At the beginning of 2020, no one expected the percentage of online retail sales to double in a matter of months. But as we all know, it did, creating a fundamental shift in how people explore, evaluate and make purchase decisions.
This shift sent retailers of all shapes, sizes and business models rushing to adjust their strategies. Without their reliance on stores, it quickly became obvious that brands would require a different set of investments to keep up and evolve from the transactional nature of commerce into something more personal.
Digitally Dominant Commerce Requires a Fundamentally Different Approach
Following one of the most pivotal macroeconomic shifts of our time, all retail business models — from traditional chain stores to digital natives — are operating on the same playing field for the first time in history.
Between March and April, eCommerce sales doubled. Traditional chain stores saw first-time buyers increasing up to 119%, indicating a large number of shoppers trying brands for the very first time. And through the recent holidays, many retailers that were historically physical-first drove as much as 80% of their transactions through eCommerce.
The brands best positioned to take advantage of this shift were those that had transformed their digital infrastructure to move at the speed of the consumer. This shift required teams to focus on systems and processes built for the future state of retail. We call this personal commerce, which is all about meeting the customer wherever they are.
Rethink Transactions to Make Retail Truly Personal
People spend almost seven hours a day online surrounded by the most convenient digital experiences tailored to their affinities and preferences from the likes of platforms like Netflix and Spotify. Yet eCommerce only represents a fraction of that time, and only 15% of retail revenue at the beginning of 2020.
Why is retail so far behind?
Quite simply because most eCommerce experiences today are transactional and impersonal — and consumers demand more. They expect the same level of highly curated expertise about products along with an intimate understanding of their affinities and preferences that they experience everywhere else online.
Previously, retailers could skate by in this transactional manner, thinking from one purchase to the next rather than considering the entire experience throughout a customer’s lifetime with the brand. That was in large part because the store served as a conduit for whatever experience was necessary to nurture customers. But 2020 flipped the script, all but eliminating the role of the store and leaving most brands to realize their eCommerce operations were not prepared to deliver on the experiences required to support transactions — especially not at the level shoppers have come to expect in the rest of the online world.
This situation has positioned the shift to digital as top of mind for every retailer and given each one, no matter their origins, an unprecedented opportunity to grow and win in a now digital-first world.
Importantly, competing digitally in retail is not just about retail, it’s about all the other places where consumers spend time online, as the only way to stay competitive is to focus on elevating the customer experience to the level provided by the most advanced digital platforms.
Discover What Retailers Need to Thrive Long Term in a Digital-First World
Retailers must bridge the gap between transactional commerce and personal commerce to capture consumers’ attention and loyalty. And the need to do so is urgent, as the increasing shift to online shopping is widening that gap; the typical mass marketing formula built around physical stores is proving insufficient to meet the new needs of shoppers and position brands to thrive in a digitally dominant world.
Bridging this gap requires leapfrog thinking over incremental investments. It requires reimagining your team, processes and technology to gain unprecedented intelligence about your customers and products. Doing so will position your brand to create truly personalized experiences that focus on the big picture of a customer’s lifetime relationship with your brand rather than simply getting that next purchase.
Fortunately, those who are willing to make these changes and lead with digital will find that everything they need to do so is within their reach.
Watch Bluecore and Ascena Retail Group share what it takes, including a deep look into the shifts that are required to transform from the current, transactional nature of commerce to something much more personal and how Ascena brands like Lane Bryant are successfully making this vision a reality.