Retail reimagined – McKinsey hails a new era for customer experience

In its latest Periscope report for retail, reflecting research from the US, UK, Germany & France, McKinsey has highlighted future risks and rewards for the sector, warning that retailers must act now to strengthen their eCommerce fundamentals if they are to boost revenue and accelerate future growth.

As McKinsey puts it, the ‘generation shaping’ Covid-19 pandemic has already caused eCommerce penetration in the US to vault forward an astonishing ten years in the space of just 90 days. Consumer behaviour and expectations have been transformed – likely forever. But as consumers adapt to new shopping models, omnichannel retailers need to respond quickly to meet their expectations.

In previous downturns, companies that invested in and delivered superior customer experiences consistently emerged far stronger than their rivals when the economy eventually recovered. And perhaps surprisingly, during a period of immense uncertainty, “rather than sticking to familiarity and brands they had used, consumers did the opposite.” According to McKinsey’s research, 40 percent of respondents globally said they had “tried new brands or made purchases with a new retailer” since lockdown.  Shoppers are clearly willing to try new things, and in the current climate of high street shop closures, it’s not just long-term rewards at stake for many businesses, but imminent survival.

So, what are the key takeaways from McKinsey’s latest assessment? The digital future is here, now, having been accelerated by the global pandemic. In this context, how can retailers adapt, to ensure that they remain relevant and profitable – both now, and in the future? And what are some of the steps that retailers can take, to cement their ongoing ecommerce success?

Step one: Improve product descriptions & images

Quill has long stressed the importance of truly effective online product descriptions and images – a point echoed in McKinsey’s report. Their research revealed that the importance of these attributes has “skyrocketed” since the onset of the crisis, now ranking among the top three factors consumers cited for a successful online shopping experience.

In the digital world, consumers can’t see, feel, or test products, making informative product descriptions and clear product images absolutely essential. Unlike the offline world, where a retailer’s competitors are a drive away, in the digital sphere they are perilously close – a mere click away. So incomplete, or mediocre product descriptions can often mean the difference between capitalising on the traffic retailers attract to their site – or losing potential customers right at the final hurdle. Yet despite investing significant resources in generating traffic, many retailers are still neglecting the very content that will secure sales.

Step two: Offer guide content to replicate the role of the sales assistant

McKinsey notes that consumers in each of the four countries it researched rated “social interactions with helpful and knowledgeable staff” among the top-three features they consider important when browsing and making purchases in-store. The report states that “in at least one way, stores still have a leg up over online purchasing” and there is no doubt that traditionally, knowledgeable shop assistants have played an integral role in the bricks and mortar shopping experience, answering consumer queries and gently nudging them towards suitable purchases.

As consumers seek out new ways to shop online, retailers need to address the absence of shop assistants, by investing in top-notch guide content that can inspire consumers, help them understand the respective benefits of a carefully curated range of products, answer pre-purchase questions and advise them on how best to use certain products. When combined with detailed and complete product descriptions, this content can go a long way towards replicating the role of the sales assistant, boosting confidence and trust – as well as that all-important revenue.

Step three: Build engagement and offer real value

More consumers may now be shopping online, but the digital marketplace has made shopping around for a better deal or a more engaging experience simpler than ever. Suddenly finding themselves dependent upon the ‘immediacy, convenience, availability, and safety’ of digital experiences, many consumers have not only shifted their attention online, but in the process, swiftly revised their expectations and preferences, forcing retailers to adapt their trajectory, priorities, and operating model.

Retailers must provide better UX for a seamless user journey, better AI tools and technology, and added engagement to connect with customers and offer real value. McKinsey cites the example of Nike China, which has energised its digital community by offering virtual workouts, triggering an 80 percent increase in weekly active users of its app.

Step four: Bolster in-store technology

The digital evolution needn’t spell an end to bricks and mortar shopping, but as the in-store experience evolves, retailers will need to “utilize innovative in-store technologies that give shoppers a new level of convenience, a more personalized experience, and a greater integration of the offline and online environments.” Examples include contactless payment systems, digital screens that offer certain features of online shopping, and augmented reality (AR) systems for trying on clothing or testing products –particularly at a time when in-store changing rooms and cosmetics testers are off-limits.

How does your ecommerce site measure up?

McKinsey has identified what it describes as “a once-in-a-generation chance for retailers to recapture and win back customers.” Now, more than ever, ecommerce experiences need to become truly “zero friction,” delivering consistently on the attributes that consumers care most about. Providing top-notch content, starting with the all-important product descriptions, is an excellent place to start.

Are your product descriptions up to scratch? To find out, request a complementary Quill Quality Score audit of your site.

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