Sometimes I feel retailers have to be like Superman - faster than the speed of light and masters of incredible technology. This was brought home at the recent Think Retail event Google held for senior executives to showcase trends, challenges and opportunities.
Speakers highlighted the pace of change in consumer behaviour and shopping habits with a common theme being the expectations of millennials. Under-35s still love shopping but they want a heightened, exciting and immersive experience. As Chris Sanderson of The Future Lab said, it’s time to move on from omnichannel and multichannel thinking to a “total media strategy” that delivers “immediacy, immersion and interaction”.
But according to The Future Lab, advancements will help retailers better understand consumers’ moods, wants and needs and this will be key in better personalisation for engagement and conversion - algorithms could also be based on emotions rather than just spending habits. If you know your customer was feeling down about the Monday return to work, you could recommend a tub of their favourite ice cream. Already, technology like Google’s Customer Match for Shopping allows grocers to integrate their loyal customer lists with their shopping campaigns and provide special sales offers.
In the present, the audience also heard how digital transformation has helped Argos meet changing customer expectations. With the aim of making shopping enjoyable, swift and seamless, now every sixth or so Argos store is a hub holding a large amount of inventory that can be despatched quickly to the spoke stores.
Argos’ attention to mobile showcases its integration of online and offline. Bertrand Bodson, chief digital officer at Home Retail Group, said 30% of its business now came from mobile. Shoppers who pay online are fast-tracked, with purchases transported to a convenient store.
These miracles of speed and logistics are thanks to real time data. Argos can keep track of inventory and by crunching customer data on searches for products it can make quick stock allocation decisions.
Speed is of the essence in competitive retailing. A business can no longer test concepts over months but needs to experiment and refine in ‘live lab’ conditions. Tesco recently launched an automated shopping service that allows connected customers to re-order groceries and monitor price changes. The app functionality is triggered by data from other apps, like changes in the weather.
In the digital world fast can beat big, but that doesn’t mean big can’t learn to move fast. We all need to be moving at the speed of the customer, or faster.
Martijn Bertisen is country sales director at Google UK