Patrick Deloy is managing director at Isobar, a Dentsu Aegis Network company and Platinum Salesforce partner, and chief growth officer at Dentsu Commerce. He leads the commerce practice from Hong Kong.

The retail industry has faced unparalleled challenges and transformation in 2020. Millions of businesses closed their doors due to the effects of stay-at-home orders. As the demand for online shopping surged, retailers with strong ecommerce channels were able to keep trading. Others weren’t so lucky. Even now, with most stores able to reopen, many brands are struggling to survive as shoppers continue to stay away. 

And it’s not just the big brands that suffer. Neighborhood retailers have been hit the hardest due to their reliance on foot traffic. According to a recent study, businesses with fewer than 20 employees were most likely to have closed already or are likely to close by December 2020. Of these, retail businesses were the hardest hit.

Retailers who have managed to weather the storm have needed to redesign the entire shopping experience around new health regulations and evolving customer expectations. We’ve seen many examples of innovative retailers not only surviving but thriving, as they quickly pivot their business around new engagement strategies. One example is CarMax, who was able to create a retail-like digital experience where customers could shop online or via the CarMax app. We saw similar adaptability from the shoe brand TOMS that used social listening to understand their customers were looking for solutions to help people in need. This information inspired them to create the Global Giving Fund, a program where they donate $1 for every $3 they make to partners directly addressing COVID-19 relief efforts — ultimately generating over $2M in donations.

In this new retailing environment, stores of all sizes are under pressure to digitally innovate to compete online. With the online shift expected to be permanent, the race is on for retailers to develop an omnichannel commerce strategy and start exploring popular new channels, like livestreaming, that can help them rebuild customer engagement, loyalty, and brand advocacy. 

To do this effectively, they need an innovation roadmap built on an evolved brand narrative, the right digital channels and strategies, and the data to support meaningful personalization.


1. Uncover your new brand potential

Today’s relationship between retailers and customers has evolved into a partnership based on trust and respect. Instead of being purely transactional, customers expect retailers to help them overcome their challenges and solve their problems. 

Before embarking on a digital transformation project, ensure you are building a beneficial narrative for your brand online. Also, be honest about how your narrative may have already evolved and consider growing from there. As emotions ran high during the height of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders, Kleenex announced it was giving away 100,000 three-month subscriptions to the meditation app, Calm. The brand wanted to offer something meaningful for their customers that also helped reinforce a brand value around emotional well-being.

Examine whether you also need to rethink how you do business or interact with customers to support your brand’s narrative. For example, can you deliver necessities faster than your average delivery timeframe or ensure your website reflects accurate inventory levels, so customers aren’t disappointed at check-out? For example, as stay-in-place orders went into effect, broadband provider Spectrum offered 60 days of free internet access to households with a K-12 or college student, knowing families were struggling with learning and working from home. This decision supported the brand’s commitment to ensuring customers maintain reliable access to information and tools they need to succeed. 


2. Look to new channels and strategies to target your customers more effectively

“For every extra click a user has to make, you lose 10% in conversion rate,” says commerce expert Jon Reily, global chief strategy officer, Dentsu.

The race is on to shrink the path to purchase and make every click engaging. Many brands are investing in direct-to-consumer marketing that’s focused on engaging and hyper-convenient shopping experiences; for example, using popular social media and streaming platforms like Twitch, TikTok, and Instagram to engage and sell. Live streams might recreate a salesperson’s experience promoting a product, or they might feature a presenter or celebrity influencer interacting with a targeted group of people.

Live streaming has become an increasingly important marketing tool in some regions. For example, in China – where marketers sell everything from fresh produce to clothing and cosmetics this way – it is already a multi-billion-dollar business, but shelter-in-place orders only supercharged that trend. The number of merchants using Alibaba’s Taobao Live marketplace to sell their wares via livestream grew 719% from January to February 2020. As another example, Shanghai Fashion Week was the first major fashion event to go fully digital. It even offered viewers the ability to “Buy Now” or pre-order items from their phones as they tuned in online, with great success.

And while American brands are already reaching customers in China via live stream (think QVC or Home Shopping Network 2.0!), the live stream shopping trend has been slower to take hold outside Asia. But all of that may change. Between February and March 2020, aggregated streaming consumption in the U.S. rose by 73%. In 2019, Amazon launched its live streaming platform, Amazon Live. And as the popularity of TikTok and Twitch continue to rise, it’s wise to consider how these new digital channels can support a holistic engagement strategy.

For example, Levi’s was one of the first to use TikTok’s “Shop Now” buttons, which allow consumers to make purchases through links posted to TikTok. As a result, the brand has seen high engagement and increased traffic to its website. E.l.f. Cosmetics, a Salesforce Commerce Cloud, Marketing Cloud, and Service Cloud customer, has also seen considerable success on TikTok: they created an original song to use as part of a TikTok campaign, working with beauty influencers to share and promote the song and #eyeslipsface hashtag, which has billions of views.

And we can’t forget social selling through popular channels like Facebook and Instagram. In May, Facebook announced the launch of Facebook Shops to help small businesses set up a store and sell through their Facebook page. Instagram users can easily see and purchase products from the Stories function and through Instagram Live, the platform’s streaming service that’s become increasingly popular for retailers, especially fashion brands. Even YouTube recently launched shoppable ads to drive traffic directly to a product page.


3. Lean into new engagement tactics and personalization

Successful retailers are leaning further into digital sales, of course, but they are also increasing options like pickup in-store (BOPIS), curbside pickup, and subscription models

For example, one of our clients is a large global bicycle manufacturer with a strong dealer network in the U.S. and Europe. Traditionally, staff members in its outlets have interacted with customers in person, with many hands-on services such as personalized bike fittings. However, with the company’s competitors embracing online retailing and innovations like live streaming to showcase their product range, our client realized they needed to accelerate their digital transformation to remain competitive. It is now selling its bicycles online and has seen over 50% of U.S. sales come from online channels, which is holding strong even as stores reopen. They are also planning other customer-friendly options like curbside pickup and contactless delivery as part of their digital roadmap.

The secret to creating the right avenues for better customer engagement and personalized customer experiences is data. But how well do you really know your customers? You probably have data from various sources – for example, sales data from retail channels, membership program data, or call center or service records – but you need to connect these sources across channels to derive the most value from each. This is why Salesforce has been such a critical piece in many of our clients’ transformation stories. With Customer 360, companies can digitize their business model and connect marketing, commerce, and service teams with a single view of the customer and their touchpoints.

Connecting data and segmenting customers effectively allows you to strengthen and personalize the customer journey and make options like BOPIS and even live streaming a reality. If you take live-streaming, you must know what your customers, or a select group of your customers, are interested in or challenged to create a compelling show agenda that converts. As an example of more traditional marketing, if a customer hasn’t purchased in two months, that could trigger a discount email offering to that customer. There are unlimited opportunities to create engaging content and offers across all channels based on customer data and behavior.


4. Engage everywhere by connecting commerce and personalization

Ultimately, developing an effective digital strategy is a journey. Start small and work in manageable stages. If you’re just getting going, start with an ecommerce site. Make sure it’s flexible and built on a platform that supports an omnichannel strategy. From there, consider how to leverage the channels your customers frequent as part of your strategy.

Meanwhile, work towards marketing personalization, starting with segment-driven personalization that targets a whole group, before evolving to a more individualized level with the help of intelligent learning systems and automation. The goal is to get closer to omnichannel personalization.

To find out more about Dentsu Commerce’s framework for developing an omnichannel commerce strategy, download the Total Commerce playbook. Or, for more tips and insights on how to build trust with today’s shoppers, check out The New Retail Playbook from Salesforce.