4 Keys to Transforming Your Business for Agile Commerce

By Hallie Mummert

May 21, 2012

In Seoul, South Korea, Tesco Homeplus helps time-starved customers shop for groceries without having to lug bags of produce and packaged goods home—or even go to the store. Instead, people use their mobile phones to scan barcodes and QR codes on pictures of food items displayed in small virtual "stores" located in subway stations. Once they finalize their grocery orders, the supermarket then boxes and delivers the items to the customers' homes.

Now consider Nike+, the sporting goods manufacturer/retailer's online community for runners who want to track their progress, set goals, challenge other members to friendly competitions, get training advice and share maps of their favorite running routes. Through its mobile apps, sensor-based products, and community membership, Nike is an integral part of these consumers' athletic lives. One of the many services provided is alerting members when their running shoes might be ready for replacement.

What do these two examples have in common? In both, the companies are organizing their businesses around the customers' needs and preferences for how they shop, says Brian Walker, VP & Principal Analyst, eBusiness & Channel Strategy at Forrester Research. Walker pointed to these radical and successful ideas as proof of the shake-up that is occurring across all commerce during his keynote address, "Understanding Changing Consumer Expectations, " at Monetate's sold-out 2012 Agility Summit last Thursday.

Telling attendees that the emphasis has shifted from satisfying customers to never disappointing them, Walker laid out the four keys to transforming a business for agile commerce in order to execute against this customer experience mandate:

1. Develop a customer experience that is integrated across touchpoints.

Think about where your key interactions take place with prospects and customers in the shopping process, Walker said, and how your business is positioned to support whatever needs arise at those junctures. For example, put online ordering stations in your brick-and-mortar stores, in case shoppers want more options for sizes, colors, and styles. You can also arm sales personnel with mobile devices to assist shoppers with finding items they saw online, but now are hunting for in the store. And on your website, indicate when items are not available in-store so shoppers don't make a special trip that ends in frustration.

2. Transform your organization and culture.

To keep pace with ever-changing consumer behaviors and preferences across touchpoints, companies also need to do some re-engineering of their corporate structure and processes. Once and for all, Walker said, you need to tear down your silos and foster a cross-functional approach to business. Consumers don't care which teams get credit for the sale, so find a way to incentivize groups to work together for the greater good—a never-disappointed, profitable customer who refers new customers.

And, he explained, analytics should be more than just a reporting tool; businesses need to make this insight actionable and part of a continual focus on optimization of ecommerce efforts beyond user experience and navigation. To achieve relevance with today's demanding shopper, the next step is tailoring web content like offers, merchandising and creative.

One way more progressive organizations are driving this kind of change in their organizations is with gamification, where optimization objectives are tied to metrics and employees compete against one another for bragging rights and even rewards. Not only does the business benefit from this approach, Walker noted, but so do customers, as they get better, hopefully more targeted, marketing. However, he cautioned, for gamification to work, it must be deployed at the operational level.

3. Evolve measurements and metrics.

With a little more than 50% of retail sales influenced by the web in some way, ecommerce is not a marginal player any more, Walker stressed. So, he urged companies to expand their performance analysis to also look at repurchase, profitability, and merchandise return rates for customers by traffic source. This enhanced view, he said, will help companies better understand the value of different activities in supporting the overall customer experience.

4. Enable with technology.

Marketers expect to have integrated 20 or more solutions into their website platforms in the next two years to support ecommerce goals, according to an upcoming Forrester study. With this in mind, Walker stated that it's time to think about APIs to "maximize both flexibility and scalability with secure and stable management of customer product and transactional data that is shared across customer interactions." In the age of agile commerce, he emphasizes, APIs and the performance of the front-end of your business are critical to leveraging the investment made in the back-end.

And when it comes to the ecommerce platform itself, the study indicated that plenty of companies are either in the middle of a replatforming project or about to start one in the next year or two. Given the consumer and competitive environments, Walker advised companies to pursue any replatforming initiatives as long-term programs that support continual optimization of the business, as opposed to one-off projects.

If your company is one of those getting ready to pull the trigger on a replatform, arm yourself with the latest research, best practices, and lessons learned around implementation. Attend this Thursday's free webinar, "Successful Ecommerce Replatforming," featuring Brian Walker discussing the key findings from the latest Forrester Consulting Thought Leadership Paper, commissioned by Monetate.

Hallie Mummert is the former managing editor at Monetate. For the past two decades, she reported on trends and best practices in the marketing field for Target Marketing, a business-to-business trade publication. She also moderated webinars and created paid content for the magazine's parent company, North American Publishing Company.

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