If there is one thing retailers have learned in recent years it’s this: commerce moves fast. Consumer preferences, buyer behaviour and market conditions are constantly changing, each affecting the retail industry in profound and interrelated ways. 

Against this backdrop, the need for retailers to prioritise agility is clear. Those who are able to move quickly when the market changes are best placed to handle increased demand, capitalise on emerging trends and gain a competitive advantage. 

Here are a few areas that retailers can focus on to lay the foundations for agility, before the market and buyer behaviour change yet again:

Remove inefficiency

Improving efficiency has the dual benefit of helping retailers remain profitable during quiet periods, yet respond quickly to changing market conditions and consumer demands. As such, any processes that are time-consuming and repetitive can and should be automated, or at least augmented. With the help of AI, automating processes is easier than ever.  

For example, generative AI tools like Shopify Magic can help retailers create and edit stunning images using simple language prompts, in just a few clicks. This is especially helpful for retailers with small in-house marketing teams. With less time spent planning and executing brand photoshoots, marketing teams can focus their time and energy on higher-value activities, such as analysing customer data to identify emerging trends, and working on strategies to increase conversions.

Lean into flexible, efficient tech

Given the ever-evolving state of retail, it makes sense that retailers would want to adopt flexible and customisable tech solutions. However, fully customised solutions can introduce layers of unnecessary complexity and cost, thereby hindering agility. 

A blended commerce model that utilises best-of-breed applications on the front-end and a full-stack back-end can help retailers find that sweet spot between flexibility and simplicity. Using a mix of pre-integrated modules and optionally selected applications allows retailers to make changes quickly, without the need for a full-stack developer team.

Moreover, retailers should consider tech from their customer’s point of view. A slow commerce store delivers a substandard customer experience and gives the impression of poor quality. On the other hand, a fast commerce store can streamline the user experience and condition shoppers to buy more. Over the past year, Shopify has expanded its global infrastructure to improve store loading speed by 35%. This means that no matter where customers are shopping from, they have the same fast user experience.

Optimise for conversion

Being proactive — rather than reactive — to emerging trends can help retailers retain customer loyalty, capture more market share and boost sales. For example, the way customers search for products online is changing. Traditional keyword search — commonly used in many online storefronts — lacks the flexibility that buyers experience when searching for products elsewhere. 

To be specific, today’s customers are using search times like  “something to wear skiing in freezing temperatures” rather than keywords like “warm jacket” — and they expect to be shown relevant results based on their intent even if there is no exact keyword match. To bridge this gap, retailers should consider utilising AI-powered storefront search which allows customers to formulate search queries in a more intuitive way. AI-powered semantic search tools like those found in Shopify’s Search & Discovery app, return rich and relevant search results, thereby enhancing product discovery and conversions.

Retailers should also consider customer preferences at checkout and aim to make the process as frictionless as possible. Fast loading speeds and one-page-checkout are essential. From there, retailers customise their checkout for specific business needs and enhance conversions using custom apps. For example, retailers can choose from over 400 apps in the Shopify ecosystem to enable upsells, loyalty programs, post-purchase surveys, conversion tracking and custom content. 

The ever-evolving nature of the retail landscape compels retailers to prioritise agility. Those who reduce inefficient processes, demand speed, flexibility and simplicity from their tech stack, and adapt to changing customer behaviour are best placed to adapt to changes. Their ability to move fast will enable them to scale easily, capitalise on emerging trends and gain a competitive advantage. 

Shaun Broughton is managing director for APAC at Shopify.