If Sven Denecken put on a crisp pair of Levi’s, a button-down shirt from Carhartt, a pair of Aldo’s shoes and strapped on a jewel-studded Swarovski wristwatch, there’s no question he would look sharp at work. He would also be a living embodiment of the diverse range of retail brands who are building their digital customer experience strategies based on SAP Commerce Cloud.
As the chief marketing and solutions officer for Industries & Customer Experience at SAP SE, Denecken is well aware that September kicks off one of the busiest shopping seasons of the year. That also makes it an opportune time for business-to-consumer (B2C) companies to consider what they should be doing to optimize the online journey they offer across their web sites, mobile apps and even in physical stores.
“If we look not more than one or two years back, everyone saw that one-channel strategy – in other words, the in-store channel – was moving towards one where shoppers are turning to digital channels and being online,” Denecken told 360 Magazine. “I think there was a huge catch-up. Those who didn’t have an industry-tailored solution that could look into those new channels and manage them did lose, and sometimes it was quick and dirty.”
Having been named a leader in the 2023 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Digital Commerce for the ninth consecutive time, SAP Commerce Cloud is clearly one of those tailored solutions, Denecken argued. The technology itself is only one part of developing the right strategy, however. Denecken offered several tips to help other B2C and even B2B brands consider the optimal commerce experience they should aim for in 2023 and beyond.
1. Think in terms of a ‘channel-less’ relationship with customers
Consumers may discover a brand while browsing online, through a social media post or indirectly through a partner. Denecken said that, at least on one level, the channels don’t matter. The emphasis should be on knowing who the customer is, and how best they can be served regardless of how they choose to engage.
That can only happen by unifying data across channels, which provides the visibility brands need to recognize customers and treat them accordingly. This is also where brands can determine how automation and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) can provide further opportunities to make them feel special based on what’s possible through a given touchpoint.
“Levi’s really went into this with the view that those experiences (across channels) shouldn’t be all the same. That doesn’t help either,” he said. “Because if you prefer (shopping) online, and I have just no differentiating experience, how would I keep you excited as a consumer?”
2. The best ‘customer-facing’ experiences depend on how you manage the back end
One of the costs of success is that sometimes a growing company becomes increasingly siloed in terms of its data. This can not only make it difficult to tailor experiences to particular customers, but increases the risk of errors.
“That is something where we put an emphasis on deep integration to the ERP back end,” Denecken said. “That doesn’t mean that 100 per cent of companies need to have an ERP from SAP, but everyone has an ERP, and (the importance of integration) is sometimes underestimated.”
Breaking down silos and connecting the data inside them can pay long-term dividends that companies may not anticipate, Denecken added. A good example is the trend around recommerce, where brands sell previously owned products to add new revenue stream and/or foster greater sustainability. SAP has introduced a solution specifically for recommerce, and Denecken said integrating well with ERP systems ensures products can more easily be transitioned to a circular economy.
3. It takes expertise to make the promise of AI tangible
Yes, Denecken admits that he gets almost daily questions lately about generative AI and how it could transform digital commerce. He said SAP has taken an approach of being open to many kinds of AI technologies and applying its team’s industry and CX domain knowledge to apply them. Beyond that, he said the rules of thumb for leveraging AI are becoming clear.
“Number one, you need good data,” he said. “Second, that data has to built into the business process. It can’t be where an analysis on an automated process is an afterthought. And number three, there needs to be trust within corporations about the technology they’re using. Very often there might be even a fourth (factor), where the cost is underestimated. This doesn’t come for free.”
Brands won’t invest anything if they can’t measure the result, of course. Denecken suggested that, while traditional metrics like customer satisfaction and Net Promoter Score (NPS) still matter, they also need to demonstrate that they’re infusing the work they do with technology that helps build greater margin and customer loyalty.
“I think it is very much a discussion about the increase of campaign creation efficiency,” he said. “It all comes back again to the data.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.