Amazon is a name that has most likely slipped from the lips of every retailer and every consumer. In 2016, Amazon’s revenues reportedly reached a whopping $136bn – higher than the sales of Alphabet and Facebook combined. Some journalists have likened the retail giant to a “21st century version of a corporate trust, such as Standard Oil” rapidly spreading into every sector it can get its hands on.

Since its inception 23 years ago, Amazon has grown from an online book business into the largest Internet-based retailer in the world, with subsidiaries in technology (Alexa), games, food, fashion and much more. So it’s no surprise that retailers are looking on, hands balled into fists, wondering how they can compete against such a well-known brand. The good news is, all is not lost. By using data more intelligently, harnessing developments in technologies and creating a seamless customer journey across all touchpoints, retailers can give Amazon a run for its money. Here are three tactics to help retailers keep pace.

1. Personalisation 2.0

Personalisation isn’t a new concept by any means. For years, retailers have sent emails with the recipient’s name in the subject line, or included a hero image in the body of an email wishing the consumer happy birthday. This is only scratching the surface of what’s possible with personalisation, and retailers need to become more sophisticated.

According to Gartner Research, by 2018 organisations that have fully invested in all types of personalisation will outsell companies that have not by more than 30%. Look beyond your current personalisation strategies and incorporate real-time profiling into the mix. One of the most powerful aspects of personalisation is real-time shopping experiences. Real-time profiling instantly collects shopper behaviours and contextual traits (device type, location, time of day, day of week, etc.) to create a profile that can boost the shopping experience while the individual is still living it.

For example, Jack is currently on a sportswear website shopping for running shoes. He’s not sure what he’s looking for, but he’s skimming through the product pages indecisively. The sportswear retailer is able to personalise the shopping experience by Jack’s in-the-moment behaviours to present the most relevant products – in this case running shoes that meet his preferences, product content or a promotion to help him make a decision and ultimately, a purchase.

2. Replicate In-Store Tactics Online

Physical stores have the benefit of sales assistants, who lead the charge to create engaging and memorable shopping experiences. Whether it’s a personal shopper in a huge department store like Selfridges or Bloomingdale’s, or a very knowledgeable shop assistant in a smaller, niche musical instrument shop, these salespeople have expert knowledge and the benefit of face-to-face interaction to help meet your needs.

But what about online? How many shoppers are left to fend for themselves in the virtual high street, hoping for someone to give them a bit more information to inform their purchasing decisions?

80% of online shoppers enter a website without knowing what to buy ahead of time. They’re virtual window shopping. Conversely, 73% of shoppers have left a retailer’s website because they could not easily find what they needed. If we look at Amazon, this is where the retailer excels; product pages with a wealth of information, reviews from shoppers, product recommendations and much more. It’s hard to not find what you’re looking for (or stumble upon something you maybe weren’t looking for) and end up walking away satisfied, with a basket full of goods. Without the personal touch of a sales associate online, shoppers need to make their own decisions, which may then lead to basket abandonment or returns.

Look to guide shoppers along the path to purchase by providing a personalised experience, the equivalent of a helpful in-store associate. This means understanding their in-the-moment needs, predicting their next best action and including compelling content that nurtures the shopper along their journey.

Many retailers are now harnessing an interactive ‘guided selling’ tool which aims to engage shoppers through a series of functional, lifestyle and contextual questions. The tool then presents the most relevant product suggestions that will resonate best with the shopper. A guided selling tool enhances product discovery, can reduce returns and increases site engagement and conversion rates.

By using data in a smart way, retailers can engage, enhance and predict the right products to deliver the best online shopping experience, at scale.

3. Exploit Your Bricks

Amazon may be ahead of the game when it comes to nailing online retail, but it’s still navigating unchartered territory when it comes to the physical store. Amazon has been dabbling in bricks-and-mortar since 2015, and cemented its position by opening a handful of bookstores and a convenience store without cashiers. But it still can’t compete with more established retailers who have had physical stores for many years, and a burgeoning footprint both across the UK and internationally. That said, Amazon’s experimentation with physical stores means retailers must get physical now, before Amazon swoops in.

According to eMarketer, 90% of worldwide retail spending is still in bricks-and-mortar stores, so the long-anticipated demise of the high street was maybe more doom and gloom than reality suggests. In order for physical stores to deliver, retailers need to think about creating a truly omnichannel strategy that drives people back online and vice versa. Whether the shopper is using a desktop, mobile device, social platforms or within the store, the experience should be the same – consistent, engaging, and relevant.

Using data from online shopping to deliver more tailored in-store experiences is crucial. For example, Mary is browsing dresses on her mobile phone during her lunch break and adds a few to her wish list. Later in the day, she receives an email reminding her of her wish-listed items and a notification that a specific dress is available at her local store. Once Mary is home for the evening, she pulls out her laptop, completes the online purchase and selects to collect in-store, so she can get her item immediately.

 

Amazon is known for its technological wizardry, and no doubt as we see more Amazon stores popping up, we’ll likely also see experiences replicated from its online model. This could be cashless stores and automation to help bring more consumers in and through the shop, purchases in hand, in record times.

If retailers are going to compete with the ‘Wizard of Amazon’, a bit of retail theatre is required. Think about how you can use your shopper data to personalise and individualise the entire shopping experience to compete with the behemoths of retail in the longer term.