A customer is for life; not just for the sales

Black Friday. Cyber Monday. Pre-Christmas & January sales. The cold, winter months are enlivened in the world of retail with a shopping bonanza for the savvy consumer. These high-profile sales see shoppers in a frenzy as they seek out the best bargains, both online and on the high street.

Then what? Once the furore has calmed down and normal service is resumed, how do you nurture these customers to ensure long-term loyalty to your brand?

The key is to keep them happy at every step of their interaction with you. They must receive an effortless service, when they want it and from where. More often than not, today’s customers also want instant gratification: to immediately know that what they’ve bought will be with them faster than ever before.

How to achieve this is the topic of a paper that I have recently published, ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’. In it I make the case for what’s increasingly referred to as ‘unified commerce’. This is true omnichannel retailing (as opposed to just operating multi channels) that sees retailers delivering a seamless customer experience, regardless of which touchpoints they use. Unified commerce demands the fully integration and alignment of processes, systems and applications across both the back office and customer-facing channels.

Theory v reality

While the theory behind this makes absolute sense, the practical reality is that few retailers are truly achieving omnichannel status. The target is to enable a single enterprise-wide customer view, supported by the alignment of product data, pricing, promotion, procurement and inventory management. So why isn’t this happening?

An obvious reason is the siloed approach many retailers take to their operations. With each customer touchpoint (online, in-store, mobile, B2B sales, customer services, etc.) operated as a standalone entity, it is impossible to achieve a consistent customer experience across them. Even the way retail employees are managed in these siloes is a barrier to omnichannel success. As I point out in my paper, to be truly omnichannel, it’s important that all areas of the business are governed by consistent processes, incentives, measurements and ways of working. This means that decisions on remuneration and incentive schemes should be made at the very highest level of the business.

Technology too

The above is very much about a cultural shift, but technology too is an enabler of unified commerce. To deliver repeatedly and reliably at pace, retailers need to invest in cloud-ready infrastructure and they must automate at every opportunity – infrastructure and environment provisioning, application code build, deployment and promotion of application code and, of course, testing.

While cloud-native retailers are set up for this, the same isn’t true of traditional retailers. They are faced with the challenge of marrying legacy with new disruptive platforms and approaches in a genuinely omnichannel model. There are a number of ways to achieve this and, at Sopra Steria, we’re working with many organisations to help them modernise their IT so that they both unlock the value of current systems and keep pace with disruptive new entrants.

In the end, keeping your customers happy, not just during the sales season, but for the long term, begins with how you create and sustain a seamless customer journey. That’s everything customer facing and everything behind the scenes, such as logistics and fulfilment, as well as in the back office.

Download ‘Rethinking your retail business around the customer journey and experience’

For more information on Sopra Steria’s approach to applications modernisation and unified commerce, contact me on Gary.Ellwood@soprasteria.com

Reflections on London Technology Week 2016

 Last week our feet didn’t touch the ground. Throwing ourselves into the annual jamboree of London Technology Week, we were blown away by the vibrancy and energy of the experience. As a dynamic, innovation team, we’re always open to great insights from the cutting edge of tech. And yet, we made surprising discoveries, courtesy of the tech festival’s diverse contributors, on the four consecutive ‘Digital Breakfast Bites’ we hosted.

On Monday, for us it was all about the challenge of moving beyond the prototype. In a lively canter through Blockchain, we investigated the state of play for shared ledgers and how this seemingly unregulated and risky technology can not only work alongside a large enterprise, but be used to enhance their regulatory compliance and security.

On Tuesday, we learnt how great service design is shaping the banks of the future. Stepping out of the wilderness of fintech, we discussed how the foundations of great UX and customer centric design are shared across all industries, and how a fundamental grass-roots upheaval is required by the big players in the banking sector to keep up with innovative new challenger banks.

Wednesday saw us enter the store of the future, with a whistle-stop tour of the technologies and interfaces that are being used to engage with the customer. From virtual reality to motion sensing, we explored how all digital experiences are linked by the fundamental desire to gather and analyse data and to better understand our customers.

On Thursday we traversed the vast reaches of ‘Digital at Scale’, where large enterprises tackle the nexus of digital technology and legacy platforms. We saw how the two, apparently irreconcilable powers can have a symbiotic and not mutually exclusive relationship.

And that’s where we left it – with belief in the reconciliation of two opposable forces to achieve a transformational outcome. Quite apposite you’d think for a week marked by a referendum of tumultuous consequences. When the dust has settled we’ll still be reflecting on the great experiences we has as a London Technology Week host. Bring on 2017.

Did you participate in a London Technology Week 2016 event? Leave your comment below, or contact me by email.