Online shopping has changed the retail environment unrecognisably since that fateful day 20 years ago when a user bought a Sting CD on US site, NetMarket which officially marked the first online purchase. The retail world has arguably become more disconnected from the days when consumers walked into a WHSmith or a Fopp to buy a physical CD, now consumers are able to purchase at home at a click of the button without ever having physically seen or touched the product. For a long time this meant that online shopping was automatically less personal, consumers lacked interaction with brands and were subject to the same experience as everyone else, regardless of their tastes.
Technology has driven a rapid change in the past 20 years, with brands now fully grasping that the data they hold on their consumers is essential to delivering increasingly personalised experiences. The challenge for marketers is to unify their data across channels in order to keep up with the increasingly multi-channel experience consumers are driving. The way consumers interact online is seamless, so retail experiences need to reflect this behaviour, and this can only be achieved by weaving together data from onsite, offsite, and offline channels.
E-commerce has probably been the main driver of developments in digital advertising and marketing over the last 15 years. Originally it was the online pure-play advertisers driving the meteoric growth of paid search and affiliate marketing, and in more recent times multichannel retailers have been at the epicentre of some of the most challenging and exciting developments in marketing.
As the lines become blurred between digital and physical, and retailers begin to experiment with in-store mobile Beacons and social-commerce models, the need for truly integrated cross-disciplinary thinking is more important than ever.
Today we are seeing a rebirth of the high street: traditional retailers like Jigsaw, Spar and Thomas Cook are focusing on unique ’showroom' experiences with their new ‘concept’ stores. The likes of M&S, Argos and Lloyds are seamlessly blending the physical and digital worlds through apps and social media to bring communities closer to the range of services and to reward people for coming into town. This omnichannel approach means new organisational designs, new processes, new metrics. It means organising your business around your customer.
As customer shopping activities are spread across more and more different channels, brands need to ensure they have a powerful and emotive story that brings the brand to life and exploits the different strengths of the different channels. So for high streets, that means an in-store experience of the product, the environment, and the service, that the web cannot offer.
Content has changed as e-commerce has thrived — but it could be easy to see causation where there is corollary. The internet has changed how everything is done and many descriptions of how commerce has changed apply equally to content. Yet, the disintermediating capabilities of the internet are something digital retailers can specifically use — and do.
Content has the ability to deliver the promise of a brand, where advertising's job is to describe it. Brands like Boots just as much as fashion retailers have incorporated content into their online proposition to strengthen their relationships with their customers. It's the brands that do not differentiate between any part of their proposition but design their communications to seamlessly include their retail, social and web-delivered content that will make content that people will find and use. Making it worth using is another story.