The Changing Face of the Retail Experience

There are very few areas of retail that are not feeling the force of changes in technological habits from consumers. In this piece exclusively for RetailTechNews, Philip Briffett, senior director of partnerships at VoucherCodes, outlines the technologies that are driving this change and explains why mobile must be considered as a key element of every single stage of the shopping journey.

Ten years ago, many would have baulked at booking a holiday anywhere other than at their local travel agent – who would have thought that 60% of travel bookings would occur on mobile devices? It’s a pretty stunning statistic, and one that should act as a reality check for any brand – be it with a high-value product offering or not – to ensure it has an optimised mobile presence. The importance of a great mobile experience is nothing new; but many retailers with high-value products or services have thought, or even hoped, that the need for an optimised mobile presence wouldn’t be as important for them.

Whether they’ve been prioritising getting their mobile offering right or not, the good news is that almost half of major UK retailers (49%) now consider it best practice to jointly invest in both the physical and digital shopping experiences. Research highlighted in VoucherCodes’ report found that just 8% of UK retailers are prioritising investment in the physical store alone, demonstrating a significant step away from the traditional siloed approach. So, whilst there is a considerable way to go before a joint approach is universally accepted as best practice across all industries, retailers are showing positive signs of steering in the right direction.

In fact, it seems customer demand and loyalty is the key motivator for retailers investing in new technologies. Last year, VoucherCodes research found three-quarters of UK retailers believe it to be the main motivator for investing in new technology, an increase from 2016, showing that retailers are listening and starting to act.

So, what is this new technology?

One way retailers are marrying their digital and physical investment is through payment technology – optimising both online and in-store checkouts to support a mobile payment method, streamlining their processes to enable faster payments with fewer friction points for the shopper. According to the VoucherCodes report, a huge 56% of UK retailers have invested in payment technology over the last 12 months, seemingly a key driver for this investment is the millennial generation of shoppers. Dubbed the ‘largest consumer generation in the world’, millennials have come of age in a web-enabled world where customised and highly personal online experiences are the norm, and are driving digital payment to fit with their digital lifestyles. In fact, more than nine-in-ten (91%) predict they will be using their mobile devices for financial purposes in three years’ time – a clear call to action for retailers that speak to this audience in particular.

Another key area for online-offline integration in retail is through the growing prevalence of digital receipts. In the last year or so, many retailers have begun offering customers digital, rather than physical, receipts as a means to integrate on and offline. With bank statements and bills all digital nowadays, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to do the same with a shopping bill. What is somewhat surprising is that we’re still not in a place where this in the norm across the board. In fact, two years ago 41% of shoppers said they ‘never’ or ‘rarely’ receive a digital receipt, but 45% would like the option of a digital receipt. In the last year, according to VoucherCodes research with WBR, we’ve seen retailers put a much bigger emphasis on this with 47% saying they’ve invested in digital receipts in the last 12 months – clearly they have seen the demand from consumers and have started working to meet it.

Retailers must power through their fear of the unknown

But what about those retailers who are scared of these new investments, AKA ‘the unknown’? The issue with new investments, like technology, is that it takes more than just a financial investment to make it work, but a time investment too. Staff capacity, having the knowledge or figurehead to direct it, and organisational structure are just a few of the challenges businesses can face.

Whether it’s new technology or offering the product or service on a different channel, communication is key. Looking at omnichannel in particular, it can be all too easy to miss things between the on and offline teams. It takes time for the team to get comfortable with new processes and working with different people in different areas. These teams must push through the change to ensure they work closely together.

No matter what the change, it’s key that those involved really understand the benefits to ensure they buy into it, because what the customer wants the customer gets. For any business that is afraid of change, they must challenge themselves to consider if it’s something their customer really wants. Because if they don’t get it from them, they’ll simply go elsewhere.