By Chris Griffiths, managing partner – customer experience, REPL Group, part of Accenture
Of all the many COVID-driven changes in consumer behaviour in the last 12 months, perhaps the most significant has been the rapid growth in e-commerce.
Stuck at home, consumers ordered online in their droves, bumping up digital sales across almost every category, and pushing up UK e-commerce as a whole by a whopping 46% in 2020.
What’s more, rapid as the change may have been, there is no signs it will dissipate as quickly, even once the outbreak subsides. Accenture predicts a 169% sustained increase in e-commerce purchases from new or low frequency users going forward.
For retailers, appealing to these new digital-savvy post-pandemic shoppers isn’t as simple as upping their online game either. Instead, they’ll need to craft a seamless purchase journey between the physical and the digital. Think complete consistency between a store and a website. Digital technologies that complement bricks and mortar. Friction-free shopping in other words, regardless of whether you’re in store or on a smartphone.
For retailers constrained by legacy architecture this can create major challenges.
So, to best deliver on these evolving consumer expectations, focus on three core steps.
First, adopt an approach of unified commerce. Simply put, aim for one experience, for all channels. Post-pandemic 84% of shoppers plan to purchase via retail apps, 80% by social media networks, 77% on company websites, and 78% in stores, according to Accenture research. Reflect this with a consistent front-end experience across all customer-facing channels.
In sales, look beyond mobile and desktop to engage shoppers across social networks, video streaming and IoT devices too. In fulfilment, create a real-time view of inventory with distributed order management (DOM). And with delivery, prioritize flexibility in the options provided, be it curbside pick-up, drive-through or secure lockers in third-party locations.
Next, to deliver this seamless experience for consumers, adopt an infrastructure made up of composable enterprise.
Think of this approach as strategic building blocks incrementally creating change, rather than knocking down the whole building at once. Or, as Gartner sums it up: “An organisation that delivers business outcomes and adapts to the pace of business change. It does this through the assembly and combination of packaged business capabilities (PBCs). PBCs are application building blocks that have been purchased or developed.”
For retailers with a legacy architecture, this approach provides a viable alternative to full digital transformation, as PBCs create a nimble means to update and keep relevant monolithic applications, without the need to completely redevelop existing capabilities.
It’s highly effective too. By 2023, organisations that have adopted a composable approach will outpace competition by 80% in the speed of new feature implementation, according to Gartner.
Retailers shouldn’t leap in blind though. In particular, it’s critical to make sure all the right operational infrastructures are in place first. Does the workforce have the right technical expertise? Do processes around decision-making allow for agility and speed? Where appropriate are there external partnerships that deliver technical expertise? Plan ahead to secure all the potential benefits.
Finally, with unified commerce, facilitated by composable enterprise, retailers can look to the end goal: business agility. In simple terms, an operating environment that allows a business to pivot, to change pace and to respond to the evolving demands and expectations of their consumers. Or, even simpler, a business ideally positioned to react to the demands of the post-pandemic shopper.
Beyond creating a seamless purchase journey, there are so many benefits to greater agility within an organisation. Take the timeline from idea to execution for new propositions. Invariably it’s held up by lack of consumer data, clunky collaboration along the supply chain or a lack of clarity around decision-making. With business agility front and centre of each step, this timeline gets a whole lot shorter. Then there are more empowered business teams, with individual members all encouraged to identify problems and execute solutions.
All of this feeds into the bottom line. Research shows that companies with organisational agility see improved financial performance of between 20-30%
At the end of the day, no retailer should expect an end to COVID-related restrictions to mark a return to pre-COVID consumer habits. To truly future-proof a business for the post-pandemic shopper, it’s vital to prioritise investment in creating a seamless, friction-free transition from the online to the offline.
Yes, this might seem like a daunting prospect. Particularly for those retailers with a legacy architecture. But by creating unified commerce, with a composable enterprise structure, businesses of all shape, size and specialism can deliver business agility, and set themselves up for the new normal, whatever form that may take.