As the retail sector evolves, the average customer’s expectations are changing. To stay ahead of the curve, businesses need to adapt.

The average Australian has been quick to adopt online shopping. In 2016, online sales exceeded $20 billion for the first time. Key emerging trends signify beyond doubt that the retail landscape is changing rapidly. To avoid being left behind, Australian retailers need to act now.

The recent Salesforce Empowered Shopper report highlights the challenge: “We’re in the age of the customer. They expect personalised experiences everywhere, not just in marketing communications, and physical stores are just one touch-point in their increasingly dynamic retail interactions.”

So what does this mean for Australian retailers as they develop their approach to ecommerce over the next few years? Uber has created an expectation that when a traveller finishes a journey they simply need to get out of the car. The same shift in expectations is happening in the online retail world. Local ecommerce stores such as The Iconic and Showpo are continuously making the ways their customers engage with them easier, faster and more relevant. Step by step, they are raising the bar for all digital retailers.

Australia’s ecommerce revenue is sitting at $9.54 billion USD, but it is expected to hit $14.151 billion USD by 2020. For retailers this means focusing on a connected customer experience where competitive advantage can be created, with 66% of customers expecting consistent experiences across every brand interaction.

Another key insight from the report is the evolving view of privacy as part of the overall customer experience. Consumers expect businesses they deal with to maintain their personal privacy. This means brands that focus on transparency around what data they have and how it is being used are rapidly gaining consumer trust.

While the Amazon and Apple global giants will always exist, Australian businesses can compete through adopting established customer centric technologies and processes to ensure you maintain the right focus for your business:

1. Don’t think about catching up, focus on leading in one area


You can't do everything. Maintaining focus on a core brand experience is where you can build momentum and differentiation. It’s the harder path initially as the work may not impact sales results in the short term, but it can pay off in a big way.

A great example of this is The Iconic, they’re all about providing consistent, amazing customer experience. They do this by delivering on what they say they will; next day delivery and free returns. They back this up by being available via multiple channels to resolve issues efficiently and with autonomy, should they arise.

Action: Use design research techniques to map the customer experience, identify one customer problem that will have a major impact and differentiate. Focus on addressing that issue to build capability and velocity within your organisation.

2. The customer is central


The customer, as always, is king. Each interaction with your customer is an opportunity to understand them better. Transactional data allows you to build profiles so you get to know what makes them tick.

But now you can build profiles that allow you to understand them in greater detail. This knowledge also gives you great power. But, at the risk of sounding like a superhero comic, with that power comes great responsibility. Misuse turns customers off fast. Used correctly, this information can help you focus on driving value for your customer first and foremost.

Action: Use the data you have, and may be able to access, to build rich views of Customer Lifetime Value. This will ensure your organisation can see the impact of action in a more holistic and long term way.

3. Create experiences that allow the customer to live your brand


Consumers no longer want to passively watch brands tell stories. They want to be part of the action. Design experiences, in the real and digital world, that allows the customer to experience your brand promise.

Take a look at Nike, and you’ll see they’ve become much more than a brand that sells shoes and sportswear. Their invention of Nike+, first as a sensor in a shoe, then as a wristband and now as a suite of apps, allowed them to focus on what their brand is really about: athletic performance. In doing so they gathered vast amounts of information about how their customers were using their products and created a very ‘sticky’ digital ecosystem.

Action: Create user experience projects, with design researchers, data analysts and interaction designers, with the intent of defining how your brand would be experienced as an interaction or digital product.

4. Focus on a long term competitive advantage


Marketing through technology is not like delivering passive media. You now have the opportunity to introduce technology to your strategy that can help you communicate with your customer, empower your customer and allow you to build relationships over time. Spend more time on creating long term connections, and less time on flashes in the pan.

Don’t rely on gimmicks and promotions to create loyal customers, utilise customer data and insights to build relevant, meaningful conversations, and stay focused on what your customer needs. Everything else will follow.

Action: Use hypothesis based testing to build knowledge of what customers actually want. Then use this knowledge to design and build online experiences that create a long term brand differentiator, and a unique relationship between the brand and each customer.

While many commentators will say that traditional forms of advertising still have their place, what recent events have shown us is that place is increasingly at the bottom of the pile. What's clear is that businesses need to ‘become digital’ – simply doing digital marketing won't cut it. Now is the time to invest seriously in your customer, digital technologies and data-driven communications.

To win in today’s environment it’s critical that businesses start to create a balance between digital advertising and customer focused digital innovation. They need to make the shift from just making people want things, to creating things and experiences that people want.

For more insights and trends, with data from over 40 million global shoppers, check out the Empowered Shopper Report to learn how customer expectations are impacting retail and how you can stay ahead of the curve.

Mark Cameron is CEO of customer experience innovation agency Working Three and a world renowned digital strategy commentator with well over 400 published articles. Read more content from Mark.