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2018 RETAIL PREDICTIONS From drones to the changing customer experience

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As part of our yearly tradition, we step back to reflect and look forward to what the New Year will bring to the e-commerce and multichannel retailers. Here, we hear from contributors across the industry about the upcoming trends they believe will sweep the world of retail.

How retailers can compete on customer experience with digital brands

Steve Brockway is a managing director at Maru/edr

“In 2018, traditional retailers must begin to accept that customer experiences are no longer benchmarked against specific competitors, but rather by those offered by digital brands like Amazon , Ocado , and Netflix . Yes, these digital brands have an advantage over traditional retailers in that they operate through a single, online channel – making the collection, analysis and use of data for personalisation easier. In that sense, to continue to compete in this increasingly digital-first environment, traditional retailers must learn how to collect and use data to improve the customer experience at a local level.

“This will be made easier by the continued evolution of data analytics technologies. Not only will these technologies enable a holistic view of the customer, but also – by combining customer feedback with wider datasets to make feedback more actionable – the democratisation of data to local customer-facing stakeholders. And this is where the true benefit will be felt by traditional retailers. By sharing actionable feedback with customer-facing stakeholders – from central senior managers to shop floor workers – retailers will empower their local teams to ‘listen and act’ immediately, enabling the improvement of customer experience at a local level.

“The real challenge will appear when changing organisations’ processes to make this happen. The best retailers will be those managing it through strong central leadership, technology, and by creating a culture in which everyone knows the role they play in the customer’s experience.”

What the big market players are doing to further stretch the limits of customer experience

“Unlocking the value of customer data will still be a big focus for retailers in 2018. In order to do this, big market players will further invest in data analytics and automation technology to enable enhanced personalisation for communication purposes, as well as to determine appropriate solutions to customer issues.

“While retailers will still be focused on using data to create moments of customer delight during the purchase journey, they will be equally as motivated to maintain high performing websites, remembering previous purchases and other hygiene factors. Although this won’t lead to higher levels of customer loyalty, it will ensure that customers don’t abandon purchases or worse still, brands. Think ‘Spotify for groceries’ – where previous interactions are documented and used only to create an intuitive experience – such as suggesting products based on previous orders or baskets.”

The human touch is still essential

“2017 was certainly the year of the chatbot, and for most retailers, this has been great. As retailers like Amazon have seen, customers have no issue interacting with machines as long as their queries are answered in a timely and reasonable manner. Yet, as customers become savvier to the use of chatbots and proactively seek out alternative customer service channels, the key challenge for retailers will be deciding when to escalate a machine response to a human one. Amazon is particularly good at this. They guide in-bound, online customer queries through a series of automated pre-questions, which then recommend the best route to contact Amazon – be it via a live chat, email, or calling an agent – ensuring that customers are guided to the best contact channel to resolve their query. In 2018, this is what other retailers should be focusing on.”

Flying into focus

Eval Malinger is an investment director at Beringea

“In the immediate future, we’re more likely to see retailers using drones in similar ways to the commercial real estate industry. The next decade will likely see retailers using drones to secure warehouses and store parameters with video. Site selection and construction management is another way that retailers may use drones.”

Retailers will shift their organisations to be truly customer-centric

How a retailer is perceived by consumers and the experience that consumers have in stores and online, is critical to success, and retailers must include empathy and emotion to correctly measure the overall customer experience. If a retailer is not organised properly to be customer-centric, they need to take action to realign the company. In addition to the people-work required, they must ensure they can capture and centralise customer data and insights from in-store and online interactions. For some organisations, this will require a complete transformation of their data storage processes and architecture. Once retailers have the customer-centric data, they must know what to do with it. Analysis tools that deliver actionable data and enable organisations to correctly respond to changing conditions with actionable and repeatable processes at the point of service – whether instore or online, will be key.

More focus on the customer journey

Retailers must be able to assist customers before, during and after they enter the store. Before consumers visit a brick-and-mortar retailer, many check online first to ensure the specific item they are looking for is in stock. If the retailer is not able to provide this information, the customer may look to a competitor instead. Once the customer is in the store, the experience must be as positive and seamless as possible, and the journey does not stop after the purchase. Post sale follow-up in the form of customer experience surveys, review requests, etc. and other tactics are commonplace. And promotions designed to encourage repeat sales – discounts, personalised recommendations, etc., are essential. Looking into 2018, retailers must be aware of how they are interacting with consumers and how they are perceived by consumers at all times.

Providing richer customer experiences

As technology drives greater innovation and access to new products, the differentiator becomes all about the customer’s experience with the brand. We anticipate more and more retailers will increase their focus on creating omnichannel shopping experiences that are highly personalised, contextual and compelling. The focus will be on delighting customers at each point of interaction, regardless of channel.

With more shoppers engaging in an omnichannel process before purchasing, it will become increasingly important to integrate physical and digital retail experiences. Utilising new technologies such as virtual agents, mobile wallet payments, beacons, face and object recognition, magic mirrors, and smart shelves, will help provide richer customer experiences, drive more footfall to physical stores and increase sales conversions.

Picture credit: kathayut (Fotolia)

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