The increased availability of technology has caused the lines between retailers and their brands to become blurred as they strive for customer engagement, according to Demandware CEO Tom Ebling.
At the retail software company’s latest conference, Xchange 2015, Ebling said that now technologies such as smartphone and internet access are commonplace, the consumer has more power over retailers.
“There’s a word that describes these trends and also describes what is going on in retail and that’s democratisation – the definition of democratisation is making something available to everyone,” he said.
A changing relationship
This has changed the relationship between brands and consumers, said Ebling, as new ways of communicating with customers has led to retailers increasing their online and digital push, and moving physical stores to locations they knew customers would visit.
Ultimately the industry has shifted focus towards “consumer reach” and “personalisation”, making it difficult to distinguish between a retailer and their brand, he said.
This pattern has been led, in part, by an increase in the need for social interaction between retailers and their consumers.
Ebling pointed out that young people said they would be 75% more likely to buy from a brand if they felt socially engaged with it.
“It used to be very linear, very straightforward," he said. "Consumers had one or maybe two paths that they would take to buy a product. Now that journey is incredibly complex.”
The journey of retail has gone from stores and catalogues only and grown to include online, applications and mobile, said Ebling.
“The way things change is unbelievable and there will be more change tomorrow," he said. "It’s happening at a rapid pace and, as a result, retailers are investing because they want to be where the consumers are, so spend by retailers on social is up 144% year-on-year.”
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This social push is all part of making the consumer king and feeling engaged is part of the customer experience retailers are striving to provide, added Ebling, who said more than 80% of customers would be willing to pay more for a better experience.
According to Deckers Brands omni-channel and e-commerce senior vice-president John Kalinich, embracing digital is the first step towards providing that customer experience.
“There will be more digital in the future, in our homes, in our cars, and in our accessories. And those organisations who are helping transform and use digital will have competitive advantage,” he said.
Kalinich reminded the audience that no matter what channel the consumer purchases through, retailers are serving the same consumer, online through mobile or in-store, and so the experience should be consistent across each.
“The consumer is really the same consumer across all of these different channels, and the consumer doesn’t care if we have, say, a fulfilment issue in one of these channels,” he said.
“They want the product where they want it, and they want a consistent experience and they also want to engage with the brand directly.”