Life Through Digital Colored Glasses.
The future is digital.
We’ve all heard this before. But what does it really mean? As technology continues to grow and expand, what impact does it have on our daily lives? For brands, how do they integrate and optimize customer experience in this new digital landscape?
Many people think of the digital age and the technology to come as the end to life as we know it – especially when it comes to certain brands or industries. The collapse of brick-and-mortar stores is a fear many harbor, big brother comes to mind, robots taking over jobs is an AI detractor's bread and butter. This begs the question – should we fear and resist a digital future? Or, does a digital future give us the opportunity to grow, change, and do better?
The evolution of the retail shopping experience
True or False: The brick-and-mortar retail industry is dying.
Many people’s first reaction to this is, "TRUE". Of course it’s true – Amazon is taking over, isn’t it? Everyone buys everything online and in-store shopping is a thing of the past.
Well, not to burst Amazon’s bubble, the statements above are absolutely false. In fact, brick-and-mortar store sales contributed to almost half of all retail sales from 2012 – 2016. Brick-and-mortar sales are also projected to continue growing at a 1.7% rate over the next few years. However, these supportive statistics don't tell the whole story. The role of the brick-and-mortar store will evolve over time as digital continues to expand.
A prime example of this evolution is the “guideshop.” A guideshop is a storefront owned by a digital-first brand that doesn’t actually sell anything in-store. The focal point of the guideshop experience is this: Allow for a unique, enjoyable customer experience – making the consumer the main focus, not the sale.
By prioritizing the customer experience, not the in-store sale, the probability of converting awareness to purchase increases. Replacing the pushy sales pitch with a customized unique experience gives the consumer the opportunity to engage with the product on their terms. They leave knowledgeable about the products offered and are able to purchase the exact products they want with the ease and convenience online shopping offers.
Great in-store experience + Consumer getting exactly what they want + Ease and convenience of e-commerce = Win for brands.
This model of customer service is also much more likely to turn consumers into evangelists as it has put them and their satisfaction at the center of the entire transaction, not the sale. This is what today’s consumers are craving when engaging with brands – authenticity from the brand and a focus on their satisfaction, not an overt priority to the company’s bottom line.
Brands like Bonobos and Warby Parker have been on the leading edge when it comes to bringing a digital business into the physical world - and many brands have begun to follow their lead in attempts to nail the seamless digital-to-physical or physical-to-digital customer experience.
Interior Define – digital native store referred to by Austin News as “The Warby Parker of Furniture”
A final, more bottom-line focused benefit of the guideshop model is that these storefronts need minimum inventory in the physical stores, which reduces operation and management costs immensely within the store itself. Rather than shipping inventory to stores, which requires delivery management, inventory management, and in-store sales management, the product is ordered online and then shipped directly to the customer from the company’s warehouse. All of this results in: less people and product to manage, less money spent on the various lines of management, more satisfied customers, and more money going toward the company’s bottom line.
Is the guideshop the future of retail? Time will tell.
However, one thing is for sure – digital did not kill the brick-and-mortar store. Retail is not dead, and the brick-and-mortar store lives on adapting to an ever-increasing digital landscape.
The deal with data: Getting consumers the right content
Global Facebook scandals, Russian bots, high-security breaches - this is part of the reality we face in the digital age. There are justifiable anxieties that come with the immense amount of data that is created and stored as people, companies, and governments continue to increase their reliance on digital in every facet of life and work. Data security is a huge concern for many, as it rightly should be – and there are those whose entire job is making sure data is protected from all possible threats.
But let’s pump the brakes on the discussion of the riskier side of digital (as it truly deserves its own time and space to be discussed) and take a look at what most of that data is actually being used for – in one word, marketing. Almost every piece of data collected is being used in some sort of marketing-esque capacity, in order to influence consumer behavior or better the experience a brand is offering. This may sound like an invasion of privacy or even a breach of trust between consumers and the brands they love – but if a brand is serving consumers content that they know they’ll love, is that not a win-win for both consumer and brand?
As we’ve seen from the quick and wide-spread adoption of TiVo, DVRs, and on-demand streaming services, most people do not like to watch ads. They fast-forward through ads or watch on services that they know won’t serve them any ads. Any time they are forced to watch an ad, it feels encroaching. Why does it feel that way to consumers? Because they have no interest in the ads they are being served.
83% of people agree with the statement, "Not all ads are bad, but I want to filter out the really obnoxious ones." (1)
What does this tell us? Consumers want to see ads, but they want to see ads that mean something to them. Another statistic from the same study revealed:
77% agree with the statement "I wish there were a way to ad-filter instead of ad-block completely." (1)
At the moment, there is no way for consumers to filter the ads they are served without taking the initiative to do so each time a new ad pops up on their feed. However, with data collected through a consumer’s digital journey, marketers can act as the filter the consumers are looking for.
Ads then become a welcomed source of information and sometimes inspiration, rather than an intrusive, meaningless annoyance to be suffered by consumers. Successful social media marketers have already adopted these tactics and are able to convert consumers without being so “in your face” with their messages. The messages appear in the consumer's feed as if they are supposed to be there, and the savviest marketers ensure the messages are nonintrusive and not interrupting the consumer's desired content with a message that means nothing to them – doing so would risk alienating consumer's from a brand.
As this type of hyper-targeted messaging continues to grow alongside technology and data capabilities, things like point of sale, digital OOH, and TV/video streaming service advertising precision will increase and highly relevant, real-time advertising will become the norm. This new way of marketing is being created by using multiple sets of data to create a 360-degree view of consumers and their journeys.
Consumers are being met in their own space and rather than having to search for and find products themselves, they are being served targeted ads for products they want. When brands take the onus upon themselves to find consumers where they are, marketing messages become a source of convenience as opposed to an annoyance a consumer must get past to reach the content they really want. Casting the widest net will fade as a primary mode of marketing as it disaffects consumers who may not want to hear a specific type of message, and targeted, relevant messaging will be the standard brands have to live up to.
The opportunity for efficient, sustainable production in the digital age
As data capabilities grow, the ability to track and manage inventory becomes optimized, with errors in reporting diminishing. From this accurate reporting, companies become more efficient at estimating demand, and from that efficacy the amount of product manufactured becomes closer to the actual volume of product sold. This is huge for companies with a commitment to sustainability, as well as being a benefit to their bottom line. Efficiency is one marketing objective that actually benefits everyone – waste is curbed, and wasteful spending is eliminated.
As the Internet of Things (IoT) continues to grow and expand alongside AI, we could very well live in a future where purchase data is directly linked to production centers. If this becomes the case, with near perfection prevision, what is produced is only what will be purchased by consumers. The guideshop model previously mentioned is the perfect example of how this synergy between data, digital technology, and consumer would benefit us all – products could be manufactured only once the customer has placed an order, and it would happen instantaneously without the need for a human middleman pushing the order through. This would save time, money, and the inefficiency of a warehouse full of stock that may or may not be sold.
In a world where waste is something we must actively combat, a future in which brands can ensure that only what will be purchased is produced is a step in the right direction.
It's a digital life
In the burgeoning digital age, companies and brands are being put to work for consumers. Authenticity, transparency, convenience, and sustainability have continued to grow in importance to consumers, and brands must keep up with what is expected of them if they are to make it. Consumers want what’s real and they want it delivered to them. Not only in the physical products they purchase, but also in the messages they receive. Digital has swung open the door to these real experiences and communication opportunities.
And while there may be detractors to the ever-growing reach of digital, there is ample evidence that digital is helping us to build a better future. The capabilities of producing and shipping products more efficiently, more cost effectively, and ultimately in a way that reduces or eliminates excess waste is invaluable to the fight for the planet. Sustainability has become a pillar many brands stand for, and as IoT and AI grow, as digital and data capabilities grow, and as all these pieces of technology grow more integrated, the idea of being a truly sustainable brand becomes closer and closer to being a reality.
Not only has digital afforded us a more connected world with the people we share this planet with, it has also reshaped the nature of consumer-brand relationship. Consumers are easily able to express their values and tell companies what they are expecting from them, and companies are responding in kind with a shift in priorities. While a company will always remain accountable to its bottom line, this digital age has made it necessary for brands to care for more than just that. Consumers want to know companies are sustainable, are treating people fairly, and aren’t cutting corners. Ultimately, consumers want to feel good about the products they're purchasing - and the brands they're choosing.
Digital has allowed consumers to take the wheel and has put brands to work for them. This has created a more experience-focused, transparent, and authentic consumer marketplace, which is a win for consumers and also for brands that can keep up in the digital age.