New technologies and automation offer great opportunities for e-commerce, but only when the correct foundations are set.
When it comes to e-commerce and customer experiences, technology has significantly changed what retailers are now capable of. Automation and AI have long been used by retailers to manage the supply chain or to streamline inventory. And consumers are now starting to see the benefits of artificial intelligence and augmented reality when purchasing products.
The Dulux Visualiser App is a great example of a brand making the most of AR technology for the benefit of its customers. The app allows individuals to see how different paint colours could look in their own homes before purchase. This technology is now becoming increasingly mainstream, and we envisage that in the next few years, more retailers will encompass AI into their digital platforms as part of the purchasing process. For example, furniture retailers could let you see how a sofa would look in your living room, giving consumers greater confidence in their purchasing decisions.
But investment in automation and AR isn’t cheap. Developing a website with the capability to incorporate these technologies requires a significant investment. From our experience, we know that internal teams are continuously building business cases to justify any investment to C-Suite executives. And once this investment has been approved, it’s a race to get the technology implemented as quickly as possible.
Yet in our experience, we believe that some retailers are placing too much importance on integrating new technical capabilities in a bid to improve purchasing potential. The speed at which businesses are trying to implement these technologies means that they are neglecting the fundamentals of their e-commerce strategies. This can lead to ineffective digital strategies that can overrun on timescales and budget with minimal return on investment.
So, is it time to go back to basics?
At Sherwen Studios, we believe that before you invest in new technologies, you should always ensure that you have laid the basic foundations for any new e-commerce strategy. This means that you (and your chosen agency) are well aware of the business strategy. You know what you want your website to do. You know how your audience is behaving and you are confident that your website is meeting customer needs.
Once these fundamentals are in place, you can establish whether any technologies are the right approach for your business (and feel confident that you are choosing the right solution). This can help you to integrate them seamlessly into your digital platforms.
Ensuring that all agencies are aware of your business strategy
Firms often outsource web development projects because they do not have the capability and resources to carry out intensive work in-house. If you are working with an agency, you must be confident that your chosen supplier understands exactly what you are trying to do and why.
It can be tempting to jump straight into the design and development phases of a website – after all, that’s the fun creative element that you’re paying for. And businesses understandably want to see progress quickly. But digital projects can fail if your chosen supplier does not fully understand your basic business strategy.
Time must be spent on the preparation phases so that you can seamlessly blend the wants of the client with the needs of the customer.
We recently delivered a 12-month project for the UK’s leading furniture retailer, ScS.
The company needed a new website that would allow them to expand their e-commerce opportunities and provide them with the flexibility to adapt to the changing marketplace.
Before we began the development phase of the project, we undertook significant research into understanding what the client wanted and what they needed. This information was vital to ensuring that we had a comprehensive specification which set out exactly what the website needed to do now and in the future. It was a useful tool that helped to ensure that project remained on track, with completion delivered on time, and on budget.
Thanks to our research, we were able to create a list of ‘must-haves’ as well as ‘future would like to have’. It ensured that we could build a website that could grow along with the business, with the scope to continually add more flexibility and new features. By understanding the business strategy of ScS, we could ensure that the website could achieve its corporate vision.
Considering the different ways that websites can be used….
Retail brands typically use their websites as an e-commerce platform to expand on physical sales. But it’s important to understand that there are many different facets to a web presence and customers may be using it in different ways. Therefore, as part of your ongoing e-commerce strategy, you must factor this in rather than viewing it solely as a platform to increase sales.
Online sales are a crucial element for retail businesses, but as part of your strategy you should think about the different ways that websites can be used.
For instance, some customers may be using your website solely for inspiration or browsing purposes, intending to complete the purchase offline. In which case, you need to be able to effectively guide them throughout the process, pinpointing them to their local store or a phone line. It’s also important to consider additional functions that could be implemented on the website such as product up-sell opportunities or the ability to complete financing applications at the point of purchase.
Beyond that, there’s also the added complexity that new generations have changed the ways that they interact with retailers. Millennial and Gen-Z audiences are no longer passive shoppers. Instead, they want to actively advocate for brands that they believe hold similar values to them. As such, they will be using websites and social media platforms to find out more about who a company is and what their brand ethos is.
It stands to reason that retailers and businesses need to be clear of the different ways that their websites could be used. Conducting research and gathering data on how stakeholders and consumers are using your website should play a fundamental role in any e-commerce strategy. After all, the data gleaned through this research should be the driving force behind what you are doing and provide the analytics to ensure that your website is working as effectively as it should be.
Playing close attention to audience behaviours
A common error made by many brands during a website redevelopment project is that not enough attention is paid to consumer behaviours. A key part of any development project should look at how audiences are actually behaving, not just what you expect them to do. Taking the time to research how audiences are using websites and online sales platforms can allow you to fully assess your strengths and weaknesses. You can track a user journey and make solutions to ensure that it works as seamlessly as it could.
We advocate for heavy user testing to take place at the start and throughout the development of any new websites. The analytics can be used to ensure that your e-commerce strategy is working, and specific audience data can inform your decision-making processes.
Once you are aware of how your audiences are using your website, you can invest in the required technology to enhance their existing behaviours and guide them through the sales funnel.
We have seen many examples of where businesses have invested in automation and AI without understanding whether that investment would be used (or wanted) by the end consumer. Without audience insights, there is a real risk that companies could be investing in the wrong technology which can negatively impact your strategy success and affect your return on investment.
Audience behaviours can change dramatically mid-development
User testing is important at the start of a web project, but it’s also something that should be continued throughout the development – especially if it is a long-term project spanning several months. Data analytics can be used to identify if audience behaviours have changed since the start of the project, allowing firms to react and adjust the strategy.
A prime example of this was the work that we did with ScS. At the start of 2020, most consumers were shopping in-store. The unprecedented lockdown forced a swift move towards online sales, so we needed to keep track of how audiences were purchasing online and identify any particular pressure points which were preventing transaction completions. We also had to monitor how changing consumer attitudes could impact the website development strategy. For example, the general public was still fearful about the safety of returning to physical shops, so we scoped and implemented pre-bookable in-store appointments which proved to be successful. This could only have been managed through continual analysis and understanding of user behaviour as well as integrating the right technology which would yield an ROI.
Feeling confident that you’ve met your audience needs
The final fundamental element of any e-commerce strategy is having confidence that your website or digital platform has met the specific needs of your customer. As we’ve discussed, your e-commerce plans should be built around all contributing parties knowing fully what your business strategy is and knowing who your audience is and how they behave.
Before investing in any automation, AI or AR technology, you should be ensuring that you have invested fully in data analytics. Not only can these insights help you identify what you can be doing right now, but the data can be interpreted to identify trends and predict future behaviours. This will allow you to make informed decisions that match consumer wants and needs with the requirements set out by the retailer.
It’s only once you’re confident that your fundamentals are in place that you should be making a business case for automation, AI and AR. We understand the temptation to jump straight into web development projects and make a case for high-end technical capabilities. But these will only provide an effective return on investment if the basics of any strategy are considered first and foremost.
For more information about how Sherwen Studios work with retailers to establish effective e-commerce strategies, please contact Matt Sherwen on 01244 340 023 or email firstname.lastname@example.org