Xcommerce – Why Retail Must be Experiential

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By Published On: May 30, 20220 Comments

With the share price plummet this month of e-commerce unicorns Etsy and Shopify, some might question if our golden age is over. COVID precipitated a 47 percent increase in online purchases Australia-wide. But are shoppers now keen to reclaim their physical space?

That’s not the whole story, says Michele Camuri, Microsoft’s Managing Director of Global Business Applications Sales, Retail & CPG in EMEA &; Asia. “The role of the store will change. Smart companies are testing new formats and injecting resilience in their supply chains. Delivering a ‘channel-less’ commerce experience should now be at the centre of every company’s priorities.”

It’s All About the Experience

“Commerce will transition into something multi-dimensional that enables customers to be embedded in the experience,” Camuri predicts. But prepare for, you guessed it, more disruption. “The big bet is around experiential shopping and how to bring it to life in a multidimensional way.”

Retailers still need to create an intimate relationship between the customer and products. And the store is not the only place that engagement will happen. “The focus is the experience: and this requires a step-change in companies’ culture and technology choices,” Camuri says. “It might start with online exploration and then move to a mixed reality interaction and from there go into the store.”

He sees experiential retail as the evolution of consumer expectation, with the lines of online and offline retail blurring. “We need to reconsider e-commerce as a multidimensional omnichannel experience.”

How to Handle Hyper-Personalisation

“You can’t make a truly personal experience, either in-store or e-commerce, without a really good understanding of what data you have available,” says Brion Reusche, Worldwide Solution Strategy Director – Dynamics 365 Commerce for Microsoft.

“Volume of data is not the problem. The discussion needs to be about data strategy. We need to pull all these different data sources together to be coherent.”

But data is also being hit by disruption. With the devolution of third-party, every business needs a strong first-party data strategy through a platform that gives insight into consumers’ preferences, behaviours and shopping history.

This can support the customisation and curation of an e-commerce experience, but there’s a kind of ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with those who provide it. “As a customer, I assume that sharing my data will provide me with value,” says Reusche. “As soon as you violate that trust, if you use it in a way that isn’t authentic, I’m going to be more reluctant to share it.”

GDPR and other requirements also muddy the waters. “The regulatory regimes of various cloud providers and governmental entities are really difficult for retailers to keep up with,” Reusche notes that data sovereignty and the ability to rely on a platform being up to date and compliant, end-to-end, is a safer bet than taking the risk of passing information between multiple point solutions and niche providers.

Reusche points to the native intelligence of cloud technologies like Microsoft Azure to reason over the sea of information and plucks out insights that companies might not even think to question. With a sharper view of the customer journey, companies will be able to influence it, step-by-step, to achieve deeper loyalty.

What About Business Customers?

Sure, it’s been far less analysed than consumer behaviours, but COVID shook up the status quo even more for retailers and their wholesalers, distributors and manufacturers. “For years, they relied on sales reps who had direct relationships with merchants,” describes Reusche. “They’d get on planes to talk to them. Obviously, Covid completely disrupted that.”

Because of this, most B2B e-commerce platforms were lacking. Then retailers started behaving more like consumers, with higher expectations of e-commerce. “Suddenly, this was the primary form of interaction and distributors needed to provide a consumeresque experience.”

B2B buyers have a very different persona – they’re looking for efficiency and to meet their budget. But that doesn’t mean they don’t want an online service that’s as good as they’re used to in their personal life. As Reusche puts it: “Now the B2B buyer expects the UI and the UX to be as slick as what the B2C buyer gets.”

Enter Innovation Economics

From his base in Europe, Camuri sees other forces taking the mantle from COVID as chief global disruptor. “We’re going through a war in Europe. Inflation is skyrocketing. Everybody is scrambling for talent.” These pressures mean savvy businesses are seeking operational efficiencies.

“A manufacturer might go direct to consumer and start gathering data so they can personalise the experience. Increasingly it’s also influencing the products themselves. By understanding what the consumer wants, they can evolve products much faster.”

The same approach is applicable in a quest for sustainability. Starting with a data-driven approach, companies can build digital, integrated, transparent and agile supply chains. And this is the first step toward adopting sustainable practices at scale.

Putting Agility Into Practice

With the expectation that an order placed today will arrive in a few hours, agility needs to be the cornerstone of every digital strategy, every e-commerce strategy, and every omnichannel strategy.

“Innovation is about nimbleness,” says Reusche. “An agile technology ecosystem allows you to think of things and try them out in a rapid and cost-efficient fashion.”

Microsoft’s efforts to create an experience that resonates with customers played out during COVID. With numerous retail stores globally, in the early days of the pandemic, they had to rethink those interactions. “Because we couldn’t offer service in a physical centre, we armed our retail employees with the tools to engage with customers virtually,” says Reusche.

Now, customers can still sign up for training and service – and whether digitally or physically, they still receive face-to-face human interaction. In flagship New York, London and Sydney Experience Centres, customers have an immersive way to touch the latest technology. It’s a textbook case of agility enabling beautiful customer relationships.

Sign up for a free 30-minute webinar to learn how Microsoft transformed their Experience Centres into omnichannel powerhouses.

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