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Ripping up the catalogue: Digital disruption in retail

1st Oct 2015
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Digital disruption is a huge growth opportunity but you just need to find it. For me true disruption is the opportunity to use tech to fundamentally change long established ways of working; such as moving from CDs to buying your media as a service, Airbnb, Uber and all the other usual app economy examples.

But what about retail? Where is the next use of tech to truly disrupt how we find, buy, sell, deliver and get served?

I have found a hint of where the next disruption may be in IBM’s most recent digital index report. The report compiles UK wide online experience to highlight that revenue is the only aspect of online that is growing. Page visits are down, “stickiness” is down, page viewing durations are down and overall, loyalty is down.

For me this means we are heavy online users; perhaps it is a necessary channel in our time-poor, multitasking, busy lives. But it does not mean we like it or find as much use as we could out of it.

So enter disruptive thinking. Retailers continue to finesse their decade-old digital catalogue experiences, often creating some good practice examples. However, to truly disrupt the industry we need to take these new survey findings and respond appropriately. Ditch the catalogue and engage in ways that are appropriate, timely and contextual for your consumers. Words said many times, but just think about the freedom you could have without a catalogue:

  • In grocery shopping, I can now ask Watson Chef to plan my meals for the week given a few rules around nutrition, variety, allergies etc. No more browsing of departments, product summary pages, clicking on each item and building a basket.
  • I can now take a picture of a product to find the price or do a one-click checkout there and then (circumnavigating all those boring existing browser flows).
  • When catching a taxi, I can use new authentication methods to remove the need to type long passwords when I am trying to get into a cab whilst finding my wallet whilst using my phone.

These are just a few examples. I believe the next wave of disruption in retail will be from those retailers who think of new ways to interact away from a catalogue, based on a true understanding of user demands in context. To do this, retailers need to stop finessing their age-old websites and instead invest in user-centred creative ideas linked to real technology to find new answers. This is both simple and difficult at the same time, requiring fast start experiences that trigger a change in how organisations construct, manage and present their brand online.

IBMs latest digital readiness report shows a substantial change in web behaviour perhaps starting the transformation away from catalogue retailing and moving instead to contextual and personalised retailing. I don’t know what experiences will win-out but I do know the journey will be an exciting one to be involved in.

Danny Bagge is Head of Retail for IBM UK&I


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