What the tech’s on the retailer’s shopping list? Some personalization, a slice of omnichannel?

What would you like, sir?

I’ll have some personalization, some online video, some social engagement, and an email solution please?

Do you need a bag for that, sir?

engaging timesWhile you and I sit down and scribe our summer holiday purchase list, the mundane grocery shopping items, or the DIY necessities for the next holiday weekend, retail executives and their IT friends are putting together their own, very different, shopping list. This one contains a whole lot of technology.

eTail’s recent 2013 Retail Technology Spending report reveals the wish list of the US retail exec and her IT counterpart. It’s an insight into the complexities faced when striving for a seamless, omnichannel retail experience. Here’s a run down of what’s on their list and why it’s important:

  • Personalization

There are many ways to cut the term ‘personalization’. It has morphed into an umbrella term that can encompass anything geolocation targeting to the more advanced, ‘holy grail’ promise of 1:1 real time profiling and targeting. Fundamentally, personalization is about gaining insight into the customer through data and using that data to deliver a more relevant, contextual experience. A concept that is, of course, nothing new. Essentially, it’s a hark back to the good old days of walking into your local store, being greeted personally by the sales attendant, who knows what you have purchased before, what you will need again, and what else you might like, i.e. a more engaging customer experience.

The most prevalent of personalization capabilities that retailers and eCommerce executives are looking to deploy today are product and content recommendation technologies. Recommendation engines are getting more sophisticated, combining black box behavoiral targeting engines with the business rules defined by the merchandizers and eCommerce folk. As both get smarter, the promise of recommending truly the right product at the right time is becoming reality.

  • Multi-channel (think ‘omnichannel’)

Retailers will continue to invest in multichannel initiatives in the next coming 12 months. But even before ‘multichannel’ becomes a reality, the cool kids are all talking omnichannel. But what’s the difference? Multichannel was born out of the bolt-ons that retailers are adding to their channel engagement with customers – think social, mobile, kiosk etc. – as a reactive measure to the unrelenting evolution and emergence of channels. Omnichannel takes a different approach; thinking about the customer experience holistically regardless of what the channel is, with the core goal of a seamless retail experience and consistent brand representation.

  • Email

Surprised? Email marketing being one of the top 3 initiatives retailers are looking at spending IT cash on in the next 12 months? Ahead of social media? Seriously? It seems email marketing is still alive and kicking and an important asset to lead nurturing for retailers.  Yet what’s important for retailers is that it’s integrated with the multichannel/omnichannel approach to the retail experience and can be combined with personalization to tie in the insights you get from past interactions with customers, to ensure offers and content are relevant for the customer.

  • Social engagement

Engaging a social community around your brand can have lucrative rewards for retailers if done right. Social engagement is , however, still fairly unchartered territory in terms of what works and what doesn’t. Many are still testing the water. Yet, practices are maturing rapidly – dedicated social teams, investment in technology to support social engagement and listening, for instance. Significant developments are also being in terms of utilizing social data to inform and predict business decisions and understanding of your customer’s commitment to your brand and products. What better way to inform how you customers feel about and react to your products than the real-time insights that social data provides?

Many retailers are using social community concepts to build new revenue streams as well as driving engagement. is an exceptional example with its Fashion Finder product, which allows shoppers to create their own profiles, build outfits and share them with the community. Shoppers can enter competitions for the outfits they have created, comment on other style and outfits and the ‘shopper generated outfits’ can be purchased on, while the creator of the outfit earns ‘style points’ for credibility within the community.

  • Mobile

Mobile and mCommerce is THE hot topic in online retailing, with US sales on mobile devices increasing by 81% in 2012. The debates continue around responsive design, native app, dedicated m-dot sites and so on. For the eCommerce folk, the rapid change in mobile customer experience and the expectations we as consumers have about what the mobile shopping experience should be means that, so often, eCommerce executives start off on one path and veer off towards another, at the expense of the customer experience. Let’s be honest, though, even some of the best and most respected eCommerce stores, retailers and pureplays are still grappling with what mobile shopping should be and how it plays within an omnichannel strategy.

Perhaps one of the most important changes in recent times for mobile was Google’s announcement in June 2013 that they were changing mobile search rankings and that those sites with mobile experience issues would be punished by Google’s ranking algorithm. Of course, this has little bearing on app shopping and is more relevant for content-heavy sites than eCommerce stores, but it is likely to give a lift to the overall quality and experience of shopping on a mobile device.

  • Online video

Content marketing has become as crucial a component to eCommerce as the transaction and shipping experience and is a driving force behind many a traditional retailer’s transition into eCommerce. Video is at the heart of that. Fashion retailers are starting to show catwalk videos of models wearing different garments to enhance the online shopping experience, even trendy office supplies pureplay Poppin is producing videos that are accelerating conversion. Yet, largely, online video is still an untapped resource for online retailers as an accelerator of conversion. The investment and content management complexity that accompanies a shift towards video as a way to enhance the shopping experience and increase conversion often precludes online retailers from doing so…until, lo and behold, a competitor does it. Retailers will be looking at technology that allows them to manage and control the video experience, as well as measure conversions and sales from each and every video. It’s more Media Asset Management than it is YouTube or Vimeo.

And the shopping list goes on…will the innovators in retail be the ones that tick off every item on this list? Or is that too much for one shopping trip in 12 months? Only time will tell until the next report.

Written by Tom Smith

In his role as Product Marketer for SDL, Tom is a trend-watcher, a technology evangelist and an interpreter of SDL’s customer needs. His experience spans the world of digital marketing, content management, language and linguistic technologies and now with predictive targeting, personalization and high-end search technologies for eCommerce.

He’s a true European, having lived in Spain and now in Amsterdam and speaks several languages, unnaturally for a Brit. He studied French, Spanish and Linguistics at the University of Southampton and has a Professional Diploma in Marketing from the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

1 Comment

  1. Retail Merchandiser Blog

    September 9, 2013

    […] and a tailored experience). The businesses that are innovating in these areas, such as ASOS, are investing in technologies and resources that bring these capabilities together, and can deliver a differentiated experience […]


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