How a digital transformation can boost your business

In 2020, the Australian retail sector is looking at one of its most challenging years yet. A spending crunch among Australian consumers has led to either no growth or negative growth among retailers in the last year.

However, it’s not all doom and gloom for the retail industry. The shift to online shopping and the growing demand for omnichannel customer experiences signal more of a move away from traditional spending, rather than an inescapable downturn in the market.

Global spending on digital transformation is expected to reach $2.3 trillion by 2023, with retail said to be the third largest industry for digital transformation spending. Among Australian grocers in particular, there will be a focused effort to improve data insights to develop customer strategies, though most also recognise they don’t have the resources to monetise that data and drive better customer experiences.

There are three major trends retailers need to stay ahead of in 2020 to make the most of their digital transformation efforts.

1.  Digital and social marketing feedback loops

There is a common perception that retailers are clear leaders in the social media marketing sphere by presenting buy buttons, clear calls-to-action and smart product placement now commonplace within Instagram and Facebook feeds. However, the statistics show there is a gap between what we’re seeing in our feeds, hearing from consumers, and what we’re investing in.

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More than a quarter of consumers are now purchasing through their social channels, highlighting the huge opportunity for engagement in this space. However, while 80 per cent of retailers are investing in social media marketing, only 18 per cent accept payments on social platforms and more than half do not plan to offer this in the future.

This signals that retailers are clearly latching onto these emerging channels as a way to get their message out, but are over-investing in one-way conversations. If they were genuinely listening to the industry and what consumers want, there would be bigger investments in business strategies, including payment options, that prioritised consumers’ convenience over all else.

And it cannot stop there. Businesses need to get more personal than ever before with their customers. While it’s important to recognise industry-wide statistics – such as 38 per cent of generation Z and 36 per cent of millennials are buying through social media, but only 20 per cent of baby boomers do – to customise how, when and where customers are targeted with social media marketing efforts, consumers are expecting extreme levels of personalisation when interacting with brands.

It will not be enough to blast all millennials with a single message or target a generic “generation Z” via a certain channel. Within those messages and channels, consumers will expect brands to understand their buyer journey from start to finish, as well as their current and future needs and pain points.

The most effective digital and social marketing efforts will involve regular and highly maintained feedback loops, where information about consumers – including what they do and don’t buy and the reasoning behind these behaviours – is regularly collated, automatically analysed and turned into comprehensive insights. From there, this information can then be used and reviewed on a continuous basis to drive business strategies and decisionmaking.

2.  Futureproofing with technology and AI

Across the industry, there are still mixed views on the benefits and risks of AI, with 40 per cent recognising the opportunities to increase sales and profits and another 40 per cent still uncomfortable with the technology. At the top of consumers’ minds, privacy remains a key concern.

This is where the industry will see a divide in 2020. Organisations that use technology to counter the risks of AI and drive its adoption forward will leave organisations that fear AI behind in the race to building ideal omnichannel customer experiences.

Business leaders need to stop thinking of AI as a siloed tool with pros and cons and start planning around the business impact they are looking to achieve. From this standpoint, it will be easier to recognise AI as a tool for futureproofing the business, rather than the sole tool used to reach a particular end goal.

Adidas has been using AI to get a stronger end-to-end view of their customers. While retailers would usuallystart with prioritising how to increase sales within the next three months within their customer base, Adidas instead used AI to understand the likelihood of its 300 million consumers to buy in the next three months. From that understanding, Adidas could then create a buyer map that could be completed for the short term, as well as updated on a quarterly basis to ensure the company had a clear picture of how its audience – and its propensity to buy – was changing over time.

Taking this longer-term and customer-centric view, Adidas escaped the trap of developing a short and sharp three-month engagement program, and successfully started the process for futureproofing its customer experience program for whatever changes happen within its customer base.

 3.  Prioritising relevance in the eyes of the customer

In 2020, relevance will be king. It won’t be enough for retailers to say they are prioritising the “customer experience” – or even the right “content”. Each of these terms are increasingly over-used and consumers will quickly tire of hearing them unless they feel the brand is genuinely investing in understanding their personal needs at a very specific point in time. The fact that their brand also happens to be there with a particular product to help at this time should be something the consumer is thankful for, rather than feeling spammed by.

Consequently, while retailers work to develop and implement effective social media campaigns while trialling AI in 2020, there needs to be a clear data strategy to lay the foundations of the overall approach to technology.

Hybrid cloud technology and multi-cloud environments allow for retailers to increase productivity of their employees, save on IT needs and create a seamless experience for consumers. Without investing in hybrid cloud, real-time data and platforms that enable fast and comprehensive analysis, it will be difficult for retailers to maximise their return on investment with other technologies.

The retailers that will excel in 2020 will find ways to cost efficiently invest in technologies that turn real-time data into actionable insights that drive better decision making around the customer experience. With these resources and information at hand, retailers can then understand whether they should invest in physical or digital shopfronts, how significantly they need to invest in social media and how to reach their target audiences as their needs change over time.

Sean Girvin is the managing director of Rackspace for Australia and New Zealand.

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