The Great Tech Arms Race: How Changing Consumer Behaviour and Expectation is Driving Ecommerce Transformation

By Brett Raven, CIO, Big Red Group

Brett Raven, CIO, Big Red Group

In the same way necessity is the mother of invention; customer expectation has become the mother of tech transformation in the world of ecommerce. It is the new battleground for retailers who are in an arms race for every customer acquisition. The weaponry includes anything from AI marketing technologies like Albert, to the full bells and whistles offerings from the likes of Salesforce.

The fact is, many retailers can see their business models eroding and becoming less relevant for today’s consumers. One example is how the timing of key marketing campaigns on the retail calendar need to shift in line with consumer expectations, such as the demand for sales and the trend to shop earlier for Christmas. In addition, new retail-created occasions like ClickFrenzy, Black Friday and Cyber Monday are having a material impact. These are now turning into week-long sale events in their own right: The Hallmark Holidays of a new generation. Large retailers are also bringing forward their Boxing Day sales.

This 'race to the bottom' will hurt smaller retailers profoundly, which, in my opinion, is by design. The big players want to redefine the rules of engagement and push SMEs out of business, taking even more market share. This creates a perfect storm for the retail behemoths like Amazon to flourish and fill the vacuum across countless retail verticals.

Ultimately, this means consumers have more choice to find the cheapest product available. According to insights from Salesforce, 50 percent of people had completed their Christmas shopping by December 3 in 2018 - this is unprecedented and is proof of an evolving consumer. In addition, mobile traffic is over 70 per cent for many retailers (with much lower conversion rates than desktop).

So the big question here is, how can technology help? Here are my top five tips for making technology work for your retail business in this age of high customer expectation.

1. Work with your product team to ensure the focus is squarely on what the customer wants. Too often we see websites that are focused on delivering features that may seem interesting, but miss the point on the fundamentals of user experience. This isn’t about your tech team leaving their mark or playing with the shiniest new toys; it’s about delivering value to the customer. Every single time. Customers have choice, and retailers must understand and respect that fact.

2. Page Speed. You must have a quick experience on your site, especially for the key pages (landing pages, search results, category listing, product details). Anything over five or six seconds of the 'above the fold' page view will be extremely detrimental to your conversion rate (and organic listings). There are loads of tools out there that will help you measure and gain insights - www.gtmetrix.com is one of them. Rip out your ailing 'tech debt' and bring your UI components as close to leading edge as possible (e.g. Accelerated Mobile Pages). And leverage a Content Delivery Network (CDN) whenever you can.

3. User Experience - Ease of Use. Continually work towards nailing your UX, especially if it means simplifying the pages, screens and steps required to complete a transaction. Obsess over this. Technically this may mean sweeping changes to your HTML, CSS and JavaScript on a semi-regular basis to find the smoothest path through to a sale. It also means filling in the blanks for the consumer where possible - so they type less. Ensure Mobile experience is exceptional especially navigation and search, and that it passes W3C compliance testing. Also, make sure you check your mobile performance from Google's perspective - https://search.google.com/test/mobile-friendly.

4. Search Engine Optimisation. Don't rely on just Google Analytics (GA) or Search Console to tell you how you’re performing. Leverage other tools, or find a trustworthy SEO agency to keep an eye on your market 'voice' and page rankings. Organic listings are not free; they cost you in a significant investment in time - but your payoff will be material. You absolutely need to invest in this channel. Tech directly influences SEO beyond just the copy on a page - it provides more efficient pages, appropriate page URLs, acceptable navigation and managing redirects and missing pages. All of this is critical to organic listing performance. I recommend taking a look at https://www.screamingfrog. co.uk/ SEO spider software, for analysis of your website and tips on how to improve your organic performance technically.

5. Decisions by Data. GA will tell you many stories. But ecommerce sites are not like other content-based properties and as a result should be measured differently. Statistics like bounce-rate or page-views should be tracked by device and session, however you should also consider user-based statistics for conversion rates outside of those device segments. This is because customers will normally browse your site from multiple devices during the 'consideration' phase before they buy anything. If those stats are viewed in isolation they will give a skewed view of your conversions, pushing them lower than they are in reality. On the topic of conversion rates, be careful not to obsess by the minute about these. While it’s exciting, and a little bit addictive, generally these metrics will fluctuate throughout the day and across days of the week, and are dependent upon a huge array of variables. Look to compare stats to matching days of the week (previous year, previous month) while taking into account other variables such as holiday season. Tech should work with GA experts to ensure appropriate 'behaviour data' is both valid, timely and washed against the right KPIs for your business. Consider looking at segment. io or similar tools that will help give you a more granular view of your raw behavioural data, and at the same time shave off valuable kilobytes of Javascript downloads.

Your marketing dollars work very hard to bring traffic to your site. Whilst technology is not the magic bullet for ensuring a successful ecommerce business, it can make or break a sale. There are countless things you can do to respond to changing customer needs and expectations, including product range, merchandising, the use of rich content on-site, and more. But ideally, the platform you use to run your ecommerce site should allow for these additional items to be managed without tech team intervention. If that’s not the case, you may need to consider going back to stage one and re-thinking your platform choice. But that’s a conversation for another day...

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