebook Messenger or HubSpot chatbot to answer queries and guide customers through purchases
- Leveraging plugins for better sizing charts
- Optimising your reverse logistics to improve your margins on returned products
A completely missed opportunity - is receiving feedback - what do you like about your product, Google review, product review, encourage advocacy
Social proof has long been a powerful method of building brand credibility, but post-COVID, it’s now even more important. With consumers shopping less in person, shoppers are relying even more on online reviews and word-of-mouth feedback. So a strategy for encouraging reviews is essential.
Some ideas to encourage your customers to leave reviews include:
- Ask for reviews over email: Include a link on all marketing emails asking for feedback, and set up automated emails to customers after they’ve made a purchase asking them to leave a review
- Create a review form on your website: Make it easy for visitors to leave reviews and testimonials by adding a form that links directly to a review platform
- Provide an incentive: Give your customers an incentive to write a review, such as a discount on their next purchase
- Diversify your strategy: There are hundreds of review sites. Make sure you’re targeting the right ones for your business and customer base
While it may not be the sexiest of topics, having the right accounting software in place is hugely important for keeping track of your expenses and getting visibility on your cashflow. Cloud accounting software gives retailers an immediate view of money coming in and money going out. These kinds of platforms also make it easy to access financial data and file payroll through Single Touch Payroll.
What’s next? It’s time to expand
Go global with Shopify Markets
Got global ambitions? Before now, international expansion may have seemed a bridge too far. After all, expanding into an international market is a time-consuming and expensive undertaking, with complexities like currency exchange, language localisation, local payment methods and duty and import taxes to consider.
But with the right digital tools, global expansion may not be as far fetched as you think. The soon-to-be-launched Shopify Markets will give retailers a solution to easily sell to anyone in the world from a single store.
Through a suite of tools, Shopify Markets promises to give retailers everything they need to sell worldwide, including localisation of:
- Language - accurate translation of your store content to the local language
- Currency - automatic conversion of your storefront prices into 133 different currencies
- Domain - the ability to target specific markets using your primary domain through the use of region-specific subfolders
- Import duties - automatic calculation of import and export fees at checkout
- Payment methods - integration of locally preferred payment methods
Reach more customers with online marketplaces
Online marketplaces like Amazon, eBay, Catch and Etsy (these are just the big players; there are hundreds of them) give retailers an opportunity to reach more potential customers.
Online marketplaces have enormous audiences, and the people that use them are there to shop. Some don’t even bother with search engines or eCommerce stores. They go directly to their favourite marketplace. In fact, 56% of product searches now begin on Amazon.
Even if your online store is thriving, uploading your products to an eCommerce marketplace is a good idea. It puts your products in front of more people. And because consumers tend to “shop around” on different marketplaces to find the best price and read reviews, it’s a good strategy to increase your visibility.
When you’re setting up your marketplace strategy, consider the following activities to improve your chances of success:
- Optimise your product listings - use the right keywords to increase visibility and sales
- Advertise - invest in paid advertising on marketplaces to get your products front and centre
- Establish a competitive shipping strategy - consumers expect shipping to be fast and free, Make sure you have established a cost-effective way to get your products into the hands of consumers fast
- Understand the costs - make sure it’s a profitable choice by reading up on the seller transaction fees and commissions that each marketplace takes
Bringing it all together
To really transform your retail business, you need a 360-degree view of every aspect of it. From your inventory to your customer to your finances. The best way to achieve this kind of insight is with a suite of integrated digital tools that work seamlessly together.
There are thousands of tools available, but through years of trial-and-error and prototyping and implementing solutions, we’ve seen four best-in-breed technologies consistently rise to the top.
We like to think of these tools as the pillars of your retail ecosystem:
- Dear Systems for inventory management
- HubSpot for customer relationship management
- Shopify for eCommerce and Point of Sale (POS)
- Xero for accounting
While all tools are great as stand-alone products, the real beauty is in how they work together. A seamless integration between these technologies gives you complete visibility, eliminating any blindspots so you can optimise every aspect of your retail business.
This point is critical. You might be using several different technologies, with each tool collecting data, but if the systems aren’t working together you and your people will end up with even more work than you started with. Properly integrating your platforms enables your data to flow seamlessly from one system to another - that’s where you’ll find real value.
Is your business ready for digital transformation?
Digital transformation will fundamentally change how your business operates. It’s not as simple as signing up to a new software and learning the system. Each and every aspect of your business, from your people to your processes, needs to be considered before you implement any new technology.
It can be a hugely disruptive (and risky) undertaking. But the successful implementation of technology has the potential to revolutionise the way your business operates, and the value you can deliver to your customers.
The first step to successful digital transformation is to take stock of your people, processes and systems, analysing every aspect of your business to find the right technology solution. Then, you’ll not only need to implement the new technology into your business, but you’ll also need to overhaul your processes, train your people and manage the organisational change.
Given how risky digital transformation can be, it’s a task best left to the experts. From business process analysis, to technology selection, change management, and staff training, there are a lot of moving parts, and it often pays to work with an objective third party to support your team through the transition.
Ready to transform your business?
BlueRock Digital is one of Melbourne’s only end-to-end digital agencies. Specialising in digital strategy, growth marketing, digital transformations and systems implementations for retailers and eCommerce businesses, we can help you prototype and implement a digital ecosystem to help you run your business better.