E-commerce success is primarily driven by customer experience. Source: Shutterstock

Insights on e-commerce and retail from an industry insider

BUSINESSES operating in the e-commerce and retail space in Asia find that there’s quite a bit of competition in the marketplace.

In fact, digitally-savvy companies are getting better at promoting themselves to potential customers, getting their attention, and persuading them to move along the customer journey to become paying customers.

Lane Crawford, who’s recently managed to digitally transform its luxury e-commerce platform feels it’s an important step for businesses that want to stay competitive in the region. Their focus, being a luxury brand, is on delivering a stellar customer experience.

Andy Massey, Director of Innovation, Lane Crawford spoke to Tech Wire Asia to answer some questions about its transformation and reveal how other retail and e-commerce businesses might explore improving their digital offering.

How and why is choosing the right platform to elevate customer experience crucial?

With the constantly emerging advances in technology, consumers’ expectations have evolved rapidly. Today, consumers can open their internet browsers, search a broad, fragmented marketplace, and order exactly what they want far more quickly and easily than they can visit a physical store.

As the idea and activity of shopping has been revamped, customers want more than a product transaction – they expect an on-demand, fully connected experience.

What we have done is tackle this challenge head-on. Since 2011, we have significantly invested in digital technology to become a luxury lifestyle destination across all channels becoming the first omni-channel fashion luxury retailer in Greater China.

To continue to advance the omnichannel experience we pioneered in Greater China, we partnered with a solutions provider to launch our first-ever mobile shopping app that enabled a consistent experience.

Doing so also changes the journey towards omnichannel from a matter of connecting one system to another to creating an application network where any channel can be brought online and offline by plugging different systems together in a composable way.

Through our new platform, we are able to obtain 360-degree views of customers, loyalty balances, and shopping history and allowed us to leverage across digital channels including our new mobile app, website, and WeChat, bringing convenience and a seamless experience for our audience.

What are the advantages of taking your retail store digital?

Customers are becoming more digital – with the proliferation of the smartphone, the internet of things and the globalized marketplace they demand and expect more. They expect the retailers to be there when they need them regardless of the channel. They want the same seamless shopping experience across all touchpoints.

Therefore going digital isn’t so much about an advantage, it’s now table-stakes to compete.

In the past, retailers used to follow a prescriptive formula of planning inventory, buying merchandise, moving it to retail outlets and selling it to customers on a particular schedule at a particular price.

Now, retailers must deliver seamless, always on, customer experiences across all channels – which requires a completely new strategy and roadmap towards digital retail success.

What are the main challenges when it comes to going digital for Asian retailers?

Going digital combines both the technology as well as business aspects of the organization, and requires driving constant change.

It requires a collaborative approach in which organizations need to balance what is required with what is both feasible and viable – and have a view of both the short and long-term in technology solutions.

Internally, the IT team needs to become a strategic partner in the business to help shape the digital strategy rather than just responding to requirements.

This requires a culture change within organizations, where IT becomes an enabler of innovation rather than a cost center to be managed.

To do this, IT must consider the core and how it needs to evolve, moving away from single project-focused approach towards a strategic and measured approach that provides reusable, self-serve assets that are consumable by the broader organization.

Retailers intending to implement this move must abandon the default thinking that it is a technology decision. It calls for a fundamental shift in organizations’ IT funding and investment approach, conceiving and working towards an architectural vision, and for developers to offer more consultancy in their role.

And it must be accepted that it is a journey of many incremental steps. It is a strategic investment decision rather than tactical solutions.

There is so much data that needs to be integrated across the retail systems to develop a 360-degree customer view and use that data effectively to optimize production.

What do retailers need to do to remain competitive?

They need to be able to meet the customers’ changing expectations – and imagine new ways to engage them. In this age of global e-commerce, retailers need to understand that they need to create an exclusive customer journey that can differentiate themselves from the competition.

Retailers need to be flexible and have the ability to change, adapt to stay ahead, and (re)define their customers’ experience – because the experience is the brand, and you want to express your brand most effectively.

We used MuleSoft’s Anypoint Platform which offers an API – led connectivity approach because it was suitable for our goals and expectations. There are other platforms out there too, and each brand must evaluate their situation before making an investment decision.