On the 7th of September, we were joined by a panel of industry experts to map the future of retail online – examining the potential of mobile and the rise of social commerce.
For the last in our series of retail-focussed You Can Now Shop events at Shoreditch House, we delved into the future of e-commerce, exploring the emerging trends and technologies shaping the way we shop online. With a predominant focus on mobile, a panel of digital retail experts — hosted by YCN’s Head of Insights Sheena Patel — discussed ways of unifying the online and offline shopping experience, instilling a sense of loyalty and creating social communities along the way.
Kerem Atasoy, Head of Digital Marketing at Harvey Nichols was first to share the learnings gleaned from its newly launched Rewards app, which saw the influential luxury retailer collaborate with agile digital product studio ustwo to create a system that recognises and rewards a shopper whether they’re checking out a physical or virtual shopping basket. Alexandra Hoffnung, Creative Director of Social Commerce for Net-a-Porter is part of the core team that earlier this year launched the retailer’s new social shopping platform, The Net Set, through which online communities can connect with brands, designers, influencers and fellow customers. To provide a broader perspective on the ever-changing world of digital retail, we heard from Liz Whitney, Business Director at ustwo, who enlightened us on the innovative ways in which the studio is working with brands to bring dynamic and disruptive digital products to market.
Things we learned
1. Make it mobile
With mobile retail sales almost doubling year on year, and customers increasingly choosing apps over plastic loyalty cards (a whopping 80% in a Harvey Nichols customer survey), it is safe to assume that most retailers should be developing their mobile platforms to ensure they're tapping into maximum sales. The panel debated whether this means desktop is really dead, with Alexandra making the point that the key is in creating tools and applications that work equally well wherever the customer is using them — whether that's a desktop computer at work or a smartphone on the bus home.
2. Bringing back social shopping
Alexandra summed up the traditional sociability of shopping in a nutshell — describing a scene all too familiar to many women in the audience, of Saturday afternoons spent crammed into changing rooms with friends, trying on new outfits for the night ahead. While the rise of e-commerce has created a quick and easy shopping solution for many, to date it has offered a fairly singular experience. The Net Set aims to 'put the social back into shopping' — going some way to digitally recreating that Saturday afternoon experience by providing a platform on which users can come together and add comments, post reviews and share their stylings.
3. "Done is better than perfect"
This oft-quoted motto perfectly describes the way in which both Harvey Nichols and Net-A-Porter approached the building of their new apps. Through collaboration across departments, launching in beta, careful testing and constantly listening to customer feedback, both retailers have been able to bring their products to market in record time. Kerem's advice to 'launch early, learn and iterate' certainly rang true.
4. Unify the customer experience
One of the most interesting aspects of the Rewards app by Harvey Nichols is that it goes some way to bridging a shopper's online and offline experience. Users earn points for every £1 spent — whether that's through the website or in-store. As such, the retailer is able to build a fuller profile for each customer than has ever been possible before, allowing it to develop a better understanding of their preferred products and styles, to examine their shopping behaviours — and, ultimately, to provide better services and rewards. One of the most surprising learnings, said Kerem, is just how addictive the programme has become — so much so that the term 'loyalty crack' has been coined at head office in reference to those die-hard users.
5. Delivering data
As well as creating a new channel of communication between the brand and its customers, The Net Set also serves as an invaluable research tool for multiple departments. The data gathered through the app provides unique insights into the desires and demands of shoppers, that can be used not just to shape the evolution of the app, but also to inform decisions on content and buying. For instance, seeing how rapidly and frequently a pair of red suede Aquazzura shoes were being shared, styled and covered worldwide gave Net-A-Porter a heads up to adjust their order quantities in line with increased demand — information that may have been missed without access to so much user-generated content. Meanwhile, Liz talked of the added features that mobile technology can provide customers while they're shopping in-store — for example checking the availability of products and sizes, self-checkout, sending items to fitting rooms so they're ready to try on, and the ability for customers to share their location so sales associates know when they've entered the store. Kerem highlighted the level of trust some of this data-sharing requires between brand and consumer, but both he and Liz agreed that it could open up a whole new world of customer service. By gaining access to a customer's shopping preferences and wish lists, staff are better able to personalise the service they provide — welcoming the customer by name and knowing which new products would be of interest.
6. Keep your future customers in mind
As well as keeping a finger on the pulse with regards to current consumer behaviours, it's vital for all three panellists to stay informed on how people might be shopping online further into the future too. One trait that is top of mind is loyalty among the Gen Z demographic, with research showing that younger consumers are less tied to the brands they buy, and more willing to switch to another that more closely matches their values, aspirations and expectations. As such, the companies wanting to retain their custom will have to work harder to stay ahead of their needs, interests and behaviours.
Location:Shoreditch House Library,
London, E1 6AW,
Start:7th September, 2015 at 7:00pm
End:7th September, 2015 at 8:30pm