Digitally disrupt your market and win customers with retail therapy

By Laura Kelley

As a retail customer, I'm not easily impressed. Smartphones and nearly omnipresent connectivity have forever altered my shopping expectations. Are you giving me instant mobile access to your products, services and inventory availability? I want your brand to know me — what I like, want and need — regardless of where and how I choose to engage. This means you need to digitally disrupt your market.

That's no small task, and despite a renewed focus on customer experience, many retailers are still falling short. A new global study spanning eight retail sectors found that the average customer experience index rating among brands is just 33 on a scale of 0–100. Only 3 percent of the retailers are "leading-edge."

How do you make sure your brand is part of that elite leader's circle? Take inspiration from innovators such as, which embraced a mobile-first approach early on to ensure it could engage customers on its own terms. After mastering mobile — about half of the company's transactions now occur on a smart device — the company pushed the experience envelope further with artificial intelligence (AI). The result is an AI-driven gift concierge called "Gwyn" (Gifts When You Need), which provides personalized gift recommendations based on natural-language conversations with shoppers. Over time, GWYN will learn and improve to deliver better gift recommendations faster.

Watch how the digital strategy at 1-800-Flowers is evolving:

Even brands with brick-and-mortar roots are prioritizing digital experiences that wow customers while putting them firmly in control of their shopping destinies. Staples turned its popular "Easy Button" marketing campaign into a full-fledged AI-powered intelligent ordering system. Using simple spoken words, time-crunched office managers can easily order supplies by pushing the physical button on their desks or speaking directly into the Staples app. By tapping into cognitive APIs and the cloud, Staples now offers a seamless ordering experience for customers across its entire ecosystem — whether through its next-generation Easy Button, the app, text, email, Facebook Messenger or a Slackbot.

You too can take your brand's customer experiences to the next level and digitally disrupt your market with an experience strategy that focuses on innovation in the following four key areas:

1. Start with mobile

According to Invesp CRO, mobile devices account for about 19 percent of all retail e-commerce sales in the US — a figure that's expected to jump to 27 percent by the end of 2018. The opportunity aperture widens when you consider the US ranked No. 8 in global retail e-commerce sales in 2016, behind countries such as the UK and China, where m-commerce is already surging or poised to explode. Yes, going all in on mobile means moving beyond traditional IT models and processes. However, if you master it, your team gets the skills and continuous-innovation mindset you'll need for the next technology breakthrough.

Learn how your company's mobile strategy compares

2. Count on the cloud

Digital experience development in the cloud gives you a low-risk way to start now, scale fast and adapt in real-time based on business needs. With the right cloud platform, your developers will have immediate access to the infrastructure, tools and APIs to quickly and continuously deliver the personalized experiences your customers expect. You'll get the flexibility to invest in what works — and easily eliminate what doesn't — without the time, hassle or expense of a rip-and-replace solution.

3. Arm employees with insights

When mapping out your digital strategy, don't overlook opportunities to empower employees. Research shows that 46 percent of consumers say an employee's ability to solve an out-of-stock issue immediately through a mobile device is a major differentiator. However, 79 percent of brands don't have mobile-enabled associates. Get ahead of the curve with solutions tailored to retail roles, powered by analytics and designed for mobile.

4. Experiment with emerging technologies

Forbes reports that 70 percent of retailers are ready to adopt the IoT to improve customer experiences. Retail leaders are also eyeing AI, as 83 percent of executives familiar with cognitive technology say it will have a critical impact on their businesses in the future. Take your cues from experience innovators such as and Staples and start innovating with emerging technologies now to delight customers today and win them over for years to come.

Customers expect a lot these days. With digital innovation, you can deliver the rich experiences they deserve and build a customer-obsessed business.