The Role of Digital in Transforming Retail Businesses

To fully embrace the digital world, retailers need to know where to intelligently invest their development dollars.

When it comes to digital, retailers have a growing number of questions; where are we at with digital retailing in Australia? How much are CEOs and marketing managers setting aside in their budgets? Is digital spending increasing above traditional channels? Where should Australian retailers spend their digital dollar in digital?

To answer these common questions, our consumer insights team went out to 20+ Australian retail CEO’s and marketing managers to understand perceptions and comparative expenditure on digital. Our research has shown that retailers across Australia are continuing to invest heavily in digital marketing, with a focus on customer retention and repeat purchases, with email direct marketing being one of the most popular channels for investment.

However, this investment is restricting the growth and potential of so many businesses. Many retailers struggle to invest in digital and technology to reach new customers early in the purchase journey due to the risk factor and the lack of evidence of ROI.

Our study highlighted the digital trends, concerns and priorities of retailers – providing a snapshot of the current industry, and a preview of where it’s headed digitally.

Insights from the study:

  • Digital will be the major focus on marketing expenditure going forward. In fact, on average, digital marketing spend has increased by 35+ percent.
  • Top priority for the majority of senior retail respondents was achieving a single view of the customer.
  • The top four priorities for digital expenditure (in order) are:
  1. Increase customer retention and repeat customers
  2. Drive footfall into shops
  3. Increase basket size/margins/profitability per customer
  4. New customer acquisitions
  • 88 percent of CEOs interviewed use EDM reminders, which makes them the most mature and popular activity (although not innovative per se, rather refining what has always been available). This is while 75 percent use retargeting and location based offers.
  • Retailers are focused on mobile enabled loyalty schemes, developing unique offers and increasing the sophistication of their EDM programs. Developing in-depth customer understanding in this focus area is of high perceived importance.


As we study and compare global trends on retail digital uptake, we see many Australian retailers still taking a ‘silo’ approach to digital – not yet creating a true ‘omni-channel’ business with investment into information systems, shop experiences, and digital integration.

Rather, we observe that digital is seen in the “territory” of marketing, helping to build a supply channel to an agile brand space. This comes with the adage that a digital communication strategy is not about adding a room – but about rewiring the entire house. Our consumer insights study is showcasing CEO desire to invest in digital, however there is still great opportunity to innovate and implement from the customer perspective as distinct from the organisational lens.

Of course, knowing what technology to invest in comes from knowing your customer segment’s purchase behaviours, psychological drivers, your sector’s benchmarks and the future direction of your industry. This knowledge can be established through a detailed consumer and market insights diagnosis, forming a foundation for your retail implementation strategy. With a strong underpinning of consumer and market insights, comes a decrease in risk, and greater opportunity to be more predictive, see significant ROI sooner and most importantly offer your customer a highly personalised and memorable retail experience.

Retailers who let this customer-centric strategy lead them forward in 2017, will certainly be seeing greater return on their digital investment, and overall a significant increase in their ‘business fitness’ this year.

Brian Walker is the CEO and Founder of The Retail Doctor. For more information on building or improving your retail business visit



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