Is Digital Investment the Retail Saviour?

fdu’s guest blogger Julian Grindey is an energising and inspirational MD/COO/Trading Director, skilled in leading profitable change and transformation, inspiring strategic vision and commercial delivery and in driving retail and digital growth. Proven in delivering exceptional growth from turnarounds and scale up, in key omni-channel operators, including private label and international product sourcing strategies.

Cataclysmic events have accelerated digital growth; jumping from 18% to 28% of total retail sales*, and whilst the re-opening of non-essential retail will re-balance this mix, we will never return to pre-covid levels.

Retail leaders are being forced to re-focus their digital strategy and re-visit investment plans.

Customers are visiting retail websites in record numbers to browse and buy, but shoppers still abandon baskets on average 1.27 times/week**, and they are promiscuous; 73% of customers declaring they are channel agnostic*** when starting the search for an item to purchase.

The appeal of product and price will always be important, but the digital experience is crucial to traffic, conversion and ultimately loyalty.

Increasing the digital customers’ propensity to buy depends on satisfying a sequence of needs, with five clear elements that can funnel customers from searching and browsing to becoming purchasers and loyal advocates.

Understanding each element, and what to focus on is important.


  1. Functional

We live in a convenience culture – if it’s not easy to purchase then your customer simply won’t bother. Focus here on:

  • Browsing – navigation, ease, speed and clarity
  • Buying – simplification, safe storage of payment details yields repeat visits
  • Delivery – integrity, expediency and choice
  • Returns – flexible and frictionless.

Customers are intolerant of ‘average’. It’s important to understand the impact of website speed and ease; how flexible and convenient are your payment options and how rapid is delivery. Using pre-filled forms for payment and delivery and conducting regular UX tests for convenience in the design and continuous improvement will help. If a website is not functional then it’s essential to re-think and/or re-build.


  1. Safety and Security

The customer needs a secure checkout experience, and to feel confident with the brand they are buying from; their trust in the retailer’s reputation for value and service is essential here. Communicate how you are handling customer data and payment protection; use logos, icons and present your credentials clearly. Use product reviews; this type of social proofing is proven to increase conversion.


  1. Trust and Engagement

Good customer service – making sure that help is on hand at every point of the digital journey, by removing the need to ask – leaves no room for doubt.

Good communication methods including; website self-help, email, chat, phone support should be tested through regular ‘voice of the customer’ feedback to determine whether expectations are being met. Acting promptly will avoid customer attrition.


  1. Recognition and Status

Everyone has a natural desire to feel needed, and customers are seduced by recognition. They reciprocate with visit frequency and spend.

A data strategy starts to help categorise customers for segmented or personalised shopping experiences, through instruments including; loyalty programmes, discounts, curated propositions, personalised offers, promotions and community attachment.


  1. Sharing enriched experiences

Once a retailer has mastered the previous four attributes then the customer is prepared to engage in new or enriched experiences. These can be the most valuable drivers of loyalty, and brand advocacy.

Trust is high and the retailer can focus on new ways to interact. Examples here could include; scanning QR codes in stores for shopping online, engaging customer in blogs, selling diverse products and introducing them to affiliates or new services including Financial Services.


Investing in any of the features outlined above can be costly. They must be prioritised in the order presented here; focusing on recognition and status through personalised communication for example will be far less effective at delivering increases to customer spend if the website suffers from slow page load speed. The result is high levels of abandonment and a wasted investment.

Understanding and applying these principles goes a long way to guide investment priority from the outset, but they are not a panacea.

Other  pre-requisites for success include the development of ‘intimate customer insight’ coupled with a ‘test and learn’ mindset, a comprehensive dashboard of data measurements at critical points of the customer journey, and further supplemented with ‘voice of the customer’ feedback to develop a prioritised digital investment plan and an agile method for reviewing investment returns.

Getting this wrong could be fatal, costly and embarrassing to the brand.

* Statista (Jan 2021).
**survey of 2,000 UK shoppers, commissioned by Censuswide (March 2020).
***Channel advisor survey (Winter 2020).