As hesitant as some were, the pandemic successfully welcomed even the most stubborn consumers and retailers into the digital landscape as digitalization became a must-have rather than a nice-to-have.
In this changing retail climate, Scalefast, a global e-commerce solution provider that helps brands launch online stores, saw companies encounter demand like never before. New needs emerged, not only for the slow-to-adopt but also for those experiencing overwhelmed operations and system flaws revealing themselves under pressure.
Scalefast told WWD that while e-commerce sites were created to serve broad needs, one size does not fit all and to truly use technology to its fullest, understanding that the consumer is ever-changing is key.
Here, Dan Wallace-Brewster, Senior Vice President of Marketing at Scalefast, shares insights about the evolution of the retailer to consumer relationship, how brands can take ownership of consumer relationships and how to utilize technology to bolster every experience.
Fairchild Media Group: How has the way legacy brands connect with consumer changed over time?
Dan Wallace-Brewster: Brands used to have a very personal relationship with their customers. And, in fact, many fashion CEOs were originally the creative director and head designer and couldn’t be successful without an almost intimate knowledge of who their customer was. Pre-digital, there was almost always some face-to-face interaction with customers, either in their brand’s own doors or by their distributors who contributed to a feedback loop to the designer.
In many ways e-commerce has de-personalized shopping to a great extent and customers have become “carts.” Common courtesy was supplanted by wonky AI and automation that made experts think that traditional retail models were never going to completely go away. Then the pandemic crashed that party.
Slow adopters of e-commerce on both the seller and consumer side now had no choice. This not only boosted traditionally strong e-commerce categories but created new categories that will now be commonly bought online. There’s a tailwind behind these categories staying online because of improvements in payment and subscription solutions that makes it easier for customers to continue online vs. reverting back to pre-COVID buying behavior.
FMG: How does technology enable a brand to provide a more curated experience for the consumer?
D.W.B.: First, it’s important to clarify that technology shouldn’t be the sole domain of e-commerce. When used correctly, technology should be enabling sellers to serve buyers across all channels – and that means a free flow of consumption data between a customer’s online and offline preferences and behaviors.
Customers want a curated experience and they will provide the connectors like a cell phone or email address to make that possible, if they are asked politely and the information isn’t abused. From there, customer data platforms can serve as a hub between point-of-sale and e-commerce systems to inform both digital and physical shopping experiences.
FMG: How has Scalefast helped to make specialization more practical for brands?
D.W.B.: E-commerce platforms were designed to serve as broad an assortment of retail use cases as possible – to use a metaphor, they were designed like a station wagon to serve every conceivable need from brand building to product liquidation. Customization of those platforms requires significant investments of time and money, making brands heavily invested in a product that, like a car, began depreciating as soon as they drove it off the lot.
When a brand wants to expand to a new territory or better segment by customer or the market’s demands change, like they did in the pandemic, the e-commerce platform is difficult, if not impossible to adapt.
Scalefast offers a different approach. Scalefast has a set of solutions that are quick to market and serve the pressing need of the brand at that time, almost as if they are renting the car they need for a particular trip. A family road trip may require an SUV with lots of room for luggage. A drive up the coast for the weekend may require a convertible. And, if your main vehicle is in the shop, you might want a comfortable sedan.
Scalefast gives brands the luxury of access to all of these solutions on an as-needed basis, including all the maintenance, gas and GPS to get to their goal destination. Recently, this has taken the form of employee/friends and family stores or quickly spinning up international markets. Other stores could be dedicated to flash sales, VIPs or re-sale. Retail is a dynamic landscape with change accelerating at an exponential place.
FMG: How can brands use technology to adapt to every stage of the consumer lifecycle?
D.W.B.: Retail technology is best when it is replicating what we already know works in a store, at scale. A trained associate is looking for signals when a shopper walks in the door. Are they shopping for themselves or for a gift? Are they a value shopper? Are they in a hurry? Are they familiar with the store?
A good e-commerce technology takes all of these factors into account simultaneously for thousands of visitors at a time, guiding them to a successful result as efficiently as possible. And, a successful result doesn’t always mean a purchase – it could just mean information or validation or even enjoyment. Good technology doesn’t care and doesn’t need to alienate one customer to fulfill the needs of another.
Today, the relationship with a consumer begins on social media. Whether it’s a follower being impacted by an influencer or a highly personalized advertising campaign based on data mining through someone’s social graph, it starts with a customer wanting to learn more about that brand. The brand’s first awareness of that customer may take the form of a like before a visit to the home page, but it helps begin a dialog that informs where the relationship goes from there.
FMG: How can brands use owning resale to capture luxury aspiring audiences?
D.W.B.: In the luxury space, a significant barrier to expanding an audience is price. Luxury brands have long treated their customers more like collectors than consumers, re-enforcing the exclusivity that maintains their place at the top of a given category. Unfortunately, that exclusivity can come at the expense of years of relationship-building that could result in a loyal high-value customer down the line.
Digital has democratized the luxury brand-to-customer relationship for better and worse. Luxury products are more attainable than ever, but so are counterfeit and substandard products and experiences from unscrupulous sellers. Brands can take control of this aspirational buyer experience through their own digital channels to make sure that it is a positive one from the very outset.
FMG: To that end, can owning the relationship with the consumer lead to making better decisions and ultimately create less waste?
D.W.B.: The use of customer data is currently viewed with skepticism for valid privacy concerns, but satisfied customers are more than willing to share feedback and information with brands they trust. Meanwhile, brand product and sales teams can live in data silos with very little sharing of intelligence.
Customer preferences, whether they be wholesale or direct-to-consumer, can change on a dime. Direct-to-consumer relationships, without the filter of middle-men, clears the condensation that obscures the view of what and how much consumers want. The more data that can flow freely from customers to product, the better the product will suit the market’s feature and volume demands.
Brands who have complete organizational transparency to the preferences and moods of their end-consumers can make better decisions that only improve with each season. It’s an oversimplification, but higher product utilization creates higher value in the primary and secondary markets, reducing pre and post-consumer waste.