According to Statista, the percentage of people shopping online in the UK has increased by 75% within the past year, so it should come as little surprise that 80% of people believe that it is important for brands to have a consumer-friendly website or app. With more online traffic and higher expectations from consumers than ever before, the online user experience has never been more important. It is vital that brands realise that ahead of the biggest retail event of the year.
Stirista spoke to a range of industry experts to hear their thoughts on how technology can aid performance this festive season, beginning with Black Friday.
Catering to Demand
Following the events of the past 18 months, consumers have become increasingly expectant, demanding the same convenient options that they were offered throughout lockdowns. They need to evolve, according to Halil Aksu, CEO and co-founder of Digitopia, who explains that digital transformation is the key to remaining agile.
“Retail is one of the fastest, most competitive, ever-changing industries out there,” begins Aksu. Einstein said, ‘Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.’ Retailers and eCommerce sites must understand that they can’t compete with traditional methods from the previous century. They must evolve”.
“In order to cater to the increasing demands of consumers, retailers must turn to digital transformation if they want to survive. Digital gives businesses speed, intelligence, and flexibility to adapt quickly to market changes and consumer expectations. It enables them to provide better experiences for consumers, employees, and business partners. Digital will also allow retailers to better manage their organisation.”
Improved user experience leads to brand favorability
In order to provide a seamless user experience, it is vital to have accurate and sufficient knowledge about the customer. In other words, businesses must know about their customers’ preferences, likes, and dislikes. According to Quentin Paquot, CEO of Qualifio, “Digital channels are the most effective way to reach consumers in today’s environment” and brands need to understand how they “can stand out and serve customers in such a competitive environment”.
Paquot continues, “Many companies are turning to interactive content and gamification to provide audiences with unique experiences that drive consumer engagement, spread brand awareness and build trust while collecting valuable and actionable data. Using content such as advent calendars, quizzes or polls, brands can engage and entertain consumers while providing a high-quality customer experience on Black Friday.
“As a result, they can then create long term relationships with audiences through marketing campaigns that leverage the buzz created around the festive season to improve sales, create return customers and build brand loyalty.”
However, while interactive content helps brands to engage target audiences, there is more to it than simply generating immediate sales, claims Paquot: “By using this interactive content to attract users, brands can also utilise the zero-party data gathered from their interactions to continue to target consumers more accurately throughout the entire festive season.
“Not only will interactive content allow them to target specific audiences much more accurately with formats that are well received and enhance the user experience, but it also ensures the company remains completely GDPR compliant during Black Friday,” adds Paquot.
However, Lysa Campbell, CEO at Retail Marketing Group opines that while digital channels are useful, the high street itself cannot be ignored. “The last Black Friday adapted to become entirely online, yet this year, the annual event must adopt a more hybrid environment framework, with some consumers eager to browse in stores but also finding it easier to buy the best deals online.”
The role of eCommerce and SEO
“The last year has meant that retail as a whole has had to evolve drastically, not only to cater to economic challenges generated from the pandemic, but also to a new more digital savvy consumer”, continues Campbell.
Last year, online sales recorded a 13-year high with a 36% of YOY increase. Ahead of Black Friday, consumers already have an idea of what they will be looking out for, according to Ailen Li, Head of Sales for North America at Nedap Retail, who claims they will search for products via online channels ahead of time.
“In addition to planning ahead, an increasing number of consumers are choosing to pick up items themselves using omnichannel services, which includes the options of curbside pick-up and BOPIS (Click & Collect), using retailers as accessible omnichannel hubs,” explains Li.
She adds, “One of the most important aspects for retailers when preparing for Black Friday and Christmas respectively is securing sales across all channels without overstocking or canceling orders. Despite many consumers still believing the best deals are made in-store, Black Friday mobile spending went up to 40% last year”.
Technology as an aura for user experience
Retailers recognise that technology is a great facilitator for improved customer experience. Customer service is no longer solely a face to face interaction, as more consumers are opting for transactions that happen at the touch of a button, from the comfort of their own homes.
Furthermore, “The consumer has moved online, a large portion of inventory still sits in stores. Securing the sale across all channels starts with knowing where items are located in retail supply chains. This requires a single view on inventory in order to prevent waste and losses through RFID technology.” suggests Li from Nedap Retail.
“Consolidating multiple inventories into a single view on stock provides retailers with a better understanding of their sellable items and increases overall merchandise availability. This way, retailers can secure a sale without disappointing customers. Using RFID technology, a sold item is immediately assigned the correct status, preventing it from being accidentally sold again, resulting in a cancelled order”.
Attracting the Right Audiences
As retailers look to capitalise on increased Black Friday activity, Dal Gill, VP Global Partnerships at Seedtag explains that the user experience begins from their very first interaction with brands, and brands must keep this in mind for their advertising campaigns.
“The question for many brands lies in how they can best approach the 2021 festive season from an advertising perspective, as they aim to capture the attention of consumers in the digital world,” Gill explains.
“As cookies begin to be phased out, there has never been a better time to explore other solutions. The answer comes in the form of artificial intelligence (AI) – and more specifically, contextual AI. This year, contextual targeting can play a pivotal role in helping brands to maximise their returns on Black Friday. The technology allows brands to track and analyse consumer interests around the event, and can even take data from previous years to help brands fully utilise Black Friday content published across the most premium sites, without the need to use personal data.”
Gill further adds, “As we approach the festive season, competition for effectively reaching audiences becomes considerably fiercer. Through contextual targeting, not only can brands reach those targets, but the ads they serve will help uplift engagement and improve brand favorability.”
As we head toward the festive season, it’s clear that the user experience will play a pivotal role in helping brands to succeed. From first contact in ads right through to the in-store experience itself, catering to customer demands has never been more important, and technology can play a huge part in facilitating that success this year.