Ecommerce continues to represent a great growth opportunity for many retailers, with consumers purchasing an ever-increasing number of their goods and services through digital channels. With this growth in purchasing confidence has come an explosion in expectations, particularly in how customers experience any service connected with an online purchase, such as aftercare, returns, complaints etc.
This is also fundamentally changing the historical model of retailers and their complete drive for footfall into stores; instead, digital channels bring the shop to the customer.
Traditionally the options to deliver ecommerce for large, complex retail organisations have been limited. A small number of platforms existed which were either not capable of supporting an enterprise scale or involved a significant amount of complex and specialised work to customise. The business skills, experience and the tools for trading online were immature and there were few examples of leading-class customer experience.
These barriers to entry positioned ecommerce, almost by default, as a source of competitive advantage. As a consequence of the challenges involved, everyone’s energy and focus tended to be on simply delivering the ‘web shop’. Integration back into the retail business and more strategic goals, such as single sources of data, would be either very limited or ‘on the roadmap’.
As ecommerce matures, a number of the traditional barriers are disappearing. Many excellent examples of retail ecommerce sites exist beyond just Amazon (think Asos, Fab, Dominos…). Open source, or agile, cloud platforms (think Hybris, Shopify and Magento) offer credible and lower cost alternatives to more established ‘enterprise’ platforms (such as ATG, Websphere) and businesses are starting to develop more sophisticated capabilities for trading online.
Just as when building a physical shop, the complexity no longer lies in the shop window, the aisles or even the checkouts (the website front-end). It is in knowing what to have on the shelves in the first place, having the data to determine when and how often to re-supply the shop and how to offer the best experience to your customers before and after they make a purchase.
Ecommerce gives retailers the opportunity to grab a ‘digital advantage’ through leveraging a much richer set of customer and commerce data than ever before. However, harnessing this data fully requires deeper integration into both the technology and the business; a single view of your customer is no single view if it does not include the store customers; your customer experience is not multi-channel if you do not have reverse logistics for online products through stores; you cannot effectively execute ‘Omni’ channel marketing if your campaign management tool only supports email…
So yes, the front end of ecommerce technology for ‘big web’ and, in some respects, the delivery of this are indeed becoming a commodity. Retailers no longer need to focus quite as much time and attention here, but that does not mean the job is done.
How should a retailer use digital capabilities such as Buy me now; click and buy from video, QR code purchase? Where are those transactional touch points and do they affect the holistic customer experience? We have moved beyond the ‘simple’ considerations of workflow in an ecommerce site with basket and payment processing.
As the product categories available for purchase digitally become saturated, retailers can use ecommerce to beat the race to the bottom, but only by offering an ecommerce experience that is more than surface deep.
Ecommerce needs to be worked into the end to end customer experience strategy and integrated back into the core retail operations with the correct set of IT and business capabilities that allow the retailer to differentiate its proposition. This sort of change does not happen overnight and needs the hearts and minds of the whole organisation to come along for the journey.