Guest Blog - Online Retail Q&A
Christina Grzasko, Managing Director at Anya Media, shares her thoughts with Quest on the growth of e-commerce.
What do you feel is the best way for retailers to use their online and social media presence to understand their customer?
Retailers need to follow the old maxim, ‘no one size fits all’. Instead of ‘second guessing’ their core customers, they should focus on engaging with them to find out what they are doing and thinking and what motivates their buying decisions. Most of all, they need to understand what their customers are using technology for and why.
If, for example, the retailers’ customers are mainly retired; they may venture online occasionally to surf the internet but rarely, if ever, to visit sites like Facebook and Twitter, and so no social media strategy, however sophisticated, will reach them. The retailer’s own website should be the online customer engagement tool of choice.
If, on the other hand, the target audience consists mainly of girls in the 14-18 age bracket, for example, retailers will probably need to be actively online much of the time and engaging with them closely on social media.
There is evidence that consumers base purchasing decisions on reviews and recommendations from friends; why do you think this is and to what extent do you feel that retailers make the most of this?
People want their peer group to approve any retail decision they make because they know if they do, they will be liked for that decision. This is a basic psychological need and one that drives our need to shop.
Retailers often struggle to focus their buying strategy on customers’ reviews and recommendations and few play this game well. While there are some good independent shops that get it right, most of the big chains merely pay lip service to it.
Amazon is an example of a larger retailer which does make the most of this driver for purchasing decisions. It has focused on developing customer recommendations and highlighting where customers that bought one item went on to purchase another. In this way, it has effectively created a peer group around specific products, thereby giving ‘approval’ to buy early in a customer’s decision-making process. This is a brilliant example of a retailer using recommendations in the right way - and others should learn from it.
What skills do you feel are a must for anyone looking to get into or progress in an E-commerce role?
If you are interested in any retail role, whether e-commerce related or not, you need to love shopping. People who do will enjoy the process of learning how stores tell their story. Every time they walk into a store, they will be finding out more about retail from the environment in which they find themselves.
The same rules of attraction, desire and fascination that apply in visual merchandising and in physical ‘bricks and mortar’ stores, also apply in e-commerce. At the beginning of an e-commerce career, this love of shopping needs to be married to a good sense of the technical.
To progress further, however, people need to understand the whole mechanics of e-commerce and how it helps them get useful feedback from customers. Retailers who use e-commerce techniques properly have much more visibility of their virtual footfall and of how people behave online on their site.
This in turn gives them much greater flexibility to enhance existing processes or to ‘change tack’ on processes or initiatives that are not working.
We know from the Budget that a huge investment is to be made in Wi-Fi access in the coming years; how do you think this will affect the retail sector in particular?
The move will strengthen the position of the consumer. The faster Wi-Fi access becomes, the more people will use it and the more they will expect from retailers. Ultimately, however, this is an area where retailers should let customers guide them.
After all, if the Government’s planned investment in Wi-Fi gives the retail sector the impetus it urgently needs to fully take advantage of the benefits of online retail that has to be a positive development. Retailers won’t be hampered by connectivity speeds, so they will no longer have any excuse for not establishing a strong online presence.
What upcoming trends do you imagine having a presence in the online retail world in the months ahead?
It is easy to get caught up in talking about the ‘next big thing’ in retail. In today’s difficult economic environment, in particular, retailers need to focus first on what is in front of them.
They need to concentrate on driving customer engagement and profiling and getting their buying decisions and their e-commerce strategy right before they divert time and resources into the latest up-and-coming trend.