16th November, 2015

Getting in-store expertise online is the latest e-commerce challenge

There were many productive and insightful conversations and presentations at the recent BT for Retail Summit and a real highlight was the talk by David Rowan, Editor of UK Wired Magazine, which was both impressive and revealing as he pointed out the digital developments that will likely inform the future of retail (and the technology that almost certainly won’t). 

Retail success these days is all about the customer experience. Over the last few years we’ve seen a lot of effort put into bringing the benefits of online retail – ease of search, no queues, tailored suggestions – into the store.


However, for a digital audience, the challenge now is the flip-side of this; finding ways to tap into the real expertise of store staff and how to present it online. This was the crux of the most thought-provoking conversation with a client I had at the Summit.


Overcoming this difficulty becomes especially important to retailers of branded products which are also available from competitors. Why should a consumer buy from you?


Price is an obvious driver for customers, but it’s an arms-race to the bottom and doesn’t necessarily instil trust and brand affiliation in the way that trusted expertise can do.


Tactics have been in place to address this issue for some time, of course; live-chat, video, well written copy, honest reviews and high-quality imagery all help (check out Farrow & Ball for example), as does a knowledgeable and expertly written blog (Jigsaw do a great job). A sophisticated strategy for social media that’s category and brand appropriate is also paramount (The Shop at Bluebird).


Now that sites are easier to use on all our devices and the find-and-buy journey is becoming ever slicker, brands need to differentiate themselves and key to that (beyond the product itself) is service and apparent expertise.


Success in this arena will require some serious, joined-up thinking.


Also of huge importance is understanding how creative design and UX needs to account for new technology and drive it forward.


As ever, we live in very interesting times for both technology and retail!

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