How Retailers Can Balance Innovation With The Basics in Omni-Channel Commerce
Discussions about omni-channel often focus on the “new” – new applications, new experiences, new ways to merge digital with brick and mortar shopping. These innovations are the vanguard, and will be necessary for retailers to capture and engage customers into the future. The retail industry is intensely competitive and success is contingent on continually surprising and delighting customers.
Brand new innovations are not the only way to find an edge, however.
Retailers must also up their game in less sexy ways. In particular, they should retain focus on improving the table-stakes features of the retail experience: merchandising, browsing items, comparing items, and checking out. For retailers with established digital channels, a process of refinement could be as key as innovating bold new features.
Why not always push the envelope?
…Because right now there’s someone doing the basics better. For every company that’s developing a fresh new way to perform the familiar act of shopping, there’s another that’s chipping away at points of friction in the experience.
Take Fathead for an example. They invented a novel approach to browsing products — the retailer developed an application that enabled customers to see how art would look on their own walls, using a smartphone’s built-in camera. It won acclaim as an interesting example of the burgeoning omni-channel approach to retail. Not too long after launching, though, it was quietly set aside because it failed to improve sales.
Since sunsetting the app, Fathead has continued to grow rapidly. What did help the company succeed? Refining the performance and user experience of the “traditional” RWD web application. The company leveraged next generation practices and tools to improve the load time and rendering sequence of the app, especially for mobile users — which was enough to seriously boost sales and order value.
So what can you do to make sure your home bases are covered, even as you innovate?
Focus on the customer
As Forrester Research notes, this is the “age of the customer” where the consumer has the power to switch vendors at the drop of a hat, and has the entire world of research and knowledge at their fingertips.
That’s why you can’t let trends or competitor activity drive your prerogatives. Make sure that you’re fully aligned to the customer through extensive user testing of existing apps, A/B testing, and even informal “friends + family” focus groups. The least intuitive (and yes, least exciting) solutions may also be the most effective.
An important part of this this process is application monitoring, and more specifically end user experience (EUE) monitoring. False positives abound when you’re dealing with staggeringly large amounts of data. It might not be anything to do with the page presentation that’s keeping conversions low — maybe the page loads slowly in certain locations, or on certain devices, even though it’s snappy for you. It’s essential to know what your actual users are experiencing, and how changes you make to the application affect that experience. For example, the glossy new product images you thought would raise conversions may in fact be killing performance on Android devices, to the point that it’s actually hurting sales.
Application performance monitoring is multifaceted, and requires vigilance. There are a number of methods and types, including real user monitoring (RUM) and synthetic monitoring, and dozens of vendors. Whatever you use, ensure you’re getting strong insight into the end user experience of your app. This, coupled with user testing and A/B testing, is the recipe for customer-focused eCommerce.