By Alyssa Hanson
It’s been more than 22 years since Amazon was founded. That year, 1994, was also the debut of the first secure online transaction. Wait, 22 years? If it doesn’t feel like e-commerce has been around that long, you’re not alone. While Jeff Bezos was raking in $20k a week in online book sales, typical brick and mortar retailers had no strategy in place for digital commerce.
Fast forward to 2016 and the online retail landscape is almost unrecognizable, continuing to evolve at an unprecedented pace. So much has changed, in fact, that former retail giants who failed to keep up with the changing market have suffered for their lack of online presence, resulting in mass store closures, and even bankruptcy.
Retail digital transformation: A bumpy road
While it’s true that by now most retailers recognize the need for an e-commerce strategy, many major players have still been slow to implement a solid customer experience. While the evidence is there ($0.64 of every dollar spent in retail stores was influenced by digital in 2015), there are still a number of challenges faced by retailers when adapting their strategy to meet the requirements of the evolving digital economy.
Unlike pure-play e-commerce retailers, “clicks-and-mortar” companies must create a seamless shopping experience that unites both the online and offline experience. Consumers today want it all, and companies that can deliver a truly omni-channel experience (ex. Empowering customers to both view and purchase product on their mobile device, while physically touching a product in-store) will come out on top.
Implementing the infrastructure to enable omni-channel commerce is only the beginning. Creating a user experience that engages customers and inspires purchase behavior will separate the best from the rest. There’s a number of key factors that influence this, making it particularly challenging for retailers. Many well-established retailers are faced with a lack of experienced eCommerce talent to navigate their digital strategy, putting them at risk of lagging behind their online-only competitors. Deep knowledge of the eCommerce industry, especially at the executive level, is crucial to the success of retailers aiming to bridge the gap between offline and online sales.
Offline-first retailers must adapt their business practices to compete with those of their internet-age counterparts. One of the challenges often faced by traditional retailers who operate in multiple countries with thousands of employees, is an inability to embrace digital media and omni-channel capabilities company-wide. Even with the technology in place, it’s virtually impossible to deliver a leading-edge customer experience without buy-in from everyone in the organization. Organizations that embrace digital capabilities are quicker to make decisions, less risk averse, and are typically more agile, ready to respond to changes in the market.
The landscape is evolving FAST and retailers must keep pace. Staying abreast of the ever-changing requirements of the digital revolution means retailers must invest in change management, training and development resources to support their eCommerce strategy. The good news is that technology has made it easier than ever for retailers to develop an industry-leading customer experience.