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The Age of Assistance

By Retail Technology | Tuesday April 3 2018

Google UK's Martijn Bertisen explains how businesses can stay ahead in retail's digital age as we enter the ‘Age of Assistance’

The world of retail has evolved and transformed frequently. We've seen the rise of the supermarket, hypermarkets, super stores, plus the impact of the internet in the form of ecommerce, mobile and social. 

It's fair to say that the retail industry has always been at the cutting edge of change and innovation because of its role to service the ever evolving needs and behaviours of consumers. 

The last decade in retail has been the story of omnichannel. It's a word that we hear time and time again and a subject that has found its way into nearly all the strategies of major retailers. We've seen some real strides made in the creation of seamless, easy, engaging customer experiences across channel and across device.  

Omnichannel mark

But here's the surprising news. Across Europe, retailers are falling short of the mark in omnichannel. We see excellent examples of execution in pockets but rarely across the brand and organisation. 

We carried out some in-depth research, in partnership with Practicology, across Europe and the UK to score retailers' omnichannel capabilities. 

The results for the UK were marginally better than in Europe but surprisingly low overall. The average score was just 52% whilst the lowest was 36%. At the better end of the spectrum was the highest performer, Schuh, whose score however was still shy of 70%. 

Success stories

So why might that be? We have run an in depth piece of analysis in partnership with OC&C to identify how brands can succeed. When we take a step back and look at the success stories, they do not approach from a channel-led approach but from a customer-first approach, with a focus on anticipating their needs to offer assistive, relevant experiences. 

Why do retailers find this difficult to achieve in practice? 

Much of the growth we see in ecommerce from a conversion perspective is substitutional, it isn't driving growth for the business overall but rather absorbing sales from other channels. On top of that, it's draining financial resources needed for development, maintenance and innovation. The net impact? Low overall growth percentages and almost no upside on the bottom line. So you might be thinking: 'Why invest?' 

The financial risk of not investing is even greater than of doing so. The bar is continually being driven upwards by the sector and particularly by retail platform players in this market. Retail platforms are continually stretching the expectations of customers and the market leaders are those who are innovating with technology and building human capital. 

Customer needs 

We've been focused on developing our platforms to be increasingly responsive in meeting those customer needs too - and we've had to do that at scale. We now have seven diverse platforms, each of which have over 1 billion users. 

The platforms you know such as YouTube, Search and Gmail are already being used widely in your businesses to reach your consumers at scale, engage them with brilliant experiences, and ultimately to build the brands you work with. But that's just one side of the coin. What's really exciting is the different ways we're now working with partners, many of which are retailers, to drive business success. 

We're giving retailers the opportunity to run their businesses with Google's computing power. Our role in retail is to be an enabler; deploying our strengths to remove friction from both the front-end and back-end retail consumer journey - so that you can do what you do best, most effectively despite the challenging backdrop: 

* Customer value prop: Define and execute a brilliant customer experience 
* Profitability: Create sustainable businesses that withstand and endure in ever changing environments 
* Organisational robustness: Set up your people, systems and processes in your organisations to succeed 

Sustainable way

So how do you deliver brilliant, assistive experiences your customers are demanding while doing it in a sustainable way that creates value for your business? We see three core elements that you must embrace in the Age of Assistance: 

* SHOW UP: Capture demand and intent wherever, whenever - through reach, discovery, and inspiration across all devices and channels 
* WISE UP: Apply machine learning to customer and business data to drive better decisions across your value chain 
* SPEED UP: Make shopping easy and increase customer loyalty by enabling fast frictionless purchases everywhere 

The consumer has fundamentally changed. Their engagement with new technologies and digital services has driven their expectations up higher and higher. They're now demanding useful, engaging, and assistive experiences from all the brands they interact with.

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