With the 2018 Australia Post Online Retail Industry Awards (ORIAS) set to take place in Sydney this month, Kochie’s Business Builders (KBB) sat down with Alice Kuepper, event director of the Online Retailer Expo and Conference to discuss the changing face of retail and how small businesses are leading innovation in the sector.
With the awards now in their ninth year and the event celebrating its tenth birthday in 2018, Kuepper tells KBB she has seen significant advances in the online retail space in the past decade, particularly in the past year.
“Online retail growth has accelerated over the last 12 months and especially small to medium businesses’ online sales are growing faster than corporates. They now account for about 37% of online sales, which is exciting news,” says Kuepper.
Kuepper suggests most retailers in Australia are investing heavily into their digital backbones in order to provide seamless shopping journeys between online and offline, leading to a normalisation of what she calls the “phygital” shopping experience. According to Kuepper this move from physical to digital has increased shoppers’ expectations.
“Consumers expect to have one brand experience across the online, offline, mobile and desktop shopping channels, and retailers are working hard to deliver this,” she explains.
“Trends like customisation of products and personalisation of marketing messages are also very important developments. Another huge trend that’s really taken off with the millennial consumer is the advent of buy now, pay later – with new payments options to facilitate this. Essentially all retailers want to deliver great customer experiences that are relevant to the individual buyer and are sourcing new technologies for this.”
Whilst augmented reality and virtual reality have been around for several years, Kuepper says more and more online retailers are taking advantage of the way the technology can enhance customer experience.
“We have seen some great applications such as being able to try on sunglasses virtually so that consumers can make better purchasing decisions online. Another good in-store example of this is the “magic mirrors” at large department store retailers in the USA that allow consumers to virtually change the colour of a dress they are trying on. There are also predictions that virtual reality technology will deliver more real-life experience so that consumers feel comfortable buying things online they didn’t previously such as pets, houses and cars. We are also seeing more sophistication in retailers applying artificial intelligence and integrating voice shopping (via Google home or Amazon Alexa).”
According to Kuepper retailers are getting better at personalising the shopping experience and providing an integrated shopper journey and she expects this to improve over time.
“Purchasing decisions will be made easier for shoppers and the customer journey will become more seamless.
“I also expect real developments around food shopping and virtual restaurants in particular. Most Millennials and Gen Zs find it ‘too much work’ to go out to a restaurant or a bar, and they prefer food and drinks being delivered to them. The virtual restaurant model fits nicely into the changing consumer behaviour. I also think that consumers will spend more on experiences than on products in the future,” she says.
And don’t be surprised if ‘real money’ has less and less of a role to play when it comes to the future of shopping.
“Cryptocurrency is becoming more and more popular amongst the younger generations and is changing customer experience as blockchain provides online transparency. Retailers can benefit from this trend by using blockchain to capture insightful customer data as well as implementing crypto-currency-powered incentive programs to cater to this rise.”
Whilst there was a lot of doom and gloom predicted around the launch of Amazon in Australia last year, Kuepper says retailers are yet to see any real impact from the global shopping giant.
“It is without a doubt, that Amazon’s entry into Australia will have a big impact on Australian retail however it will take some time for this to manifest as it has in all other countries that Amazon has entered.”
The ORIAs take place at The ICC Sydney on July 26, 2018. The Online Retailer Expo and Conference takes place on July 25-26 also at ICC, Sydney.