2020 was a year of many firsts. Consumers formed new habits, digital shopping trends accelerated, customer experience evolved, and brands and retailers are still adapting to the changing reality of eCommerce and in-store retail.
To gain perspective into where the European retail industry has changed this past year and where it is heading, I sat down with Ronan Bardet, one of the most influential figures in Spain’s eCommerce space. As the founder of EGI Group and co-founder of Digital 1 to 1, he helps to accelerate the next generation of digital commerce technology solutions across the eCommerce and retail space.
We chatted about the hoops that brands and retailers have to go through to keep up with the initial and lasting impact of COVID-19: Shifting consumer behavior patterns, logistics and fulfillment bottlenecks, and the need to constantly offer quality experiences offline and online.
Watch the video for the full conversation or check out some of the highlights below (edited for brevity and clarity):
The Role of eCommerce and the D2C Channel in Customer Experience
Syte: We know very well that European retailers were some of the hardest hit early on in the pandemic. Nine months later into this COVID era, what’s the climate like in Europe both for in-store retail and eCommerce?
Ronan: The situation is kind of strange for retailers and brands. Because on one side, they have tremendous difficulty with their normal traditional business—the physical stores—but on the other side, all of their digital activities are booming. In eCommerce, within only a few months we experienced growth of more than three years.
Also, COVID-19 brings D2C (direct-to-consumer) activities and the D2C channel to the center of the conversation. It’s no longer an option for brands to not have a direct channel or direct contact with their customers. I think it’s now a ‘do or die’ for many brands.
Syte: Can you share some examples of brands in fashion, home decor, or jewelry in Europe that have pivoted quickly to adapt and thrive in this new environment?
Ronan: Many fashion brands are trying to develop the number of channels where they deliver and sell their product. For instance, I know that Prada put some investments, time, and money towards opening channels in marketplaces in China such as JD.com or Tmall.
Once big brands face the situation where their main channel (in-store) is ineffective, blocked with store closures, they have to at least be able to diversify their other channels to sell their products. There are a lot of ways for brands to push a product to the market.
Accelerating Digital Adoption to Keep Up With Retail’s New Challenges and Opportunities
Syte: Inherent in this shift to eCommerce is the need for brands and retailers to boost customer experience and adopt new technologies. What do you think has become, or will become, a critical part of the eCommerce tech stack now, and why?
Ronan: To adapt to this situation, retailers and brands will have to use retail, eCommerce, marketing, and advertising technologies to fulfill their objectives. One trend that I can see is that many brands and retailers will try to offer the kind of same quality experience that they offer offline on their online channels.
For example, in the fashion industry, many retail technologies help consumers choose the best size for the purchase of clothes, which is, of course, not very easy when you only see a picture of a shirt or blue jeans.
In furniture, thanks to augmented reality, IKEA has a mobile app that allows users to place a sofa, for example, in their living room through the app. That’s improving the purchase experience for consumers. All of this technology has the same goal: To try to improve the consumer experience online and to offer a more similar experience with the same quality online and offline.
Syte: That’s true. Augmented reality, visual fitting rooms, and everything that we do at Syte in terms of product discovery are all about how to improve the customer experience and to make it as frictionless and seamless as possible, and in line with what customers would expect in a physical brick-and-mortar store.
Ronan: Yes, and there’s also another trend with technology: Due to health and safety protocols affecting shoppers, retailers and brands have to add a lot to the offline buying experience as well. So, we’re seeing new and existing solutions, such as self-checkout providers and copycats of the Amazon Go experience, booming at the moment.
Technology is also improving the queue experience so consumers can avoid huge queues and crowds in shops. Moreover, in warehouses, robotics is a good option to prevent staff from coming in and risking catching the virus. There are many digital solutions that can help retailers face this new reality.
The Unified Commerce Experience of the Future
Syte: At the events you hold, you introduce retailers to technology providers. Are you seeing a large uptick in European retailers seeking tech solutions in this current climate? Has there been a major acceleration?
Ronan: I think that there were two periods. During the first wave, the shock was so big that it wasn’t the time for retailers and brands to find solutions, but just to survive. They were not open at all to facing the situation and talking about new technologies and solutions in the first three, four months of the pandemic.
And now it’s different. The first wave has passed, the shock has passed. People are more open to talking, to finding new solutions for the situation, and they want to be able to provide their customers with solutions.
Syte: What’s next for eCommerce innovation? What are the emerging technologies and strategies for improving customer experience? What do you think will be the must-have in the next years?
Ronan: We always talk about the next big thing every year, and I think every year we fail to predict correctly. For me, the future of eCommerce is losing the ‘E’ in eCommerce and just bringing retailers and brands into a unified commerce experience, where technology is at the center of the business—because it is and should be.
Enjoyed this chat? Check out some of our other interviews with industry leaders, including BVA Commerce’s Douglas Hollinger and digital psychologist Dr. Liraz Margalit for more enriching insights into the challenges, opportunities, and the future of customer experience in retail.