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2 reasons why retail is changing for good

Social media and online shopping is transforming retail. SAP retail industry lead Merjin Helle outlines the strategies retail leaders can adopt to take advantage of engaged customers.

Retailers must address two fundamental trends if they’re going to successfully embrace the online world and meet customer expectations.

The first is social media: consumers are socially connected like never before. The second is closely related: customers expect great service 24/7. Forget traditional shopping hours, you must be open for business every single hour and day of the year.

Sure, they’re not new trends in themselves, but what’s changed is the level of consumer engagement evident in both trends. It’s much deeper and more nuanced than ever before. For many retail segments, you’re now competing on the global stage and for retail business leaders that can be an eye-opening experience.

Australian consumers are not just comparing prices online in the US, Europe or Asia from the comfort of home, they’re using smartphones to make quick easy comparisons in store. They know what prices are being paid overseas, what’s available, and when the goods could be delivered. Everything’s transparent.

For retail leaders, this means rethinking the fundamentals of customer service. You’ve probably heard about the buzzword omnichannel. It’s actually more than just a passing fad –I think it graphically illustrates the trends we’re grappling with here.

In simple terms, omnichannel describes how a retail company creates a seamless interplay between all the available channels it uses to communicate with customers. That means delivering a consistent brand experience regardless of whether you’re using Facebook, an online shopping cart, or talking to customers directly in-store.

Sounds easy in theory. In practice, it demands close attention. Here’s a great example of one company that illustrates the focus needed for a successful transformation: global fashion house Burberry.

Burberry realised its audience was changing across the world, and needed to rethink its online strategy. So the company’s leaders decided to create a digital platform for its fashion shows, and social media played a big role in partnership with traditional retail outlets.

That means if you walk into one of their stores today, regardless of where it is, you can look up your social media posts on a computer. At the same time, Burberry is using almost any social media platform you can imagine to get a very clear picture of what its customers like, dislike and want to buy. And regardless of the platform, it presents a consistent face to the customer.

In Australia, another company I’ve noticed following a similar path is Luxottica and its OPSM and Sunglass Hut brands. The company uses SAP software to analyse a range of data sources to understand what styles are cool, and where fashion trends are headed. The goal with Luxottica, as with any retail company, is using real-time data to improve decision-making.

Likewise, Johnson & Johnson used social media to discover not all of their customers like the “mouth burn” effect of its product Listerine. So it launched Listerine Zero – without mouth burn– and it was a massive success.

They’re great examples of companies who’ve discovered the combination of social media and transaction data to analyse and identify new business opportunities, or ways of improving productivity.

And importantly, you can expect mobile devices to play an increasingly influential role in the future.

It could be managers and staff tracking real-time performance or improving customer service, or customers themselves. The question for retail leaders is how well have you embraced mobility?

Here’s my checklist of fours strategies you need to successfully engage customers online:

1. Build a mobile app and use it. Targeted offers, deals and promotions that engage consumers provide immediate value and deliver quick results.

2. Give customers rich product information on any platform that speeds the path to purchasing.

3. Offer convenience. Consider a shopping list organiser, consumer product recommendation engines, or a mobile wallet for in-store purchasing.

4. Tap into your customer’s lifestyle. Make sure you really understand what drives them, and let them into your strategy – invite them to join online active online communities.

Rethinking retail’s fundamentals might not be an easy task, but it’s not impossible either. The way I see it, online customers are already engaged so you’re already halfway there.

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Merjin Helle

Merjin Helle

Merijn Helle is a senior director in SAP’s Industry Strategy Group, responsible for the go-to-market and business development of SAP into the Retail industry across Asia-Pacific and Japan. His team in the region focuses on helping retailers build unified channels, create consumer-driven supply networks, drive consumer insights and build integrated merchandising and marketing environments. Previously at SAP, Merijn was the Industry Principal for Consumer Industries, encompassing Consumer Products, Wholesale Distribution, and Retail for Australia and New Zealand, driving the success of SAP in those industries, and working with many of the top retailers, distributors, and consumer goods manufacturers in the region. Merijn joined SAP in 2006. Prior to joining, he spent nearly ten years consulting to organizations in the consumer industries across North America, Europe, and Australia & New Zealand. He holds a master’s degree from the University of Groningen, the Netherlands.

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