How ten years of digital disruption has shaped retail

There’s no denying that 2020 was a difficult year for retail. But for a sector that has faced a huge amount of digital disruption over the past ten years, this is just another challenge to take in its stride.

The headlines love to paint a gloomy picture of the state of the high street, but as long as we need to eat, get dressed and decorate our homes, retail is here to stay. On our high streets and online.

The shift towards online retail is clear. In 2010, ecommerce made up 6.5% of Great Britain’s retail sales. By 2019, that figure had increased to 18.7%. In 2020, the Covid pandemic accelerated that shift to online retail faster still.

The rapid growth in ecommerce has created a host of opportunities for retailers – but it’s been more than just creating an online presence or diversifying into omnichannel retail. Retail’s digital transformation has presented threats and concerns, and given access to trends and transitions.

So, what can retailers learn from the past ten years?

Giving consumers what they want meant investment

Every retailer needs to give customers what they want. Over the past ten years, that has meant greater convenience and an enhanced shopping experience. 

Online retailers are able to offer both, but not without considerable investment. Retailers haven’t simply been able to shift their efforts away from the high street to online. And nor should they. Consumers want the best of both worlds – the ability to shop in physical stores and online. Giving customers what they want means giving them options. 

Over the past decade, retailers have been presented with a dilemma. Diversification, certainly. But how much? Full-blown investment in the online retail space would mean they could capitalize on the opportunity, but it could also mean losing traditional high street customers in the process. The alternative? Keeping with their current offering, but risk losing customers to digital competitors.

For some retailers who made early investment in digital technology, the results were not as favourable as they would have liked. The world of gathering customer data and using insights to inform supply and demand is not easy. But while some companies struggled, others shone.

Personalisation took centre stage

With the rise of Amazon came the scramble for personalisation. But while matching Amazon in terms of convenience is no mean feat, smaller brands had something Amazon lacked – the human touch.

Brands have had to work hard to anticipate and then meet consumer wants and needs. Exceeding customer expectations has meant going further still. Those that have used data insights in the right way have reaped the rewards, building meaningful relationships with customers and increasing loyalty.

By focusing on creating a more personalised offering and blending that with high levels of service, greater convenience and an enhanced experience, retailers have worked out how to use technology as a differentiator.

Taking the concept of personalisation a step further, augmented and virtual shopping experiences have also made their mark on the last decade. These give consumers even more of what they want. The ability to ‘try on’ trainers without going to a shop, or to see how that armchair would look in their living room. 

Giving customers the perfect blend of convenience, immediacy, and a more tangible experience has meant fewer online shopping fails – and less buyer’s remorse.

The demand for greater sustainability

Today, customers are looking for more ethical and sustainable brands than they were ten years ago. Society’s growing awareness of climate change has resulted in more consumers moving towards greener brands. A good product is no longer enough to win consumer favour. Customers want to know about its eco-credentials. 

According to a survey by Hotwire, 47% of consumers want to buy from brands that support their personal values. Top of that list of values? Protecting the environment. Customers want to know how products are made, where they are made and how materials are sourced.

Failing to meet this demand for greater sustainability is not an option. A brand exposed as being unethical, unsustainable or not caring about the environment will face a social media outcry, resulting in reputational damage and a sharp loss of customers.

2021 and beyond

2021 continues to present many of the challenges we’ve seen in 2020, especially in relation to Covid-19.

But if the pandemic has helped retailers at all, it’s by confirming that digital and traditional retail are dependent on one another. Rather than retailers opting for one or the other, they should be used together to give consumers the choice they so desperately want.

In-store retail is still very much alive, but needs to adapt and evolve to offer the kind of personalisation seen in online retail. Customers have missed the ability to enter physical stores, and 2021 could be the year when nostalgia for the great British high street really comes to the fore. 

If you need help delivering engaging, immersive customer experiences at every touchpoint, look no further than The Delta Group. Get in touch today to find out more about our services and solutions.