Why shopping isn't the only thing online retailers should worry about

Panellists at this year's Online Retailer Conference in Sydney look at how retailers can evolve their brands to meet current and future customer behaviour online

The shopping experience is just one facet of what customers will expect from online brands in the future, a panel of retail industry representatives claims.

Speaking on a panel at the Online Retailer Conference and Ecommerce Expo in Sydney on 21 August, country manager of online fashion retailer, ASOS Australia, Sally-Anne Newson, said retailers need to be building teams that are focused on giving customers a more enriched online experience.

With online retail still just 6 per cent of total retail sales in Australia, compared with 13 per cent in the UK, she saw significant opportunity for growth, provided brands were driven by consumer trends. Newson also claimed the Australian retail online space had historically been “reasonably neglected” in terms of ensuring the right infrastructure, skills and training are in place to drive the industry.

“Customers have much higher expectations, and the shopping experience is just one part of what they will expect from a brand tomorrow,” she said. “Customers want to collaborate, get inspiration from all over the globe, access user generated content and have the ability to inspire others.”

This deeper level of engagement with customers won’t be about “selling them a frock”, Newson added.

“Consumers don’t consider channels – it’s about the brand and the customer experience. There is an expectation that the experience should be the same whether it’s in-store or online.”

Former COO and CMO of US-based fashion online retailer ModCloth, Kerry Cooper, agreed inspiration should be the driving force for brands and said she was excited by the opportunity to use technology and digital platforms to help customers discover what they want.

“Customers don’t want to search for a black mohair cardigan, they want to be inspired,” she claimed. “It’s about how we change that discovery piece and how we help customers engage in order to learn what they want to discover.”

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For head of online at alcoholic beverages retailer Dan Murphy, Fay Ilhan, brands operating online also need to recognise what customers are actually using their online properties for. She pointed out two-thirds of customers use the Dan Murphy site to research, check prices and locate a store, but choose to make purchases in person.

“If you look at online primarily as a transactional journey, you could end up on the wrong path,” she said. “Everything in our development pipeline is about serving the needs of our customers.”

As a traditional bricks-and-mortar retailer, Dan Murphy has been working to grow its online presence and has increased online staff from five to 20. The process has come with plenty of challenges, one of which was ensuring all internal teams came on the digital journey, Ilhan said.

“Never underestimate that they are not on the same page as you are,” she advised. “But you need to keep digging at it, as long as the end goal is worth at it, and you can explain why and bring it back to the customer.”

Dan Murphy has also created five pillars to help keep staff constantly evolving the online journey, Ilhan said. These are to be bold; always question everything and ask why; recognise that the work is never over; be ruthless in prioritisation, and don’t be afraid.

UK department brand John Lewis is recognised worldwide as a leader in omni-channel strategy, and its director of retail operations development, Simon Russell, said there is now an expectation at board level that executives have experience both in the physical and virtual retail environment.

This will help the company continue to innovate and refine its customer-led approach even as the global retail space is disrupted by further technology and cultural trends, he said.

“It’s normal now to move in and out of clicks and bricks,” Russell said. “This thinking encourages people to look for innovation and has created a culture that embraces having a go at things. Accept things just won’t work now, but others things will. That approach didn’t exist five or six years ago.”

As an example of just how quickly online retailing is changing, Brands Exclusive Daniel Jarosch pointed out 50 per cent of its sales are now transacted through mobile app on weekends. This mobile phenomenon has already impact how the retailer presents products to online customers.

“We have to continue to be relevant in the context that the customer is in at that point in time,” Jarosch added.

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