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Retail Insights

KrisAnne Madaus

Within weeks, the Covid-19 pandemic spurred a five-year acceleration in digital adoption for both consumers and businesses, according to McKinsey. We were driving fast—ramping up ecommerce efforts and implementing heightened safety measures like contactless, automated checkouts at the speed of the spread.

And while this quick adaptation helped businesses keep their heads above water, many of the changes spurred by the pandemic were not carefully considered or built for the long haul. We get it: when you’re trying to keep pace with the exponential growth of a virus and its drastic effects on consumer behavior, there’s no time to sit and think. 

Now that the tides have turned toward the better, retailers have an opportunity to check in and assess what’s really adding value for customers and business goals. It’s time to go to work.

Quick digital transformation primer

Before we move forward, we’ve got to back it up a bit and cover the basics. What is digital transformation anyway? Not to be confused with digitization—the conversion of manual systems into digital formats—digital transformation is a constantly evolving cultural, organizational, and operational movement across the global business landscape through strategic integration of digital technologies. 

It’s a change that uses technology, but is really ignited by strategy. For decades, companies have been rethinking the ways in which they can shape their employees, processes, and customer experience to meet business needs. Digital transformation just drops technology into that mix to create value and new services for key stakeholders, namely customers. 

The best way to better serve customers is to get to know them. Part of digital transformation is customer-centricity—sharing assets and data to build a holistic understanding of each customer. When this data pairs up with innovative tech (see: personalization), companies can anticipate customer needs before they ask, leading to higher satisfaction, retention, and loyalty.

It’s not surprising, then, that digital transformation adoption accelerated at the height of the pandemic. Clever use of technology was not only a way to meet health and safety standards, but also a way to help businesses establish a sense of connection with their customer digitally when they couldn’t meet them physically. 

Transformation mistakes and fixes

Businesses have responded to innovation eagerly and quickly, without considering future-proof solutions. As a result, MIS Quarterly Executive research reports a whopping 87% of digital transformation projects fail to meet their original objectives. 

Let’s fix that. Here are some common pitfalls on the path to digital transformation, and how to avoid them.

What you might be doing: Emulating competitors

You wake up in the morning, check the news and see that your competitor has introduced an incredible new digital product feature that everyone’s talking about. It’s easy to get caught up and let things like this permeate your thoughts, but your gut reaction should not be “we need to do this too.” Keeping up with the Joneses is not going to help you succeed, because it’s not helping you stand apart. 

What you should do instead: Be yourself

Your business should focus on what it does best. Disruptions in your industry are important to think about and respond to, but do it in the way only you can. Spend your time aligning your digital transformation efforts around the people you serve and your specific business goals. 

In the long run, you may end up with a similar digital product feature, but you’ll have achieved it with your customers in mind. Putting peripheral blinders on from time to time can actually help you gain a competitive advantage.

What you might be doing: Hyper-focusing online

The pandemic gave ecommerce a nice boost, while brick-and-mortar locations suffered or were reimagined as makeshift warehouses and distribution centers. With people continuing to shop online in a post-Covid world, you may be tempted to ramp up these efforts, but thinking of them in isolation from physical locations is a mistake.  

What you should do instead: Embrace blurred lines

You can’t undo what the pandemic contributed to the omnichannel experience. Ecommerce and brick-and-mortar stores are now inextricably linked, with online customers expecting options like ship to store, and in-store customers expecting sales reps to be able to fix empty shelf issues with agile dropshipping methods

In addition to fulfillment options, customers also expect choices at checkout. Payment methods like Zip support the endless aisle with online and in-store payment flexibility

While these blurred lines may seem like a lot to manage, they’re just another way of breaking down silos and thinking of things holistically, so that the customer has a smooth experience. 

What’s in it for you? According to Prama Bhatt, ULTA Beauty chief digital officer, “A customer who shops in both channels typically spends three times more than a customer who shops only online and makes four times as many purchases per year.”

What you might be doing: Neglecting in-store employees

Businesses that focus too heavily on ecommerce efforts might also fall victim to ignoring in-store associate needs. The role of the retail sales associate is evolving as customers visit physical stores for different things. Remember, they’re not just coming in to shop anymore—they may be coming in to pick up a package, order a product, or seek guidance from employees on their omnichannel shopping journey. If you’re not equipping your associates with know-how, data, and tools to answer customer queries, you could lose both customers and employees. 

What you should do instead: Empower employees with tech

This year, online shopping is down 3% and department store visits are up 2% from 2020. Business leaders focused on implementing in-store technologies to empower employees to best serve these customers will likely reap the benefits in loyalty and repeat customers. 

We know that shoppers want convenience and a seamless experience. Whether that’s achieved through an app with real-time stock info and customer information, through integrated flexible payment solutions, or another innovation depends on your business goals.

Focus on the customer and your bottom line

We covered just a few solutions to common issues, but the possibilities of your digital transformation are limited only by your imagination. Successful businesses achieve and maintain transformation by keeping customers and business needs top of mind. Now that we’ve had a chance to slow down, it’s time to implement thoughtful and agile strategies that evolve and flex with your retail business’s changing needs.

KrisAnne Madaus
KrisAnne Madaus

KrisAnne Madaus is a NY-based copy and content writer at Zip who has served various clients in the tech, data analytics, and consulting arenas throughout her writing career. She enjoys creating content that helps business leaders foster innovation in retail, ecommerce, and management.