Online retail's light speed evolution

With Australian retailers hard-pressed to keep up with rapidly changing customer behaviour, agility needs to be an important part of the conversation.

The retail landscape is changing at exponential speed… and it’s not going to slow down. As consumers become more knowledgeable, more empowered and more mobile with their shopping habits, turning to their smartphones and tablets in place of their cars and shopping trollies, retailers have to move with speed and imagination to stay in the game. Otherwise, they risk being left behind.

Serious competitive threats are a reality, with overseas providers stealing Australian market share. While our dollar continues to ride high, savvy consumers are looking online to an almost unlimited global marketplace to satisfy their wants and needs. It’s not hard to see how bagging a bargain from the comfort of your couch, as opposed to heading out to the local super centre on a busy Saturday afternoon, is fast becoming the preferred choice. Australian retailers can be global players too, but they have to innovate.

So how do retailers combat these threats? And how can the modern Aussie retailer use technology to thrive in today’s environment?

For at least a decade, technology in the retail sector had been evolving at a pace that businesses were hard-pressed to keep up with. But because consumer preferences are now moving just as quickly, retailers have had to adapt and become more agile.

The concept of retail agility is about taking advantage of new markets, channels, products and customer segments at a speed which keeps up with fast-changing consumer habits and technology.

Take lastminute.com – a division of online travel purveyor Travelocity – as an example. When John Crosby, V.P. of Product & Technology, brought product management and software development together within the organisation, he did it with the goal of building a lean and agile “Innovation Engine”. An engine that could take ideas for new features and products, optimise them with market-driven tests and bring the best to market as rapidly as possible.

ThoughtWorks became lastminute.com’s partner to plan and implement the organisational, process and technology changes. In just twenty weeks the partnership transformed lastminute.com’s product discovery and development capability, as proven by the launch of the new Mobile First web platform that will eventually be used across the entire Travelocity Global organisation.

The new platform replaces the entire existing mobile journey, with significant new features to create a more mobile-friendly experience. It will enable lastminute.com to tap into the fast-growing mobile-web channel for travel search and purchase, expected to grow at a double-digit rate and likely to become the dominant revenue channel for the industry within the next three years.

Retail agility is an achievable goal. And if Australian retailers are not only to survive the pace of change this industry is seeing, but actually capitalise on it, then it’s a trend we should be seeing more of in this market.

Keith Dodds is Director of Client Relations at ThoughtWorks Asia Pacific.