by James Barlow, Regional Director UK&I at Akeneo
Retailers and brands hardly need reminding that they need to up their game for the peak trading period of Christmas, but the nature of ‘Peak’ has changed in recent years such that the response needs to be more refined.
First of all, Peak is in fact no longer one but several peaks, based both on different events as well as different channels. While Black Friday is now a well-established trading event, newer discounting days, such as Amazon Singles Day for instance, have added more opportunities, but also new competition when it comes to engaging shoppers and winning share of wallet.
And this heightened competition, not least at a time when consumers are becoming more considered with their discretionary spend due to the rising cost-of-living, puts the imperative on Product Experience (PX). What this means is that the provided product information must be optimised for the opportunity in each event, on each channel and at every touchpoint.
Managing this complexity is not easy, as evidenced by that fact so many companies get it wrong; products are compromised by a lack of consistency on display, description, price, promotion and related services. This lack of consistency hurts conversions and sales through each event and channel, but worse, as a whole. This is because consumers are browsing and shopping through more channels than ever, and even using multiple channels to achieve a single purchase.
Recent research among global shoppers by Akeneo in its latest report showed that 78% of consumers shop in-store and 73% shop online, while 30% shop through online marketplaces, 13% use price comparison sites, 8% use mobile apps and 7% buy through social commerce sites.
Whatever channel they use, brands have made a big investment in making sure they convert when they get there. The results have been mixed. The focus for many years was customer experience, which has moved in recent years to employee experience, but the missing element in the whole experience is the product. And not just online; brands that are going direct to consumer, migrating from one eCommerce platform to another or trying to build click & collect or ship-from-store, will need to ensure that the product experience across all these channels is compelling, consistent and accurate.
The problem is, in the same research, less than half of the respondents said that product information was ‘very’ good’ on online marketplaces, while this sunk to 27% on mobile apps and 13% on price comparison web sites.
These figures have to be considered as part of the whole buying journey given the importance of search. Search engines were the most popular channel for UK consumers wanting to look up opinions about products to support their buying decisions (31%) followed by social media (25%), while 14% would choose a store associate. And this is just today; brands building consistent and rewarding product experiences will need to respond to the research that found that 32% of consumers would be interested in using voice commerce tech to find out more about products; 37% would be open to using chatbots in the future as part of product discovery. 42% would like to use Augmented Reality.
Of greatest concern to brands will be seeing what consumers do when the product information is poor, poor being made up of a range of characteristics including accuracy, clarity of information, availability of information, product source, quality of image and access to reviews.
62% said they would abandon a purchase due to poor product information being available, although 66% would switch to an alternative product due to poor product data. On the other hand, 44% have become so overwhelmed by too much product information, they have abandoned a purchase. 50% returned a product because the product data was inaccurate or not reflective of what the item was actually like when it arrived. Longer term, 65% would stop buying from a brand with poor product information as they would lose trust with that brand.
PX done well can transform both CX and EX – CX is about making it easier and more enticing for customers to buy; EX is about equipping staff with the tools and processes that motivate them and give them more time to sell; but both will suffer without good PX. The research supports this view; 45% of shoppers would pay more for products if the product experiences were good and product information was complete and of good quality, while 61% would pay up to 10% more for products that had better product data.
An effective PX is key to brands moving to the ultimate goal in their sales and marketing personalisation. However, this will be a huge challenge for companies that typically have many different systems because personalisation depends on close integration between them. This is the ultimate validation for making PIM instantly available to multiple systems and users, and available in a form that is ready to use.
Peak, of course, is a busy time for all companies but it need not be so frenetic. Time wasted sending yet another email to consumers that abandoned their basket can be better spent optimising the messages for each channel and focusing on responding more personally to each type of customer behaviour observed