After working in the U.K. for 12 years, engineer and entrepreneur Chris Hodgson returned to Canada as Google’s sector lead in multi-channel solutions. He told us how retailers are riding the digital wave.
So what exactly does “multi-channel solutions” mean?
These days consumers are using very different methods to make purchasing decisions from what they used just five or ten years ago. Quite often those decisions are made through various platforms.
We internally refer to it as a four-screen world, the four screens being TV, mobile, tablet and computers. Increasingly people are using all four screens and frequently in parallel: Watching a TV program and sitting with the tablet in your lap, for instance.
The companies we work with are still operating with the traditional marketing model, which is a funnel, where the consumer starts with a large number of choices and gradually narrows that down and makes a final decision on one product.
But consumers are now on more of a journey. They bounce around all over the place, from talking to friends to looking up info and searching for reviews online – and companies need to be there in a coordinated way.
On a per-capita basis, Canada is on par with the most intensive users of the web in the world. But what about online shopping?
Canadians use the web substantially! We over index on watching YouTube, we have fantastic smartphone penetration, we’re pretty advanced as consumers and pretty digitally savvy.
But the internet is global and so we’re getting a lot of that from other countries. Canadian companies aren’t necessarily stepping up to the plate as much as they need to be.
Why is that?
There are a whole host of reasons, to be honest – everything from the companies themselves, the markets they operate in, the U.S. next door, duties and exchange rates and e-commerce. We have a huge landmass so it’s very hard to distribute products in a reasonable timeframe.
There are lots of challenges about being in a Canadian market, which makes things more difficult. The great news is that we’re seeing more companies starting to make the investment required in their infrastructure, in their distribution channels and in their back end to actually start to ramp up. I think we are at a bit of a tipping point.
When it comes to brands adopting digital marketing and advertising strategies, how much of a concern is ROI?
It’s a concern for everyone these days: The economy for the last five years has not been fantastic. What we do find is when certain sectors of the economy do very poorly digital advertising as a platform tends to do quite well.
So if you look at the auto industry in the U.S. a few years back, or if you look at Spain right now, these are areas that aren’t doing great but digital advertising is really taking off because people are forced to go through a very substantial change and look at where they are getting a return on their investment and where that’s measurable.
In a Globe and Mail article you mention that you “come from the future” because of the time you spent in the U.K. So what does the future look like for retailers?
You should see the clothes I’m wearing!
The U.K. is far more advanced when it comes to specifically e-commerce, and I think it’s exciting. It’s nice to be in Canada where I get to ride the digital wave for a second time.
Just by looking at my lifestyle in the U.K., I would say about 80 percent of what we bought – including groceries, all of our kids’ clothes, furniture – we bought online, and it was so much more convenient. As a family with two young kids, the last thing you want to be doing is sticking them in a car and schlepping to a store. E-commerce just makes life easier.
In Canada, we’re in the great position where we don’t have to make the same mistakes that were made in the U.S. or the U.K. or some other countries. We can look abroad and see what they’re doing now and we get to go where they’re going to be rather than going through the mistakes that they made over the last five years.
There are companies that see the changes and really are working hard to find the best way to engage with their customers and there are some that don’t. The companies that are willing to take risks and invest in the future and not defend the past are going to be the ones that stick around.