Digital retailing - what does it actually mean?

Ali Athar | 12.09.2017

Since the invention of the bar code, we have been turning retailing into a transaction.

People walk into a store, browse, pick up a product and go to a checkout. The only thing we say to the customer is ‘that will be £29.30 please’. Too often, that is the sum total of the ‘conversation’ in retailing today.

Retailing today is still very transactional.

It is no different online. The customer browses an extensive catalogue and, when they find what they want, they go to the checkout. Their only desire is to check out with the least number of key strokes – there is still no conversation.

To many people, digital retailing is about digital marketing. While that is an essential part of it, it should extend beyond that.

To us, digital retailing is all about bringing a conversation back into retailing. It is about reaching out to the customers who matter most to you, and engaging them in a human conversation, digitally. The goal is to ensure that, at the end of the conversation, they are left with the overriding desire to come back into the store to meet you in person so they can get the value-add promised in the conversation.

Retailers need to move as far away from transactional retailing as possible.

Transactional retailing has been about the retailer: their products, their catalogue, their range and merchandising. Digital retailing is the reverse, it is all about the consumer: their wants, their desires, their needs.

In digital retailing the winner is the relationship, and whoever manages to inspire, surprise, engage and satisfy ends up holding the relationship.

To understand the power of digital, look around when you are out in public and you will see many people hunched over playing with their mobiles. Most of them, those who are not gaming, are not browsing either. They are involved in a conversation. They are emailing, texting, chatting, using WhatsApp or other apps that engage them. They are all having conversations.

Retailers need to entice consumers into conversations, and there is no better way to do so than digitally. These conversations must have the overriding objective of inviting the consumer back into a store, so they go from digital to physical, online to offline. It’s just like online dating.

Transactional retailing is killing retailing; it is pushing retailers to take part in a race towards the bottom by turning retailing into a catalogue and pricing battleground.

Digital retailing can turn that around by getting staff in stores to re-connect with the customer, recreating the personal shopping experience.

There are 100s of digital retailing apps being launched by start-ups, who are wanting to take the customer relationship away from the retailer. Don’t let that happen to you.

Seize the initiative.

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