Online sales picked up during the pandemic, but now that customers are back to shopping in stores, retailers need to think through their entire shopping journey, according to Kevin Fried, industry director of retail at Google.
Fried, during his presentation at the summit, titled “Navigating Through the Next Phase of Digital Transformation,” showed a chart related to online sales growth and said, “what you’ll also notice in that spike is that it’s returned back to the originally projected numbers pre-COVID[-19]. Meaning people have returned to stores.”
Consumer shopping has evolved, and so, too, the entire customer journey and experience, he said.
“And while fulfillment and transaction may happen in many different areas, the actual beginning of the decision journey is digital,” Fried said. “Now, of course, this also has meaningful implications for your business.”
Throughout the pandemic, Fried and his team saw “that retailers that were considered digitally advanced or digitally savvy picked up five points of market share on their non-digital competitors. Meaning, if retailers are not leaned into digital, they’re losing share to their competitors that are.”
But it is not too late for those who are behind to catch up, he said.
First, retailers and brands need to get their “tech stack in order and automate whenever possible,” he said. “We didn’t have the tools that we have now two-and-a-half years ago to be able to inform optimization decisions and things that machines can just physically do better at this point than humans. The next is to engage with people on the platforms that they’re using. People are on digital platforms, researching their purchases. Making sure that you are present within those environments matters.”
Fried suggested merchants remove friction wherever possible. “I sometimes laugh because I go through all of the checkout experience of all the different clients that we have, and then I shop with them physically in stores as well. When I go to the store, the experience is meticulous. The checkout experience has been optimized to get me out as quickly as possible, to get me the help that I need.”
“When I check out digitally, often I’m sent to one page where I have to put my items in a cart, I’m sent to another page where I have to pay for them, I’m sent to another page where I have to tell people where they’re going to be shipped,” he said. “I’m sent to another page to confirm. It comes through my email. And the whole experience is incredibly clunky.”
Derek Yarbrough, chief marketing officer at J. Crew Group, joined Fried to discuss how the apparel brand navigated its digital transformation.
“First and foremost it’s about recognizing that the customer is in the driver’s seat,” Yarbrough said. “Obviously, as you spoke to, there’s more touch points, more platforms of engagement than ever before. We’re now in a time where it’s about capturing the consumer’s attention. Embracing that fluidity is really important because customer journeys are anything but linear. It’s just really, again, meeting the customer where they are, embracing that fluidity.”
Yarbrough said J. Crew’s transformation hinges on being “customer first.”
“If you embrace that mentality, putting the customer at the center, and [you design] your tech stack around the customer. Customer data is actually the core of your tech stack. That, I think, is the key to transformation,” he said.
“I would even go further to say maybe something provocative is that we’re past digital transformation. The best term, I would call it, is ‘post-digital transformation.’ If your brand didn’t accelerate three to five years during the pandemic, there’s probably a problem in your company,” he continued.
Opportunities lie in capturing people’s attention, Yarbrough contended.
“We’ve moved into this new era where consumers are really driven by inspiration and creativity,” Yarbrough said. “And you’re seeing that not just in fashion, but television. And music, there’s so much creativity right now. First and foremost, it’s about capturing their imagination through great storytelling. And there are so many platforms, so I think it’s really diversifying your approach, making sure you’re creating great content and then using that content to capture people, their information, whatever. And the second they’re in your ecosystem, using what you know about them to deliver better and better experiences. So that’s key. It’s part of the idea of building a relationship with someone.”