The panel (l-r below)
Nish Kukadia, chief executive and co-founder, SecretSales
Guillaume Brocart, digital marketing and e-commerce manager – UK, T M Lewin
Richard Braham, distance selling policy advisor, British Retail Consortium
Tim Kalic, head of digital, Pretty Green
Alex Kozloff, senior mobile manager, IAB
Shannon Edwards, managing director, Vestiaire Collective (online second hand fashion retailer)
Marketing Week (MW): How important are digital strategies in retail?
Richard Braham (RB): Retail is about reflecting consumer demand and the way consumers shop now is through the use of mobile, laptops and tablets. If that is how people want to shop that is how retailers should engage with people. Margins are tight and it’s a tough economy, so you should provide a service and make it an accessible, seamless consumer journey, across digital and the real world. The key for retailers is to integrate these various elements together to win and keep customers.
Alex Kozloff (AK): The in-store and online experience has to be better integrated: some places have a really great retail experience and not such a great online experience – but they are as important as each other. There is definitely potential to make the customer experience better. It is really interesting to see retailers such as M&S putting Wi-Fi into stores – according to a study we did, 38 per cent of people use smartphones to shop in-store. It’s a step in the right direction to making it a more integrated and well-rounded experience, bringing the online in-store.
Shannon Edwards (SE): Retailers have been slow to make sure that digital is as important as the in-store experience in general. The next opportunity is to tie them together in a natural and exciting way that also recognises the importance of mobile and the way in which digital is part of the consumer’s day. I don’t think retailers are taking that into account with their in-store experience. Shopping these days is a virtuous cycle that includes in-store, email, online, mobile and social media. The better you put those together the more hold you are going to have on a consumer and the better brand building.
MW: Do consumers need a better experience in-store and online? Is adding further digital elements the way forward?
Nish Kukadia (NK): Older people are using iPads: it’s not just for the younger demographic. We see that 45 to 55 year olds are becoming comfortable using them as a way to seek out information and to experience brands online to shop. So bringing that in-store might open up some new consumer groups for retailers.
Tim Kalic (TK): There are many different technologies out there and companies starting up, so it is important for retailers to really focus on what problems they are experiencing. As an online retailer, it’s the sizing, because you have a varied selection of products. Pretty Green uses Fits.me (a real-life fitting room which uses robotic mannequins to mimic the shape and size of the customer) to allow the shopper to get a much better idea of what the product will look like on their body.
SE: I think for the in-store experience, the opportunity is to become more imaginative and more about setting the stage and telling a story about the product. Perhaps there should be fewer racks of clothes and more of a focus on how to wear them, more display and more experiences. Look at Burberry’s new digital flagship store [which opened this month on London’s Regent Street] that is going to be the direction that successful retailers that will have to go. Consumers are struggling a little bit to tie together their excitement about digital and mobile to what is happening in-store.
MW: Do digital features add value or do they have the potential to be seen as a gimmick by consumers?
RB: It’s certainly not a gimmick. Retail is the most innovative sector and you change day-to-day to meet changing consumer behaviour. It can often provide a more efficient and effective shopping experience in-store. You see retailers adding digital features because consumers like it.
AK: Sometimes a gimmick isn’t a bad thing, it can be a lot of fun and achieve stand out. Retailers use Wi-Fi as a utility these days, it’s almost as important [a function] as your gas and electricity, there’s no doubt in my mind that that is adding value. Anything that makes life easier and makes something more fun is adding value and if thats a bit gimmicky it’s not too much of a problem. As long as the audience is the right one, it will benefit you in your goals. You do need to be aware of who you are marketing to and making sure it doesn’t take away from the retail experience.
TK: I’m very wary of digital strategies and the offering out there. Every week you hear something new that is a must-have. We steer clear of jumping on any bandwagons. I’m aware of some of these advancements in technology, but from the get go I’ll usually evaluate what benefit they are going to bring to our company and whether they will solve an actual problem. I think that’s the important way to look at these technologies, rather than see them as a way to solve problems you don’t have in the first place.
MW: How important is being able to sell your products via social media such as Facebook commerce?
TK: Facebook commerce hasn’t taken off and I don’t think it’s a viable sales channel. Many big brands have developed their f-commerce stores and quietly shut them down again. However, social as a means of having direct dialogue with customers and for them to communicate with the brand is proving itself to be invaluable for brands and retailers.
RB: Retailers have always been meeting consumers on their terms. Social media is another way to meet them. You might not sell products on Facebook or Twitter. Often what you see is the customer service element, so people discuss products or services received and retailers might respond directly and others not. Some consumers might like that and others see it as an invasion of privacy. It’s balancing those elements.
Guillaume Brocart (GB): The good thing with social is that you can pinpoint an item in particular or a special category. You can highlight products the customer wouldn’t see normally, so you enhance their view of the brand.
MW: Should social media be more about the user experiencing the brand rather than another channel to sell products and services?
NK: You can promote products and promote a sale through social media, but you need to support that with a lot of content. We are not using it as a driver of revenue, it’s more about building credibility.
GB: We wouldn’t sell via social because people are there to have fun and socialise before buying, and Facebook is not to sell or buy.
TK: Using it as a channel to sell, as in transacting from within Facebook, hasn’t worked. Using Facebook as a method to sell in terms of showing products to an audience is effective for us, but it has to be intertwined with conversational messages and brand imagery.
SE: Social is where people are, it’s a means not an end. You have to be there at the ‘go to’ point but whether that drives sales is yet to be seen. It’s part of the experience and it’s a touchpoint for the consumer during their buying process.
MW: How important do you think it is to have a mobile-optimised site?
RB: Mobile depends on what you sell and do. If you sell hamburgers it’s going to be different to selling jewellery. A lot of people use their smartphones to look products up, but you can’t put your entire range on your mobile phone. As a retailer, you have to work out what your consumer experience is, while maintaining brand integrity and get them to consume the right information in an easy way. You also need to make sure what you do is well integrated, so when a consumer has an experience with you as a retailer, it’s what they have come to expect.
AK: We did research on what happens when you don’t have your site optimised, looking at the John Lewis site as an example. We asked consumers: if you wanted to buy something on the John Lewis site and you couldn’t because it wasn’t working on your phone, what would you do? Over 30 per cent of people said they wouldn’t bother buying it or buy it from a competitor. Having a mobile optimised site is a must for retailers now.
GB: About 30 per cent of our visits are from a mobile platform, and it’s still within the same idea of customer service or the customer journey, if consumers decide to browse your website on mobile you should offer that service.
NK: Around 62 per cent of all our incoming traffic comes from mobile devices. Digital is critical to what we do. If you don’t have a mobile-optimised site, then you are really behind the curve. For us, it’s critical because SecretSales products are bought on an impulse basis, so we need to provide easy access to our timed sales from wherever they are.
We are also working on responsive design, where you have one single website experience that adapts to the size of the screen depending on the screen it is being viewed from. You can have different sites for each device but that becomes an absolute nightmare to maintain, having to constantly roll out new changes.
SE: Mobile is critical, especially because email campaigns and marketing are such an important part of most retailers’ overall marketing, so when you click through on an email and you can’t get through on a mobile enabled site it’s really frustrating and makes you feel like the retailers haven’t got their act together. Mobile is where it’s at, particularly in busy cities like London when you’re sitting on the bus and commuting. A shopping experience without a mobile-optimised site means you are behind the game.
MW: What are your predictions for the future of digital strategies for retail? Are there any areas in which you would like to see growth?
GB: I think stores will become obsolete and be the window to online commerce. You have the customer service in-store and the pleasure of going shopping, but then you buy online. We are using email agency Silverpop, which uses our retail and online database for email marketing and that makes up 30 per cent of marketing. We are trying to bring retail in-store and online together and we send the same email to the two databases.
SE: The full integration of online and offline is where its going to be: it’s no longer one against the other. The store front has to change, it has to be more of an experience and more of a delight, it needs to get the people who now consider themselves fully online shoppers back into the store. Whether someone may think it’s gimmicky or not, what Burberry has done is genius. You have to showcase your brand in a creative way and that is more exciting.
NK: I believe all mobile commerce will grow significantly. Mobile commerce is around ten years behind where e-commerce is, but it will catch up in two to three years.
AK: For me, what is really exciting in the future of retail is tablets. The way that tablets are being used is steering towards retail. People spend four hours and 30 minutes a week shopping on tablets. There are some examples of the tablets being used in-store behind the scenes; for example, Benetton is sending out iPads with the catalogue for stores to order their stock. I’m not sure if anyone has worked out yet whether people want to browse while they are in-store on tablets or if it’s more of a sit back and relax experience at home.
RB: Until a few years ago, we didn’t have smartphones and definitely not tablets. Technology will take us in new and interesting directions and if people like it, retailers will reflect that and meet them on their terms.