Covid-19 lockdowns saw many businesses face a stark choice; fast-track their digital transformation or close their doors.
As restrictions ease and life returns to a new kind of normal, many business owners are now unsure how to position their brands for future growth.
Dynamic Business sat down with Tim Charlesworth, Customer Intelligence Practice, Asia Pacific, at SAS to discuss what savvy businesses, particularly retailers, are doing to win their customers’ hearts, minds, and wallets.
The future is digital
“Businesses that fail to embrace digital transformation will be left behind,” says Charlesworth. “During the pandemic, there was a mad scramble to get online, but now you can take a bit more time to plan your digital presence, you can think about it, and you can do it right for the long-term.”
According to Experience 2030 research conducted for SAS by 3Gem, creating a compelling online offering is a wise investment. Experience 2030: Has Covid-19 created a new kind of consumer? found that whilst one in seven (15 per cent) customers can be considered digital adopters, over 70 per cent who have recently tried digital engagement for the first time plan to keep using their new channels permanently.
“For many people, the world is never going back to pre-pandemic conditions,” Charlesworth continues. “They have seen the benefits and convenience [of online shopping], and they are not going to give it up. We think that most organisations will end up with some form of a hybrid model. As with the banks, we see the physical store evolving to be more of an experience centre.”
He says that the success of digital channels varies by industry, citing apparel, electronics, and toys as market segments unlikely to return to a physical-only model. While he concedes that some people are practising ‘revenge retail’, shopping in-store because they haven’t been able to during the pandemic, he believes this is a pendulum that will swing back to digital channels.
The benefits of a well-conceived digital strategy
According to Charlesworth, there are two dimensions to how a compelling digital strategy can improve the customer experience. “For the customer, it is about convenience and the opportunity to get relevant information. It’s basic marketing 101; presenting the right products to the right person at the right time.
“We use technology to remove the friction, distractions, the irrelevant messages, offers, and goods. We help retailers to help you find the thing that you’re interested in and ultimately going to buy. If you’ve just purchased a particular product, then perhaps there’s no need for us to show you that again because you’re not going to buy another one in the short term. Instead, we may present an item that’s well paired with your recent selection or purchase.
“For brands, it’s about data. As consumers move through a digital channel, the brand gets a lot of information about what its customers are doing and looking for. If they can leverage that, monetise it by delivering a better experience, they can win against the competitors.”
Personalisation is key to increased sales
The Experience 2030 study showed that 61 per cent of customers were willing to spend more on brands that delivered a good customer experience during the pandemic.
Data analytics allows retailers to personalise the customer journey. They can constantly run experiments to see what is driving sales and causing customers to abandon their shopping trolleys.
“It’s incredible what experimentation can turn up,” says Charlesworth. “As an example, we found for one customer situation, an orange button was 20 per cent better than a blue button in terms of getting people to click through.”
Another trend that businesses need to understand when creating a personalised customer experience is the decrease in online purchases being made on desktop computers and the increase in purchases made via mobile devices.
Charlesworth gives the example of a client that sells jeans online. On a laptop, you can present the consumer with 32 pairs of jeans to consider, but initially, you can only present a small selection on a mobile phone. Analytics ensures that each consumer sees the styles that will provide the best click-through rate at the top of the list.
“We tied that into their loyalty program, which is very personalised. When you search for a pair of jeans on the site, there is a search box that traditionally lists the price, release date and such. They have added “relevant to me” or “customized to me”, which is now the default. So, they’re now presenting the sort order according to what the analytics say is best for people on mobile devices and based on the customer’s latest behaviour with the brand and site interactions.”
SAS works with retailers around the world allowing them to apply analytics to every step of the customer journey for better connections and deeper insights. Charlesworth says that his clients respond to data in two ways. Some want the machine to embrace the customer behaviour data and decide what to put in front of visitors, and other clients don’t want to leave it to the machines. These teams often have a gut feeling about what is going on in the market, but the data allows them to validate this. They can use the data to look at how important variables like age, income, or geography drive consumer behaviour and integrate this into their offering.
Having a trusted partner is vital
The digital transformation journey is overwhelming for many businesses with a simple online presence, so it is vital to find the right partner to guide them.
“SAS has been applying the smarts around data and numbers for over 40 years. We cut our teeth in customer data-rich environments like telcos, banks, the public sector and pharmaceutical companies. We have a rich heritage of managing data, protecting customer data, and helping our customers monetise that data.”
An independent IDC report that assessed customer data platforms for Retail and CPG identified SAS 360 as the strongest offering. Charlesworth believes this is because the product is better at joining up the various moving parts than competitors.
“We see data analysis as a virtuous circle of four phases: listening, understanding, deciding, and acting.
“Listening is collecting and gathering the data that customers give you through their behaviour. What are they clicking on? What are they telling you about their preferences?
“The second phase is understanding the context of the moment you interact with them. Are they on the checkout page trying to click submit, but they keep being rejected because something on the webpage is broken? Also, understanding the context of the customer relationship, is this a first-time buyer or someone who buys from us weekly?
“Then we need to decide what to do. If somebody is at the checkout and we are worried they may not complete the transaction; let’s decide to offer them free shipping or insurance on the delivery.
“Then we need to take action by following through on the decision and actually presenting a different message at that moment.”
Charlesworth says SAS is one of the few organisations that can help in all four stages without the need to connect to other applications. This makes it easy for customers to remain agile, do AB testing, try a recommendation algorithm, experiment, and learn more.
And the more you learn, the more you sell. Charlesworth says that the intelligent use of AI has resulted in his clients typically achieving an impressive 10 – 20 per cent increase in revenue.