In the early 1900s Harry Gordon Selfridge, the iconic American-born turned British retail magnate, opened the doors to his London-based department store, Selfridges, and forever changed the way the world viewed retail. A man ahead of his time, Selfridge believed that shopping should be entertaining, experiential, and complemented by exceptional customer service. At the time, the known “rule” amongst shopkeepers in London was that a customer needed to know exactly what they wanted before they entered the store. The concept of browsing and “I’m just looking” was simply not acceptable. Selfridge changed all that when he opened the doors to Selfridges more than 100 years ago. He knew even then that shopping is at its essence a “discovery” experience and that customers should have the freedom of visual discovery—especially when they are not sure exactly what they want.
When you think about the type of shopping you do the most, for most people, it’s clothing. Children overhaul their wardrobes at the beginning of each school year, seasonal changes spark the urge to update sweaters and swim suits, and the fashion-forward chase the latest style trends as soon as they’re available. Apparel is certainly the largest (~20%) and greatest revenue generating retail vertical today, especially in ecommerce. “Companies that generate the largest portion of their sales from online are apparel stores,” says Poonam Goyal, an analyst with Bloomberg Intelligence. “Their online sales are often more than 15 percent of their total sales, so the potential there is enormous.”
For a vertical with such massive industry impact on retail revenue figures, apparel has surprisingly underwhelmed shoppers when it comes to progressive ecommerce filtering logic and innovations that meet consumer expectations. In a recent Facebook poll, we asked shoppers to describe a pair of apparel items in their own words, in the hopes we could compare an enterprise’s typical merchandising standards to how shoppers really think and feel about the clothing they are searching for. On products with an average of 5 filter options from their ecommerce hosts, shoppers surveyed provided a staggering 75 new attributes! That’s a 1400% increase in the number of terms used to describe a product, versus what retailers are actually using on their site. Retailers are missing out on enormous merchandising attribution opportunities, as well as the ability to better connect their shoppers with the best product for them.
Christian Holst, co-founder of Baymard Institute, recently benchmarked the 50 top-grossing US ecommerce websites across 93 product list guidelines, analyzing 1,750 performance scores specific to filtering availability, logic and interfaces. According to the report, a massive 42% of top ecommerce websites lack category-specific filtering types for several of their core product verticals, and an unimpressive 16% of websites provide a good filtering experience for shoppers, yet even those could still use refinement. For shoppers, that reads: a really difficult, frustrating and inconclusive product discovery experience on almost every ecommerce site you’re likely to visit.
Recent chatter of “buy buttons” and the rising popularity of social commerce have the retail industry abuzz – How can we benefit? What’s our strategy? Will this change our operations? What products do our shoppers want available on these channels? This new retail frontier is completely transforming the shopping experience we’ve come to expect, and retailers need to learn how best to use these latest channels for good, to inspire and not frustrate their shoppers.
Consumers are doing more and more of their shopping via mobile device, accounting for 41% of all traffic and 26% of total revenue in the first quarter of 2014, and influencing $1 trillion of retail sales worldwide. In tandem with this massive growth, shortcomings in retailers’ mobile offerings and capabilities have become abundantly clear. Consumer behaviors and expectations are out-pacing retailers’ ability to innovate and create experiences on par with those developed by leading non-retail companies.
Humans are naturally, visually oriented. We react and make decisions faster and easier when using visuals as a tool. Consumers on mobile are looking for an image-oriented experience that’s focused and easy to understand, while still being inspirational. With this in mind, it’s a bit crazy to think that shoppers are most often forced to use text and menu-driven experiences designed for the desktop (which, by the way, just fell below the 50% point as mobile took over) rather than visually-driven experiences being developed and proven by the clear winners in the mobile space: Pinterest, Instagram, Tinder and other top consumer sites and apps. The result is unsatisfied shoppers, low conversion rates and high bounce rates.
Human versus machine. It’s a conflict that’s existed in society in the form of books, research, film and art for decades, and it’s still at the heart of many up and coming technologies on the market today. From drones delivering packages that used to be carried by postal workers 30 years ago, to new biotech wearables alerting us on basic health metrics instead of doctors, or even those vending machines that serve you dinner on a plate instead of the struggling college student waiting tables at the neighborhood cafe, the balance between human and machine aptitudes and potential is a constant point of contention across industries and perspectives. Think retail is outside of these concerns? Think again! But what if there was a happy medium?
At Edgecase, we think there is. Our technology does just that, in that it combines the power of human cognition, context and variety with the powerful search and navigation capabilities of innovative technologies, making up the magic that is adaptive navigation. We recently polled our social networks to find out how product attribution would be fundamentally different, and better, if curated by how shoppers really think and speak, versus how merchandisers are currently describing them online – the results were remarkable!
At a recent Cosmetic Executive Women (CEW) event, Walgreens’ president of digital and CMO, Sona Chawla, discussed the new e-commerce initiatives that Walgreens has implemented since her tenure, and made a point to tell the audience that she believes this is the most exciting time in retail. For those of us in the industry, we couldn’t agree more. The history of retail is made up of many transformative “moments,” from the first cash register invented in 1883, to the opening of the first shopping mall in 1930 and the establishment of online retail giant Amazon in 1995.
We are currently living in an age of intense digital transformation, where retail shoppers are making a global impact on the industry. They are armed with more technology and knowledge than ever before, not to mention a whole new attitude of what they expect from retailers. Retailers, you need to be listening, or else risk missing this significant retail moment.
Whether you are at your office, a restaurant, the grocery store, it’s likely that you are surrounded by fellow consumers who are also deeply engaged on their phones. Despite more than half of all online traffic and an average of 28% of all sales now stemming from mobile devices, the vast majority of retailers are struggling to reduce bounce rates and increase add-to-cart metrics. In our most recent consumer survey, we asked 300 shoppers about how they shop on their mobile device – their responses make it clear that they simply demand more from their mobile shopping experiences.
According to the shoppers we surveyed, they feel that mobile experiences are average at best. And 70% of shoppers are moderately to not-at-all-satisfied with retailers’ mobile site experiences – not an ideal statistic. Mobile spending hit $204 billion last year, and if retailers want to tap into the mobile commerce goldmine, it must be done methodically and with a plan.