All was still well in the world of the retailer. Customers would decide they needed something and would go to their retailer of choice. Together, they would choose the appropriate product, which was then bought and taken home. The new acquisition was often shown to friends and acquaintances, which was free advertising for the successful retailer. Meanwhile, the first users were already active on the Web, but Microsoft had not even entered the browser market yet. Progressive observers interpreted this reticence as a first sign of the decline of the software giant. It is also interesting to note that, in the same year, a particularly progressive computer scientist set up an online bookshop in the north-east of the United States – much to the amusement of most (book) dealers.
Thirteen years later, the world of e-commerce had already made significant progress, but the number of contact points was still manageable: one good website optimized exclusively for conventional computers, and a little Google was often all that was needed. When Apple introduced the iPhone in the course of the year, many still doubted that users would use the Internet on their mobile device and hardly anybody was thinking about mobile shopping experiences yet. Similar to the browser market in the 90s, many players underestimated this trend: the biggest player in mobile phones had more than a billion devices in use in this year. Today there is nothing left of Nokia’s unmatched vastness, and former business giants such as Blackberry are not doing any better. At this point, the bookseller mentioned above was already on the radar of various other booksellers, but still dismissed by other sectors. “They can’t do fashion!” was the general consensus.
What an unholy mess! Barely 25 years after the start of our brief journey through history we are facing a multitude of different channels. It is increasingly rare for people to go shopping in city centers, they hardly trust the common retailers anymore, and are consuming significantly less brand advertising. The result? Traditional brands are finding it increasingly difficult to reach customers.
So what does the normal customer journey look like in 2018? Quite simply, there is no normal customer journey any more. Customers are inspired and informed in shops, online, via traditional media such as print or television, or via the numerous social-media channels. They then buy on- or offline, take the purchased products with them or have them conveniently delivered to their homes, and use all available channels to talk about the buying experience – unsolicited and unfiltered. They can no longer be forced into one channel, but they use the most convenient channel available at any given time. Customers have access to a variety of media and information anywhere and anytime, and they also use it to explore their own needs and to seek fulfilment. Customers are making the most of their new position – they are using the newly acquired transparency to compare prices and delivery times, and they often choose the most convenient provider.
Hardly anyone in trade underestimates Amazon now. The Seattle bookseller has become the third largest company in the world (as of February 15, 2018) and the gravedigger of many major dealers worldwide. In numerous other sectors, however, there are still doubts that the good times can end so quickly. Meanwhile, more and more platforms are pushing into new areas and threatening long-established giants in the widest variety of sectors.
New Demands on Companies
What can we learn from this? The status of the customer is growing significantly in many sectors. This is forcing companies to increase their focus on their customers, resulting in various challenges for traditional companies. So who are my customers anyway? What are the USPs of my company and my products? What will make my company stand out in the future
Facing these questions is turning out to be extremely painful for many companies. Very often, it means that they have to question their own business model. So why throw away something that worked? Something that has been bringing in good money for so long? Because the alternative can often be that you no longer reach your customers and the foundation for your whole business can be washed away in the shortest time. Nokia says hi! The brutal fact is that when the signs become obvious, it is often too late.
The fact that many traditional companies have major problems with fundamental changes is also due to their needing completely different skills, a different mindset. Having the best product is no longer a guarantee of success if the customer is denied access to it, or the product is late in getting to the market. So it is no wonder that many emerging companies are notable for characteristics such as speed and ability to innovate. And it is precisely innovation that means you have to try new things, venture into uncharted territory, unshackle yourself from the familiar and normal, get away from the standard.
So which channel do I use to reach my customers? No-one can answer that exactly, and asking is often not an option. You have to find out through experimentation and react accordingly. This also means that the collection and processing of data is becoming a crucial skill for any business, whether it sells IT services, shoes, wine, or cars. In future, every company will have to take a step towards becoming a software company.
Software for an Agile Business World
The Spryker Commerce OS offers every opportunity to explicitly address the needs of your own customers – whether they are new customers or established customers. This gives companies the opportunity to take responsibility for their own destiny, taking the helm to steer from a passive existence to a role that shapes the market.
New channels are very quick and easy to try out: a new, lean front-end application that is docked to the Spryker Commerce OS can be developed relatively quickly. You can use tried-and-tested business and data logic, just as you can use systems that are already docked. This turns projects that involve years of resources into bite-sized chunks that no longer have to be ruled out on cost grounds.
With Spryker, you automatically learn that a “Why not?” is often better than a categorical “No”. That may not have seemed so promising in 1994, but in 2018 it means the difference between being at the top or the bottom of the food chain. So get out of the comfort zone and make the magic happen!