From the macro-economic headwinds still lingering from the Great Recession, to the demographic shifts as millennials become wage earners and Baby Boomers retire, to the rapid evolution of technology, tools, apps ,and multichannel competition, today’s retailers face significant challenges to stay competitive.
The tech revolution started by Apple’s iPhone kicked off a cascade of industry changes that are reshaping the retail landscape. Five years ago mobile commerce was virtually nonexistent. Today it accounts for nearly $12 billion in sales in the U.S. alone, and is expected to grow to $31 billion by 2016. Worldwide, mobile commerce is projected to hit $119 billion by 2015. Millennials are driving this trend: 51% of people ages 18-34 have made purchases on their phones. Moreover, more than 72 million consumers used their phone to research a product prior to purchase. And this growth doesn’t include tablets.
With this now-ubiquitous access to online stores and product research, the “shopping” experience has been transformed. Those whom retailers once called “cross-channel customers” or “ecommerce customers” or “bricks-and-mortar customers” are now simply “customers.” We’ve arrived in the omni-channel world, where a customer journey is as linear and predictable as a drunken sailor’s walk home from a night out on the town. And as successful retailers recognize, this puts a new twist on managing the customer experience. Successful retailers have always placed a premium on customer experience and competed on its basis. Companies such as Nordstrom are recognized for exceptional customer service, famously taking back any product for exchange or refund. Zappos, too, has built a reputation on going the extra mile to ensure happy, loyal customers. The omni-channel world doesn’t change the importance of customer experience; in fact, it raises the stakes.
Compelling customer experiences are simply smart business strategy. Inversely then, inconsistent customer experiences can create a sense of isolation for your customers. If their experience varies from touch point to touch point, that may alienate shoppers, causing a sense of unfamiliarity or even intimidation, leading to lower engagement, reduced loyalty, and a lack of brand advocacy within your customer base. Given how easily disgruntled consumers can gripe about a poor experience on a myriad social networks, it behooves the savvy retailer to ensure its brand is consistently presented and experienced wherever, whenever, or however a shopper may interact with that brand. Retailers must adapt all channels to align to a seamless experience, or face marginalization.
Retailers’ most potent weapon in this new paradigm is content as the deciding factor in a consumer’s purchase decision. Retailers already recognize this: In a recent survey by RSR Research 100 percent of respondents said the customer experience should be consolidated across all channels for a consistent experience. However, only 32 percent reported having achieved that goal.
Further, in the same survey, RSR illustrated that “retail winners”–those with year-over-year growth ahead of the industry average–demonstrate a relentless focus on the customer, and 100 percent of “winners” surveyed plan to consolidate the customer experience, loyalty programs, and social and digital marketing across all channels. Successful retailers are defining their brand in terms of customer engagement, and in the realm of customer engagement content is a key lever over which a retailer has control, and which clearly crosses all of the channels in the omni-channel world. Nothing engages the customer more than relevant content. Content is still king in the omni-channel world.
Once a retailer recognizes the need to increase focus on the customer and deliver highly relevant and timely content across channels, the reality of budget and staffing constraints present a significant challenge to achieving this goal. Historically, the answer for new initiatives is a combination of any or all of these resources: consultants, agencies, or new hires (full time and contractors). Each of these present benefits and disadvantages, but often they prove too costly from a financial or bandwidth perspective.
There’s another option that some retailers are adopting as an efficient and cost-effective solution that blends the best of these worlds: knowledge process outsourcing (KPO). KPO firms typically handle such tasks as data analysis, data and content management, and process reengineering.
A strong KPO company offers deep industry experience, specific knowledge of content processes and platforms, and a rigorous focus on process documentation. Taken together, these advantages likely offer a compelling cost/benefit ratio to any retailer looking to keep pace with the tremendous pressure of current market forces.
Where content is king, and resources are scarce, the emergence of knowledge process outsourcing (KPO) firms with deep retailing and ecommerce process experience have enabled leading retailers to focus on the customer, regardless of touch point, and to succeed in the highly dynamic omni-channel world.
Scott LiPera is the Global Practice Leader for Commerce & Content in the Sales and Marketing Services division at eClerx.