The fusion of digital media and ecommerce is revolutionising retail as the smartphone takes over from the high street as the main shop window for many brands.
At a breakfast briefing in association with performance-marketing agency, Performics, industry leaders shared best practice and painful lessons learned from the sometimes rocky road of transforming a brand’s digital business.
Take control of your digital shelf…
"A physical experience in store is something you think about," said Mykim Chikli, UK CEO and EMEA head of product at Performics. "But what about the user experience on your website? I think we’re still focusing too much on off-line shelves. It’s the same brand equity, most likely the same products but we don’t give enough love and care to those digital shelves – how you beautify your product online, how you check that SEO is great, that your CRM and SRM are connected."
… By improving the customer experience
What if you’re selling products that should ideally be physically handled or tested? Nikki Akers, ecommerce acceleration director for L’Oreal UK and Ireland, explained how last year’s acquisition of augmented reality app, ModiFace, transformed L’Oreal’s ecommerce offering. "It’s the first step of bringing the product closer to the consumer and has tripled our conversion rate." ModiFace allows online customers to virtually test a range of beauty products on their own face or hair.
Data’s virtuous circle
Four years ago, Leonie Foster joined homeware brand Dunelm as chief customer and digital officer. Her challenge was persuading the business about the value of media spend.
"It’s only since we’ve been thinking about customer insight and data that we’ve been able to unlock the value of media and digital in the same space," she said. "We had been driving traffic to the website but it wasn’t until we doubled the speed of the website and made the online experience better that all that traffic brought returns."
Chikli added that Black Friday isn’t just about shifting loads of product. "This is your one chance to collect amazing data and you need to prepare your back office more than your front office. These are building blocks for the future."
Pick your partnerships
Dunelm "threw our lot in with ITV to unlock value". Their sponsorship of weekday show This Morning allows Dunelm to promote not just the brand but 20 product categories via 14 daily idents. "We’ve seen huge visits to our website to search for products – an increase of 1,000%," said Foster. They also co-created with ITV the dating show Back to Mine, which also included additional content that sits on the ITV Hub and content that can be used on Dunelm’s social channels. "It’s content that colleagues are proud of and it enabled us to position product at the heart of our media strategy."
Digital sleep product brand, Eve Sleep, partnered with GB Rowing who serve as a powerful and credible influencer. "One thing you can’t do with an ecommerce mattress is lie on it," said CMO Cheryl Calverley. "And while we have a 100-day returns policy, the point is that people think if it’s good enough for GB rowers then it must be good enough for me."
Gord Ray, Instagram’s brand development lead, explained how the social platform is exploring the depth of the retail experience. A small test case in the US with around 30 brands has explored shopping directly from Instagram. He said: "It’s complex to get the technology back end right so we have kept it quite small. You have to innovate constantly."
"My plea is to move away from above the line and below the line," said Tim Mason, CEO of Eagle Eye, former CMO of Tesco and author of Omnichannel Retail.
No more silos, agreed Foster. "When I joined Dunelm, digital participation was at about 7% but ecommerce is pretty much the only plan we have now and turning the business into a total retail system. I’m a huge believer in this – for us it’s been completely proven." Dunelm’s digital business has grown by 35% in two years.
Akers added: "Omnichannel is the word we use. Even though I have ecommerce in my job title I’m concerned with driving overall growth not just ecom. There has been a 20% shift from 2016-2019 20% shift to omnichannel."
See and be seen
Chikli stressed the importance of discoverability. "You put your product forward – paid media," she said. "
"You invest so much time and energy into your product, and making a great storefront, but it's no good if nobody knows its there. Our' research has shown that paid media touchpoints are the first step of the customer journey 36% of the time."
Akers added: "There are more routes than ever to target consumers. Three years ago our search budgets were largely built around Google. Now we’re adapting, we’re using Criteo and retailer partnerships."
"Hold your nerve"
Those are Calverley’s words about the, at times, terrifying rollercoaster ride of building a digital business. She added: "And keep transforming – we’re only four years old but we’re already looking at our tech platform."
Foster agreed: "The hardest part is convincing business of the need to invest. Finding those proof points, ways to demonstrate return and think about media from a performance perspective pretty much from the start."
Say hi to the high street
L’Oreal demoing ModiFace at Amazon’s Home of Black Friday pop-up in east London is one example that there is still a need and desire for a physical retail space despite the shift to online.
And for the likes of Eve Sleep, the direction of travel is in reverse – they’re a digital brand searching for the offline presence.
This is Mason’s passion: "Online to offline is harder to do but still possible and I would argue essential. You manage what you measure and it’s much easier to measure digital than physical. The beauty of digital is that the more interested I am, the deeper I can go. Then there has to be an incentive to go into the store, which can be tracked and measured."
Ray agrees that a "marrying of the two worlds" and the constant desire for brands to develop communities means the relationship between onliine and offline will continue – for now – to be a two-way street.
East meets West
China was highlighted as a key ecommerce market offering both a huge opportunity to tap into Asian-focused holidays such as Single's Day, but could Alibaba and JD's ecommerce offerings pose a threat?
Chikli's experience in China has given her a powerful insight into how these companies might look to approach Europe but she doesn't think UK brands need worry just yet: "I don't think they will take over any time soon. You have to remember that internet penetration is only about 53% in China, so there is enormous room for growth in their domestic market, even without thinking about the rest of East Asia. And here in Europe our set up is so much more sophisticated, so Chinese companies have a lot to learn from us and a lot of catching up to do before they can compete in a European market."
"But we can still learn a lot from them, especially when it comes to mobile," she added.