In 2019, few sectors face such turmoil as high street retail, with many much-loved and respected brands having fallen by the wayside in recent years.

Competition from new entrants and changing buying habits are cited as two of the main reasons for failures. Looking at it from a customer's perspective, it’s a failure of brands to innovate and to meet their customers on their terms. So how might a high street brand reverse this trend?

1. Create a high-value vision for success

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos famously said, “When we win a Golden Globe, it helps us sell more shoes." He was of course referring to the brand’s popular Prime service. It’s not just a streaming service for the latest films and TV series, it offers free shipping across millions of products and providers for an annual subscription fee, creating a great incentive for customers to hit that buy button – and hit it, they have! 

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Eighty-five percent of U.S. Prime members bought an item on Amazon in December 2017, compared to 51 percent of non-Prime households. In the UK, specifically, Amazon figures are expected to rise with Netflix actually having double the subscribers of Amazon as it stands today.

Few of us can aim for such lofty goals but the same ambition to create a high value unique selling proposition (USP) that encourages loyalty can be adopted within any market or sector. Great digital commerce experiences don’t just sell. They serve the customer with excellence.

When developing a vision toward digital success for Irish book retailer Eason, the question they asked was: “How do we fight the behemoth that is Amazon?” The answer lay in Eason’s scale. Its ability to nimbly react to consumer requirements in comparison to Amazon was a major strength, along with its existing retail network of 70 stores across Ireland and its iconic status as an Irish brand with a loyal customer base built over its 100-year heritage.

Through direct engagement with their customers, Eason were able to identify and prioritize the features they would value the most. The introduction of click and collect, promotions cross offline and digital, and the guarantee that the title you want would be in your hands within two hours, meant Eason could not only combat the dominant market leader, but could optimize the time-to-value of their ­customers’ experiences.


2. Design the optimum experience. Then optimize it.

Understanding customer priorities is important for digital strategy development, but the job isn’t done there.

By including your customers in every stage of your project, you ensure that you can further optimize the design of the features and services. Customer experience design is by no means a new art, but it is important to ensure that you and your team adopt the principles fully.

What should your customer experience design process look like?

  1. Desk research – This is an opportunity to understand customer behavior, trends and preferences, using all available data sets; to visualize data in native analytics platforms such as Google Analytics, Crazy Egg and search tools. The key is to use market data anywhere you can find it.
  2. Customer engagement – Engage directly with customers to validate and build upon initial findings. Talk to them and undertake shared screen sessions to better understand how they interact with your brand. Look for issues and opportunities to move the needle on conversion and revenue.
  3. Prototype and test early – There are many prototyping tools that enable you to develop throwaway prototypes within hours. You can share these with customers across devices to ensure the newly designed journey matches their expectations. Brands should also build out core journeys as well as any that may be complex or new to them.
  4. Build it and test again – Test as early as possible, do not wait for the whole experience to be perfect (or complete). Test elements as they become available to ensure you find and rectify issues early – reducing cost and time to market.
  5. Release it, test it and optimize it – By creating a cycle of always-on optimization, you can ensure that you are always looking for incremental gains rather than big-bang releases. Those gains will add up and your customers will thank you for it.

3. Believe in the Power of Three

In order to help its customers to achieve digital commerce excellence, digital agency Made to Engage has structured its team, processes and efforts into three distinct, complementary and overlapping areas of expertise:

  • Customer Experience Design
  • Customer Experience Technology & Integrations
  • Customer Engagement Strategy

The nuance between customer experience (CX) and customer engagement is subtle but integral to success. Within CX, the focus is on designing the overall experience, often looking at a range of core “journeys,” which the customer may go through over their lifetime engagement, encompassing online and offline channels.

Customer engagement focuses more on the interactions or communications across the customer lifecycle designed to stimulate an action or reaction from the customer.

The CX Technology and Integrations team is focused on optimizing the platforms to drive both experience and engagement.

With all three areas of focus included within the design process, you can ensure that no money is left on the table, and that no opportunity to optimize the platform experience is missed.

4. Make the right connections

Most retail and B2B commerce businesses today host huge amounts of data in back office systems such as ERP and CRM data.

Unlocking this data will enable you to drive your digital commerce platform using the relevant customer and product information required to create personalized, real-time communications, pricing and promotions, and so delivering ecommerce excellence.

Established connectors such as Episerver’s Commerce for Dynamics 365 make it possible to unify your commerce and business process management platforms to drive omnichannel commerce.

The right connector will go a long way in fast tracking your project by leveraging existing connectivity for core functions. These can include product listings, promotions, checkout and customer registration. This ensures you can focus earlier on experience and revenue driving activities rather than data synchronization.

5. Search, merchandise and make it personal

Search results and product recommendations are some of the most prevalent use cases for machine learning and artificial intelligence. In a recent Episerver survey, 25 percent of global consumers say they are more likely to purchase from a brand again when it personalizes their online shopping experience.  

The Episerver platform includes a powerful personalized product recommendation engine for commerce sites.

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It analyzes customer and product data to identify trends and creates customer segments that support one-to-one personalization on every page view.

Marketing teams can use the platform to present product listings across their site that use a range of algorithms to display the most relevant products to each customer at the time of page load. 

The exact products to be displayed are personalized based on a whole host of factors including customer browse behavior (in this visit, previous visits and across the whole customer base), previous purchase history, browse and search intent signals, offline sales and trend analysis as well as external factors such as weather, seasonality or the latest book or movie release in Eason’s case.

It would be impossible for marketing teams to deliver this level of accuracy in product recommendations at scale, but with AI, recommendation engines can mine this data to drive conversion and spend on your site. As Made to Engage found in their Eason project – which created personalized recommendations across over 600,000 products within three weeks – driving average order value by 34 percent within a further four weeks, while average items in basket increased by almost 100 percent.

An independent report commissioned by Episerver found that these results are consistent with the use of AI-based personalization, resulting in (on average) $9.1 million in extra revenue over a three-year period thanks to uplifts in conversion, higher basket size and click-through rates, as well as a decrease in number of clicks to purchase.

6. Automate to engage and convert

Automated marketing platforms enable us to design and configure high-value customer engagement communications across channels. Lead nurture, customer onboarding, order abandonment, replenishment and re-engagement campaigns can all combine to deliver significant increases in customer conversion and acquisition as well as drive customer lifetime value.

Many of the platforms come with standard configurations and template designs that can be set up quickly and easily rolled out for standard campaigns, which can be tailored to suit your brand and optimized on a continuous basis.

7. Get your head in the clouds

Most modern CX and digital commerce platforms are delivered in cloud environments such as software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offerings. These have significant benefits for both your project delivery timescales and long-term cost management and scalability. Azure, AWS and Google Cloud are the most prevalent today and the decision will likely be influenced by your preferred technology stack.

Adopting cloud-first approaches not only allows retail companies to establish their infrastructure more quickly, but it also offers a series of other benefits such as the ability to auto scale to support peaks and reduce costs in quieter times.

The fact is that most CX and digital commerce cloud-first strategies will also favor customers who adopt this strategy, as product development and support models will have much stronger structures in this area than in proprietary, hosted options.

8. Test, measure and optimize, optimize, optimize.

Building and launching your new digital commerce platform is just the start of the journey.

By testing, measuring and optimizing across your customer journey, you can drive percentage points of success which will drive traffic, conversion, sales, profitability and, ultimately, success for you and your business.

This is your new state of always on optimization. This is the pursuit of incremental gains.

  • Test ad copy in search and social.
  • Test written and visual content across your site and emails.
  • Test promotions to small segments of your audience before releasing across your markets.
  • Test new methods or algorithms for product recommendations – or positioning of those recommendations across the customer journey.

The leading digital platforms are designed to support efficient testing and optimization strategies, and to deliver visualisation of the results to support the continuous optimization approach. So really, there’s no excuse not to test, measure and optimize.


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