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June 27, 2016
The future of e-commerce
By: Joy Bhattacharya

In an increasingly competitive environment, customer loyalty and repeat buying is now key to establishing a successful and sustainable business model. Central to this is ensuring that the customer experience is easy and enjoyable. In a world where more and more shopping is conducted not only online, but on mobile, apps, and using social media, that means getting ecommerce exactly right.

In the past, some retailers have tended to be behind the curve on taking advantage of ecommerce. Many of the high street’s most loved brands, not to mention major food stores, have only recently begun to offer online shopping. There is a perception that they also lag behind on other forms of technology that offer customers easy access to products, and an enjoyable experience in purchasing them.

However, thanks to both necessity and opportunity, this is now changing. There are three main drivers of this development: the liquid expectations of customers, heightened competition, and new technologies.

Liquid Expectations

Customers are increasingly applying their expectations and experiences from one industry to another. Take Uber for example – by addressing the challenge of hailing and paying for a taxi, it has made travelling more easy and efficient. This transformation sets the expectations that people should be able to have this same ease and accessibility in anything from their weekly shop to their TV watching experience.

That sense of expectation increases an already heavy burden on retailers. Why should consumers be able to browse social media from a single app, access and save articles to read, and travel, game, chat, bank, and work with ease, only to come up against a disconnected process when they want to shop?

This is not only confined to consumer facing experiences. High standards inspired by other technologically advanced industries are being applied to business-to-business transactions and processes. For retailers, whether dealing with customers or suppliers, there is no longer any place to hide from the high and constantly developing expectations of the end user.

Heightened Competition

The fact that the retail sector has become increasingly competitive, with squeezed margins and low cost competitors coming to the fore, is hardly a secret. And ever-advancing technology is only adding to that trend.

The digital world, and the technology that underpins it, has enabled brand manufacturers to go direct to market, cutting out mainstream retailers and selling at a lower rate. Discounters, aided by bulk buying abilities, efficient backroom systems, and low staff and premises costs, are also muscling into the market and building up a brand following to compete with the most established high street players.

Not all of the increased competition is based on technology of course. Aldi, one of the true success stories of recent years, has only just begun to offer a limited range of wine and non-food items online. But technology is increasingly seen as the only way to compete with various competitive threats, and to ensure that brands can survive in the new retail environment.

New Technologies

Having looked at the threats pushing retailers to consider new technology, it is also important to consider the ever-greater opportunities being afforded by new developments in technology and digital products.

Both the hardware and software that can enable an improved consumer experience are starting to mature and fit together. Improvements in the cloud, the Internet of Things, and with smart tags, are allowing retailers to consider new services at a lower price point than ever before.

These services could include anything from smart screens to smart mannequins that offer personalised content to shoppers, and from iPads to enable in-store browsing to so-called ‘magic mirrors’ that can help customers try different styles in different environments.

This new technology could put retail at the front of the queue for innovative and personalised services.

Integrating for success

You may have noticed, however, that it is rare to walk into a store and encounter any of the things mentioned above. While a lot of retailers are starting to consider these new ideas, and are even experimenting with them in isolation, the real challenge, and the place where rewards are really felt, is in bringing them all together.

That is what we are starting to do at Accenture. By combining our experience of large scale change projects with the knowledge and expertise of our digital and technology teams, we are beginning to demonstrate the real benefits of cutting edge ecommerce practices for our clients, and helping them to remain competitive and attractive in the process.

This process is not straightforward, particularly for an industry which has struggled to keep up with its peers in other sectors when it comes to utilising technology. But with the pressures created by competition, and consumer demand now greater than ever, businesses can rest assured that the technology available is increasingly able to help them shape and conquer a new retail world.

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