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Why savvy retailers are scrapping the hottest new technology

Virtual reality. It’s the latest technology buzzword, and has recently seen eBay and Myer join forces to launch the world’s first virtual reality (VR) department store. Throughout the VR experience, shoppers can browse more than 12,500 products and they can be selected and added to cart.

In a fast-moving retail sector, buffeted by the combination of global retailers entering the market and a global economic slowdown, you’d be forgiven for thinking you need to be on top of the latest technology such as VR to give your business every chance of success. But does the ROI of VR actually correspond with its hype?

It’s a controversial position, but I say buzz words like gamification, virtualisation, internationalisation and localisation are just that – buzzwords.

There’s no denying that online is the fastest growing way for consumers to make a purchase. In the last 12 months, Australians spent $20.8 billion on online retail – equivalent to around seven per cent of the existing bricks and mortar retail space, and up 14 per cent over the previous year.

But whilst many retailers have been diligent about trialling everything from social media buy buttons to virtual shops and a localised website, the reality is that without the basics in place, it’s just not worth the effort. Rather, retailers should be prioritising their time and money on the things that are proven to genuinely drive business loyalty for the long haul, rather than entertain in the short term.

The first and most obvious means of driving sales is to show shoppers what they’re searching for. According to the Nielsen Norman Group, most website visitors stick around for less than 59 seconds. With attention spans shortening, embedding a strong search function within your website should be at the top of any savvy retailer’s list.

Sophisticated search features such as autocomplete and product images that appear as you type can act as a secret weapon – cutting time down from search to purchase. For example, leading Australian cosmetics retailer Adore Beauty guides shoppers to the right products from the moment they type in the search box. As a result, the 10 per cent of shoppers who use site search yield more than 30 per cent of the site’s revenue.

Once you’ve sorted site-search, it’s time to get personal. Promoting relevant product recommendations, tailoring email campaigns, and curating personalised landing pages can deepen engagement, differentiate your brand and drive repeat sales. Understanding your customers’ preferences and delivering a highly personalised experience to cater to them reap greater benefits than offering a virtual experience.

More than just delivering a customised service, target your efforts to users through the correct channels to maximise return. A recent report by PayPal revealed that 71 per cent of Australian consumers are now shopping on their smartphones, with most spending an average $330 per month.

It’s clear that optimising your site for mobile is central to any successful e-commerce strategy. Enhance the quality of smaller screens. Improve speed. And don’t forget the holy grail of mobile shopping: the fewer clicks, the better. Finally, think about how great content can improve the shopping experience and give your customers a destination to both purchase a product and learn how to use it.

If you have a blog, how-to videos, social media posts or other content that your customers consume, use it to set your site apart from competitors and engage your customers. HealthPost is an example of a site that uses such tabs to feature related blogs on its product results pages.

As you can see, there are many ways to optimise your online presence and drive sales without falling victim to buzzwords and trends which have yet to prove themselves in driving significant return. The question is no longer whether to invest in e-commerce, but when to invest to help your organisation stay ahead of competitors and optimise your customers’ shopping experience in the long run.

Make sure you put your money where it matters in 2017.

Joe Thymian is the regional vice president of APAC for SLI Systems.

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