Amid the annual Great Singapore Sale, it seems incongruous to be avoiding the craze and congestion of the malls and instead be perusing the mail for deals on free shipping and markdowns. And yet, that is what I’m doing, and I imagine I’m not alone.
It is no longer the sale that draws crowds to the mall, but the experience—and that experience must be something special. There are certain shopping moments that can never be fully realised online, but these are becoming few and far between. Customers will still come, but it will be of their own accord. Gone are the days of the droves of bargain-chasers.
Convenience is the colour of love
Instead, consumers find themselves presented with the allure of convenience. In Singapore, for example, this comes in the form of RedMart, where "Redmart it" has become a verb. This online supermarket, ‘super’ being the operative word, gives you the opportunity to bypass heavy bags, long queues, and exit regret. Your ‘Redmart genie’ arrives on the doorstep, the next day, in a window of time you’ve selected. Your grocery list lives online, accessible from anywhere. And the site tracks your preferred purchases to remind you of what you might be forgetting. The price is invariably your trove of data, but it’s an exchange that many are prepared to make for a service that enriches life. As the pace of the world picks up, it seems convenience, time and ease are the new bargains we crave.
How then, in this scramble for consumers’ attention, can brands succeed?
1. Build the right foundation
Whether yours is primarily a story of bricks and mortar, or your brand launched into ecommerce from the outset, an understanding of your customers’ habits, frustrations, and motivations is the only foundation that matters. Fluently reflecting this in customer care and UX is essential to your success.
Think of Amazon’s 1-step purchase button (does it get any more user-friendly?), of IKEA’s augmented reality catalogue that makes shopping an at-home digital experiment, or of Argos’ approach to the changing landscape of consumer’s needs, which offers a mix-and-match of online, in-store, and catalogue experiences.
2. Know thyself
Knowing your customer is important, but knowing yourself is even more essential. The brands that create emotional connections with their consumers are the ones that thrive. Stand for something, become an icon—and make sure this is inherent in your visual identity and personality across every touchpoint. As Venrock partner Davick Packman points out, Dollar Shave Club was never about ecommerce, it was about relationships. Anthropologie transports its consumers into a dream world with its show-home-esque stores, perfect Instagram posts, and carefully curated product offerings. It’s a brand that understands itself deeply and consumers want to be a part of it. Muji creates everything from furniture to notebooks to clothing, tying it all together in a beautiful simplicity that is unmistakeably its own.
3. Be memorable for the right reasons
Know the difference between following up and being intrusive. Understand the feeling of unboxing a special surprise as opposed to grumbling through cumbersome containers. Find a way to incorporate a personal touch that will give way to loyalty.
The injection of humanity into Mr. Porter’s typeface is a great example of a brand expressing itself in the details. Or if you have ever ordered something from Etsy and received a handwritten note, you will be able to recognise this emotive touch.
4. Innovate with relevance
Combine an understanding of your consumer with a confident knowledge of your brand to creatively explore ways you can innovate and improve your retail experience. It will help you navigate the difference between significant evolutions that impact your business or passing trends that simply seduce. Tesco’s virtual stores displayed an acute awareness of its South Korean consumers, who lacked time to shop but could scan product QR codes in wall displays while they waited for their trains or buses. It will be exciting to see how Amazon moves forward with Whole Foods, how it could implement its consumer profiling and recommendation engine within the Whole Foods environment.
5. Be masters of mitigation
Customers are smart and conscientious; they demand accountability. No one likes to think of worst-case scenarios, but addressing these is one of the most important factors in building a successful brand. How you deal with everyday issues like returns, no-show shipments, credit-card security breaches or even questions around your values and ethics are paramount to your brand and customer experience. The honesty, sincerity, or sometimes irreverence, that a company displays in the face of missteps set it apart. Know what could go wrong—and most importantly, how you’ll make it right.
Zappos, an online US shoe retailer, is well known for its amazing company culture, great customer service and one-day delivery. One rep is even said to have spent over 10 hours on the phone with a customer—just talking about life in Las Vegas. While Athletica chooses to show empathy for its customers with its Give-it-a-Workout Guarantee.
The generation of me-commerce consumers forces brands to reassess when, where, and why they adjust the dials of convenience and experience. It’s critical to maintain balance between the two with emotional aplomb, or face the wrath of an abandoned basket or an angry Twitter rant.
|Danley Stone is account director with The Partners Singapore.|