10 Insights from Leading Retailers to Guide Digital Reinvention

June 30, 2021

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Yara Alhusaini

We’ve all heard it. These are unprecedented times forcing us towards unusual ways of working and living. At Reason, we’ve had to revisit how we work with our clients and the kinds of problems we solve for them. We have engaged with B2B and B2C clients to solve problems posed by this new reality. Through our practice of human-centred design and design thinking, we aim to empower retailers and their stakeholders as they respond to a landscape of uncertainty.

Uncertainty, frequent and sudden changes in government restrictions, supply chain weaknesses, and changing customer priorities have impacted retailers to the point where business as usual is no longer possible.

Improving the B2C Experience

Questions to Guide Transformational Thinking

Answering some of the questions below can help guide retailers' transformation towards product and service systems that respond to today’s difficulties and consider the emerging future challenges.

  • What do the new policies mean for our customers’ day to day, and what does that mean for us?
  • What are the immediate implications on the retail store and online experiences? E.g. How should products be displayed if customers are not allowed to touch them? How will users pay if they don’t want to queue? How will heavy reliance on online shopping change behaviour and expectation?
  • What are the lessons learned from the way we have reacted so far? What insights can we build on?
  • How has this new way of living impacted our customers’ behaviours, expectations, and needs?
  • How can we show solidarity with our communities and provide meaningful support that represents the business’s values?
  • Who are the customers that we lost contact with because of the pandemic? And how can we recapture them? Who might our new customers be?
  • How can we bring a sense of pleasure back into the experiences customers previously enjoyed and now find tedious while still ensuring their safety?
  • How will the new systems we develop work as pandemic restrictions ease and new modalities of living emerge?

Identify and Build on your Strengths

Last year, when it was apparent that Covid would change retail forever, we worked with a British home furnishings retailer with 170 stores across the United Kingdom. They are known to engage local communities through their stores, their cafes being a favoured coffee and scone spot for their customers. When Covid-19 hit and the new government measures came in, like many retailers, they found they suddenly had to rely on their newly formed online channels. To reimagine the online and in-store experiences, we worked together to investigate and find long-lasting solutions.

We gathered insights that we wanted to capitalise on in our solutions through our research with the retailer.

  1. The retailer’s product range is extensive and diverse, and experts in-store offer significant help to customers, who, for example, would not know where to start when purchasing curtains.
  2. The in-house design team considers different uses and contexts for items and coordinates products when creating new designs. This thinking and expertise is not fully translated to customers through current sales strategies and channels.
  3. A growing emphasis on sustainability. The retailer makes products in ethically responsible factories, but they want to do more.
  4. The retailer’s local online presence has grown through localised facebook groups and employees’ involvement in initiatives to help NHS workers.

Together we ideated around different solutions at different touchpoints and channels through design scenarios for 3 solutions (see image A):

  1. Limited customer numbers could mean long waits to enter stores: Scan to play interactive digital quizzes for customers as they queued outside could be leveraged to understand more about customer needs and provide an insight into relevant products. (pre-purchase)
  2. Limitations on handling products and viewing matching products in different departments place barriers in the path to purchase. Scanning items to view a ‘Product Virtual World’ could place the product contextually, alongside matching items, care information, customer feedback, and additional product details. (during purchase)
  3. We designed an online ‘DIY Hub’ that would offer customers sustainability tips for their purchases through care instructions, upcycling projects and other helpful information. (post-purchase)

B2C Scenarios

Image A - Scenario ideation*

Scenarios created to tell the stories of three customer experience solutions for a furniture retailer. The solutions tackle three distinct interaction points in a customer’s journey: pre-purchase, during purchase, and post-purchase.

  • Note - design scenarios serve to flesh-out, interrogate and communicate ideas. Scenario building can help in showing the bigger picture.

These solutions explore how the retailer might engage with their customers throughout the customer journey to ensure the correct messaging is delivered, via the appropriate channel, with relevant content based on behaviour. These scenarios allow for additional data collection, resulting in further customisation and personalisation of content displayed to users. The retailer’s product design team can use these insights to design relevant and desirable products. Furthermore, these solutions elevate the store experience and role by establishing a meaningful continuity between the offline and online shopping experience, with a unique added value to each.

Learnings for B2C Retailers

  1. Understand your current capabilities in terms of people, process, and technology. Gain a holistic understanding of what is possible based on what exists. Do this through design-led and purposeful research within and outside of your company. A tech audit of your data and tools will help know what’s feasible short and long term.
  2. Match your capabilities and values with the needs, aspirations, and values of your customers.
  3. Build long-lasting solutions that align to company values.
  4. Learn from what others are doing, do not reinvent the wheel.
  5. There is limited time to act. Prioritise your actions based on impact.

The initiatives we designed highlight how retailers need to stay relevant to their customers, constantly rethinking their ways of doing things. A large part of focusing on the customer goes back to the business’s internal processes. With operations taken mostly online, retailers must invest in internal tools to ensure employees can continue to do 100% of their jobs even when working remotely.

Improving the B2B Experience

Connect Before you get Disconnected

Reason worked with one of the world’s most well-known fashion retailers, with 500 stores worldwide and a presence in more than 100 countries, on a brief to create a connected, consistent and enjoyable B2B experience for wholesale buyers in the months preceding the pandemic.

With the advent of Covid, we quickly pivoted the product and service to respond to the emerging needs created by the pandemic. Rapid evolution and a speedy rollout allowed the retailer to sell their products remotely as employees and store buyers worked from home. Over one season, the retailer was able to forgo its reliance on inviting wholesale buyers to see physical product samples in showrooms and the complex curation process that revolves around that.

We imagined a new scenario (see image B) through co-creation, where we detailed a new end to end vision of the B2B selling system. The first step towards realising the concept was to build an online application where employees and customers had everything they needed to sell and buy seamlessly. Employees could focus on the actual work they had to do: manage their clients in a time of change. Clients were delighted that the company was ready to meet their needs.

B2B Journeys

Image B - End to end selling journey* and points of interaction for a fashion retailer.

The journey demonstrates a future scenario that reimagines the selling process through one connected platform. The platform utilises different means of engagement depending on the context of the interaction.

  • Note - a future user journey aims to outline the step by step process a user goes through from the beginning to the end in order to complete a task. It serves to bring a few ideas together and interrogate the ideas put forward before investment is allocated.

Like this fashion retailer, most businesses need to ensure they invest in their digital capabilities to survive and flourish in a competitive sphere.

Questions to Guide B2B Transformational Thinking:

Therefore, retailers should aim to answer:

  • How we ensure remote collaboration, and how can we take advantage of increased collaboration across geographies?
  • How can we train and encourage employees to adopt new ways of working?
  • How can we build resilience to change within our internal systems?
  • What collaborations in the industry can we leverage and learn from?
  • How can we protect our employees?
  • How can we empower our employees to help each other and their interactions with clients and customers?

Most traditional retailers haven’t evolved their B2B sales processes and have focused on their brand image and reserving production capacity. There needs to be a greater emphasis on the experiences and the relationships developed between sales employees and buyers. I am not referring to the cup of tea and small chat before a sales meeting, but rather the ease, speed, reliability, and seamlessness of the buying experience from end to end. For example, retailers can forget that wholesale buyers deal with multiple brands and multiple seasons and have their own superiors and financial goals to meet. When retailers design integral systems, they need to consider all of the internal and external human factors that come into play. The pandemic highlighted the gaps in these processes, and those who tackled them ahead of time survived. The most successful even found new opportunities to evolve business transactions to become shorter, more efficient, and more meaningful.

Learnings for B2B Retailers

  1. Designing the user experience for your internal and B2B operations is just as important as your end-user experience. It’s a meticulous inter-related ecosystem.
  2. Don’t be reactive in your solutions. Predict and work ahead of the curve where possible.
  3. Create adaptable solutions and systems that are flexible and allow for change when needed.
  4. Understand the reality of a new digital solution. It will affect ways of working, and managing change in your company is essential to the success of implementing a product/service.
  5. Remember that you are not changing alone, and other companies will change with you.

In a post-pandemic world, the physical and the digital world have to come together more than ever. What solutions do we offer customers when they can’t handle products and test their fit and quality? What solutions do we offer customers when queuing to pay becomes their nightmare? How do we ensure that we make the products they need and want today? Human-centric design methodologies are still here to help, but they will need to evolve in parallel.

Here at Reason, we are also evolving our internal processes. We are expanding our online tool kits and experimenting with different design thinking workshop formats, user research, communications, development, and delivery, to best provide our clients with real-world solutions.

How are you adapting? Drop us a line at hello@reason.co