Convenience, Integration, Context: the retail store experience 2020?

As retailers exploit the opportunities offered by digital technology and ways of working to innovate their in-store customer experience; what might this look and feel like in 2020? Here are some ideas…

Convenience: The way customers physically purchase products will be as seamless as any digital channel experience and critically will encourage them not to use their smartphone (a distraction from the real world in-store environment that also brings competitors’ offerings within easy reach). In 2020, a customer can simply touch a button on the product itself or its point of sale display to purchase it instantly – like a biometric version of Amazon’s Dash Button technology that carries out the transaction authorised by the customer’s fingerprint. This simple, convenient process also means a customer doesn’t have the hassle of queuing up at a till – freeing up their time to explore the physical retail space further.

Integration:  Delivery of purchased in-store products will rival any experience an online retailer can offer. Content such as films, music, books are downloaded immediately to the customer’s device of choice. Large and small physical goods can be dispatched from a warehouse and delivered direct to a customer’s home the same day (a service available today that is rapidly growing in scale led by retailers such as Argos). And because items can be sourced direct from distribution; the Retailer can lever greater supply chain efficiencies (such as reduced in-store inventory costs) to drive competitive, dynamic pricing to continually challenge competitors.

High Street retailers are already using cloud-driven big data analytics to accelerate and rationalise their own supply chain operations (for example, Zara levers such capabilities to achieve product lead times as short as two weeks from catwalk design to store). Further application of this “tech company” approach to achieve deeper supply chain and channel management integration could enable a fully converged physical and digital retail experience in 2020 that constantly exceeds customer expectations.

Context: Relevance with be a key way the in-store experience differentiates itself from digital-only channels in 2020. Whereas online personalisation arguably means funnelling a customer to a specific area of interest, a High Street retailer can also use other dynamic data and insights to enrich and contextualise this experience to create unique moments of delight only possible in the physical store environment.

By a customer choosing to share data (such as transmitting their location via their mobile’s Bluetooth capability to in-store beacons), the retailer can identify what product ranges he or she is browsing to trigger nearby interactive display screens that present more in-depth information about those items, share social media content such as user reviews or allocate a sales person to provide advice. Because the customer is in the physical retail space they are in complete control of their personalised shopping experience – moving to areas of interest based on their emotional reaction to the world around them without the limitations or constraints of a smartphone user interface. Nike’s emerging Fuel Station interactive store concept, where customers can choose to engage in different contextual situations (such as having their running style analysed when using an in-store treadmill to identify the right running shoes to enhance their performance) is one example of the potential power of in-store contextualisation that can’t be replicated digitally.

If you would like more information about how Sopra Steria can help your organisation benefit from digital transformation please contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

UN-tangling accessibility

On the occasion of 70th Anniversary of the United Nations, there has been an initiative to raise awareness about the importance of web accessibility. As a measure of immediate change, the organisation has started to improve all the UN websites.

Logo: accessibility guidelines for UN websites

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon’s thought-provoking article stresses the importance of eliminating digital barriers. This also includes a brief but highly effective video highlighting the importance of accessibility and this notable line:

Accessible websites benefit all visitors, not just those with disabilities. On an accessible website, the user is put at the centre of the experience.

This is a lesser known fact about accessibility. Apart from the obvious advantages of creating an inclusive environment and increased market reach, accessibility enhances the overall user experience by improved clarity and structure. One of the hidden benefits is improved search engine rating (in fact Google essentially is like a blind person looking for information). But above all, it is all about acknowledging the diversity in the end user community, accepting the fact that we are all differently-abled due to many factors.

I’m passionate about User Experience (UX) – improving the digital experience for the user, particularly for the disabled users. So to learn about the scale at which this is being taken up by UN is very energizing. It is high time that this topic garners the attention it deserves. It is legally, ethically and commercially important make technology a level ground for those with disabilities. A live example of its benefits is the legendary scientist Stephen Hawking who uses various assistive technologies to express himself. What a loss it would be for the world to not provide that opportunity to participate!

Today’s IT service providers have to sit up and think what they are losing by not getting their act together in terms of accessibility. In fact, it can be considered a discrimination for a service provider to host an inaccessible website and hence be subjected to legal action. However, rather than fearing accessibility for such reasons, there is a strong case for businesses to consider improving web accessibility because of the positives it brings with it. There have been glorious examples of businesses reaping benefits by making their websites accessible. There have also been some infamous stories about those who have paid a price for disregarding this aspect.

To be fair, there have been some examples where organisations have put accessibility on the top of their list, particularly where a new system is being built. For example, during the development of GOV.UK portal (Government Digital Service), I am told that the delivery would not get progressed to the live environment unless there was a complete approval on the accessibility aspect of it. However such examples are far and few between. Sadly, most seem to have chosen to push it down their ‘to do’ list. In some cases it is seen as too significant an area of impact on development processes and hence not to be taken too lightly. i.e., hold a lot of discussions rather than take any action. Why do they do that I wonder?

Existing websites, old technologies, ongoing business, impact on BAU?

Accessibility is not easy to understand. You need to involve people with disabilities to fully realise the problems. How easy is it to engage people from that community in the software development process?

ROI: is there really an audience or are we just going through a lot of hassle for a small minority?

We need specialist companies to do justice to this topic; can we afford to get them on board?

Well, let us face it, all these factors are actually very real. I very much empathise with the businesses in the challenges involved around accessibility. It is a long way to achieve the utopian idea of fully accessible websites across board. But to me, the first step is not the implementation – it is to develop the will to support accessibility, to include it in the thought process, to talk about it in meetings, to encourage innovation around it, to consider investing in it. In my opinion, there usually is not enough research done before concluding that it is not for now, it is a topic to be taken up some day in the future.

This actually calls for a change of perception and practices, a real determination to make disabled users feel more welcome. There are some immediate measures a business could take up to reflect an inclusive line of thought. For example, carrying out an audit on the existing websites to understand the current issues is a good starting point. Implementing easy fixes sometimes does not call for a huge investment. Publishing an accessibility statement on the website is another recommendable measure, to acknowledge that there are known issues and to offer the users a way to report the issues they are facing. There could be other innovative, technical solutions to accessibility issues. There is a lot businesses could do, if there is a will of course.

We might want to take a cue from the construction industry. In today’s age, there perhaps would be no new building without a lift or a ramp. Even in existing buildings, there have been excellent examples of creating an accessible route with minimal impact to the structure. It is perhaps very natural for architects and engineers to factor it in by default. It is perhaps a matter of time before accessibility in IT attains a level of importance it gets in building constructions. But we IT professionals can make it happen sooner – for the sake of 15% of world’s population, for the sake of equality and human rights, or perhaps for the sake of our own old age!

And how do we do that? By learning more about it, by raising awareness, by talking to our customers about it, by trying our best to include it in our proposals / web designs / user interfacing programs / testing activities. It is our choice to be just an audience to this initiative started by the UN or to be an active part of it.

Please spread the word!

What are your thoughts on web accessibility? Leave a message below or contact me by email.

The next digital disruption: buying B2B services using social media channels?

Digital Transformation is changing how businesses interact with customers and each other.

In this environment business-to-business (B2B) service providers face the constant threat of “digital disrupters” – new entrants who don’t fundamentally change the underlying product or service but win (or steal?) market share by leveraging new ways to interact with customers/clients and suppliers.

But couldn’t an existing B2B service provider become the digital disrupter by leveraging social media to create a new, differentiated approach to market engagement to deliver sustainable competitive advantage?

Here are some (radical?) ideas…

Customer led innovation: clients could potentially benefit from best practice about digital transformation being shared rapidly from different sectors (for example, the innovative work in UK central government and retail). A service provider could use its social media channel(s) to enable this sharing in an intuitive, dynamic way tailored to specific client needs. Furthermore, the provider could use gamification to incentivise the sharing of insights, advise directly between companies (such as discounting its services for clients providing such support). This would help position the B2B service provider’s brand as a collaborative thought leader in digital transformation.

Deepening personalisation: a provider could engage directly in all the social media activity of a client (at all levels including organisational, team and individual). Although there is a risk of appearing intrusive, it’s a way of building more intimate relationships with existing clients and sourcing new ones. This would also pro-actively complement and enhance other sales and account management approaches it uses.

Intensifying responsiveness: undoubtedly radical and reputationally risky, clients could post their complaints, issues and other feedback directly on a B2B service provider’s social media channels. The value comes from how the provider deals with these issues openly in this public space; a positive opportunity to explicitly demonstrate its strong commitment to quality service delivery.

Buy buttons: underlying these social media channel approaches would be the tools to enable a client to contact a sales representative immediately to purchase the provider’s services. Depending on the agility of the provider, potentially these services could be bought and stood up on the same day – now that’s digital transformation!

If you would like to find out more about how digital transformation can benefit your business, please leave a reply below, or contact the Sopra Steria Digital Practice.

Digital 2030: user controlled contextualisation?

Contextualisation – the art of successfully blending positioning, relationship and emotional data together to deliver a unique, personalised user experience across all channels – is expected to be a key differentiator for many companies in 2015. But what might contextualisation be like for users in 2030?

In 2030 I don’t have a smartphone – miniaturisation means all information I need (and control) is transmitted straight into my digital contact lenses (the ultimate wearable?) and micro headphones implanted in my ears.  My own personal drone provides me digital connections around the world including a secure continuous link to my cloud AI – my guide, advisor and friend throughout any customer journey.

In 2030 I shape my physical environment using augmented AND virtual reality together – if I want to make a call I use my virtual phone; likewise I can project any content I want on to any surface and share it with friends and other people in any size or resolution. The physical and data worlds are combined and I am completely in control using my cloud AI to make my life as simple as possible and protect me from real or cyber threats.

In 2030 I use contextualisation to add layers on to my customer experience – when I go shopping my cloud AI has already scanned all relevant data sources (including my own mood and friends’ social feeds) to tell me what’s hot or not in my specific location. I can also heat-map previous visits on to the physical space to see what has interested me and my friends before. If the shop doesn’t have what I want I can create a virtual prototype of the product right in front of the retail staff (with help from my AI) to help them visualise and fulfil my needs.  And of course, I don’t take any goods home with me: paid-for digital assets are stored on my cloud AI and created at home instantly on my own 3D printer.

My entire customer experience is powered by location, transactional and social data that I apply in ANY space to create my personalised, unique experience – ‘user controlled contextualisation’.

So what could this digital dream mean for business?

Marketing serves (rather than influences) individual users – to be successful, marketing differentiates itself in terms of the services it can provide users to enable them to tell their own contextualised data powered stories

Retail Spaces could be located anywhere (physical or virtual) – staff will be fully mobilised to move to areas of high user demand as required or could be outsourced anywhere in the world

A complete re-focusing of the supply chain – suppliers will have to radically re-organise their value chain and operating model to enable individuals to manufacture their products on personal demand

Software as a service is king – products and services are developed, marketed and sold primarily as soft digital assets all driven by software/SOA that can adapt instantly to any platform of the individual user’s choosing

Telecommunications become cyber security service providers  – because individuals are managing their own personal data communications across networks they are at constant risk of direct attack. Consequently, telco companies are continually, and fiercely, innovating their security capabilities (including drone services) to protect users

Pure fantasy? Let me know what you think…

How can digital lead to strategic stagnation? And how to avoid it

Responding proactively in an instant to an individual user is arguably at the heart of the digital experience.

But as a result are companies being increasingly tactical in their outlook?

I use different digital banking services from two major high street banks yet their digital channels practically look and feel the same – the difference is the product not the channel.

The other day I was comparing prices for a product across different on-line retailers; if it wasn’t for their different logos the experience was pretty much uniform across all of them. Even the big data(?) driving my personalised experience felt repetitive – probably because they were all using the same personal and social information to engage me.

I expect government information to be available digitally and all in one place – an intuitive experience like on-line retail. As a user I don’t necessarily care about how that information is produced as long as it’s accurate and doesn’t require me to go anywhere else.

To succeed, companies and organisations need to respond quicker, faster and smarter to my needs – a tactical, not a strategic response. And that’s just for one user; is there a risk that chasing competitive advantage by meeting the tactical needs of thousands or millions of users could result in a company not having sufficient resources to adapt strategically when further market disruptions occur? Or alternatively end up being dependant on technology change to innovate, differentiating the user experience rather than the company’s own products and services?

What ways can companies and organisations enjoy the benefits of digital transformation while keeping the right tactical AND strategic focus for their business?

  1. The old rules still apply: competitive advantage still comes from increasing differentiation and managing cost – give your customers what they want short- and long-term using digital only where it adds value (not the other way round)
  2. Digital is immature; it needs your guidance: use the same measures and indicators for offline vs digital channels and regularly compare their relative performance to each other (and competitors). This should indicate if your digital strategy implementation is moving in the right long term direction rather than delivering only short term tactical benefits
  3. Live and breathe Agile – even strategically; it’s not easy to move from Waterfall but the benefits of being responsive, open about failing fast enables genuine learning that creates innovation that delivers sustainable tangible business benefits

Let me know what you think…