By Justin Anovick, Chief Product Officer, Optimizely
COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on the retail industry over the last 18 months. The total volume of retail sales in the UK fell by 1.9% in 2020 compared with 2019 — the largest fall since records began.
While omni-channel and digital-first retailers have managed to pivot more easily, those retailers who focused purely on enhancing the in-store experience and service have struggled to keep up.
The pandemic has significantly changed consumer behaviour, and while some of these changes may slowly return to pre-COVID habits, some are here to stay, especially the desire to purchase goods and services online. In March 2020, about 40% of UK shoppers said they had been shopping more online, but by February 2021, this percentage had grown to 75%.
If retailers are to succeed in a post-COVID world, it’s vital to be able to respond quickly to changing consumer needs and expectations, and this can be achieved through embracing an experimentation mindset.
Everything is a test
One of the main reasons why the top tech giants like Amazon, Facebook and Netflix are so successful today is because they continuously experiment with their digital platforms and personalisation strategies to give customers a more engaging and unique experience.
Embracing an experimentation culture throughout all operations is key to understand how your customers will reach and respond to different touchpoints across the customer journey. Whether it’s updating the pricing, products, promotion and content, retailers must always incorporate experimentation into any digital marketing strategy.
An example of where brands have succeeded using experimentation is online fashion retailer, Missguided. Trusting that experimentation is a viable method of evaluating business models, the retailer used experimentation to test a new premium service that offers its customers unlimited free next day delivery for a year.
To manage the risk associated with the new service and to check its commercial value, this offering was first made available to a small group of customers. But after seeing a conversion uplift of 177%, Missguided’s ‘unicorn delivery’ service was soon rolled out to its entire customer base.
Experimentation will clearly play a significant role in this new world of customer experience, but it’s important for retailers to implement it carefully and strategically, by considering the following steps.
Provide consistent digital experiences
It’s important to ensure that all digital channels and platforms provide a consistent level of service and offer customers a familiar, recognisable experience. Ask yourself whether you’re providing the same functionalities, i.e. product display, on both mobile web and desktop or whether you offer the same payment options for both the web page and app.
You should analyse your customers’ data to understand which platform or channel they prefer to use and for which purposes and then tailor each channel experiences to specific user groups if needed — but make sure to provide a consistent level of service across the board.
Once this has been completed, experiment with some of the key features, for example, the chat functionality that you provide on both the web and app. Ask yourself if you can test a different placement of the chat pop-up, or different self-serve support options for users when starting the chat to see if you need to provide slight alterations depending on device or between app and web.
Running a series of experiments on high-value features can help you to enhance the consumer experience across all different platforms, while at the same time keeping a consistent, recognisable level of service.
Build high-performing landing pages
With more consumers engaging with your store on different platforms, it’s key to send out the same message across your channels and in your marketing efforts. Make sure to align ad content, landing page copy and design as well as the overall execution of your campaigns across your channels.
This helps to deliver a sold brand experience regardless of the device or platform your customer is using to engage with your brand.
Use A/B testing to test landing pages and optimise web or in-app funnels, as well as your USP communication, headline copy and campaign visuals, or simply test two or more versions of your landing page against each other. This will help you to understand which version of your landing page you should roll out to the majority of your users.
Leverage your loyalty
Make customers feel connected to your brand by personalising their shopping experience to their needs. If you currently have a loyalty programme for example, you could personalise the customer experience based on loyalty tier and display executive deals or offers to this user group.
You should also look at using data analytics and qualitative insights to evaluate how attractive your existing loyalty programme is to your regular customers. Create hypotheses to experiment on the benefits you currently offer, but also on the way your programme is presented across your digital channels.
Staying ahead of competition
Relying on and leveraging experimentation to determine what your customers’ needs are will help your brand to stand apart from the competition every time.
By constantly experimenting, retailers can ensure they’re providing customers with the most efficient and smooth experience every time they visit, meaning that they’re more likely to return again and again as loyal customers.