Retailers can prosper this year if they focus on the elements they can control, while running parallel streams of activity to drive their businesses forward.

It’s easy to become distracted in retail.

I’ve just returned from NRF’s Big Show in New York. From robots to artificial intelligence, Oculus Rift and virtual reality, one could easily lose perspective.

The usual BS bingo was doing the rounds. The latest buzz phrase being ‘conversational commerce’.

Oh, goodie. We can talk to our customers again. Praise be. Only this time it refers to live chat and using bots to drive commercial conversations with customers. How long before we are served in-store by Pepper the Robot (she was also at NRF)?

So, what should retailers focus on?

Mobile, data and online

A minimum of 50% of retail sales are impacted by a mobile device. There are no excuses. Everyone needs a site that manifests its content appropriately on all devices. Fail to optimise mobile, and your sales will decline.

Retailers have oodles of online data that can be leveraged in-store to help drive better merchandising, leading to an uplift in conversion and average order values.

“People need to stop thinking about the web purely in terms of incremental revenue. It drives a significant percentage of in-store sales. It’s also the most important marketing channel”

And even if you don’t yet have a single customer view, customers deserve to receive segmented and behaviour-driven emails (and other communications) based on what they bought or are interested in.

People need to stop thinking about the web purely in terms of incremental revenue. It drives a significant percentage of in-store sales. It’s also the most important marketing channel.

Somewhere between 50% and 60% of all retail sales start online, and Google believes that figure will be 80% by 2020.

This must be accounted for in the P&L to see the true value of a site, rather than only focusing on the cost to serve click-and-collect and similar.

On that note, Amazon generates $8bn from sales of Prime subscriptions. Are other retailers missing the revenue opportunity from becoming a service provider?

With Amazon continually stepping up its game on range and service, retailers absolutely need to determine how they can add value to customers.

Saying that, I heard an amusing story this week from a friend in Seattle who, when trying to return his Amazon Echo to Amazon’s book store, was told they don’t accept online returns. Clearly no retailer is perfect.

Experience

Looking to the medium term, at NRF I heard that 53% of consumers prefer experiences to buying products. Even by 2020, most consumers will still prefer to complete their purchase in a store environment.

“53% of consumers prefer experiences to buying products. Even by 2020, most consumers will still prefer to complete their purchase in a store environment”

Therefore retailers need to focus on delivering a great in-store experience that helps to reinforce brand purpose and engage customers.

For example, consider mobile tills or digital ordering in the changing rooms, because these are two key areas of friction. Luxury brand Rebecca Minkoff has done the latter and seen a 30% uplift in sales as a result.

Customers respect transparency, and they like to engage. This year ask yourself what you can do to truly put customers first, and empower your colleagues to take friction away from the path to purchase, be that online or in-store.