Five practical approaches to the customer

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In recent years, retailers have moved further towards putting their customers at the centre of their businesses. Strategies built around the customer service and customer experience will help to recruit new customers to the brand.  Here we round up some of the approaches taken by retailers that stand out in this dimension. 

1. DEVELOP PERSONALISED CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES

Leading retailers are working hard on getting the customer experience right for individual shoppers. That’s likely to mean that customers will come to expect the shopping experience to be relevant to their needs – putting the onus on other retailers to respond.

Speaking at IRX 2018 in April, Rob Pearson, head of personalisation at Next, said it was important for the fashion-to-homewares retailer to engage with all of its different groups of shoppers, rather than simply cater for the typical Next shopper – the woman who buys clothes for herself and her family while also occasionally buying furniture.

“If we don’t start personalising things for people, we run the risk of losing them,” said Rob. To implement personalisation successfully, he added, the retailer needs to learn from its data, setting up online experiences that are relevant to different customer groups before testing them. “Data now fuels getting that insider knowledge of the customer and what’s right for the experience,” he said. By doing so, retailers can increase their conversion rates and boost profitability.

2. REMEMBER THE PRODUCT IS THE STAR

It’s important to sell across channels ranging from mobile to social media because that’s the way customers want to buy. But these are simply the tool for distributing the products and remembering this is how leading retailers keep their focus.

Jonathan Wall is head of digital at Missguided and was previously of Shop Direct. Speaking on the keynote panel at IRC 2018, he said, “Customers come to us because we have great products, not because we have a great website.”

Department store Debenhams gave a useful insight in its latest full-year results, into how it plans to choose which products to stock. It is using online analytics to see which products customers search for, which should point the way to ‘hot’ brands and products that it should be stocking. When it does stock them, it will then reflect those brands in local mobile searches as it looks to drive traffic into store.

3. SIMPLIFY WEBSITE PAGES IN ORDER TO SPEED UP WEBSITE LOAD TIMES

The speed at which websites load makes a real difference to the customer experience – especially for shoppers viewing from a mobile phone. According to Google, most websites lose half their visitors while still loading. It ran machine-learning based tests with performance and analytics company Soasta and found that more complex pages can hurt conversion rates since the number of elements and the size of the images they contain can significantly slow loading times.

The magic number cited by Akamai research back in 2009 was three seconds. Beyond this time, it found that 40% of shoppers would leave it. It’s likely that shoppers have got more impatient in the meantime, as internet speeds have improved. RetailX research, in partnership with Eggplant, found that Top500 retailer pages visually load in a median of 8.8s on mobile, and with a median page size of 2.1MB and in 9.2s on desktop, where the median page size is 2.6MB. The fastest 5% – or 25 – of Top500 retailers came in at a median of 2.9s on mobile, the slowest at 18.4s.

The Google/Soasta study, reported in 2016, found that pages with more images and elements had fewer conversions. Sessions that converted users had 38% fewer images than sessions that didn’t convert. Simple steps can make a difference. It found, for example, that saving an image as a JPG rather than a PNG can more than halve the file size.

4. SHOW HOW AN ITEM WILL FIT

Products from clothing to sofas are only truly relevant if the potential buyer knows they’re going to fit. In recent years, fashion retailers have come up with ‘virtual wardrobes’ that enable shoppers to pinpoint whether an item is likely to fit.

Warehouse, for example, collects vital statistics to deliver a verdict on how a given product will fit, using Fit Match from Rakuten Fits Me. Asos’s Fit Assistant collects similar information and also adds in the size that shoppers wear from brands they already know in order to deliver a verdict on how an item would fit, as well as what most ‘people like you’ bought but didn’t return to the retailer.

Furniture and make up retailers are among the 3% of IRUK Top500 retailers that use augmented reality (AR) to show shoppers how goods would look on them, or in their home. DFS has recently updated its AR functionality that shows shoppers how a sofa would look in their living space. Based on iOS 12, it promises an improved experience for customers.

“We wanted to offer something truly unique to our customers that was not only aesthetically pleasing, but intuitive and practical too,” said James Vernon, head of online at DFS. “Choosing a new piece of furniture is never an easy task – particularly online – but the new AR-enabled feature will help improve the online shopping experience and make the purchasing decision much easier.”

5. ENABLE INTERNATIONAL SHOPPERS TO BUY FROM A WEBSITE THAT STILL FEELS LOCAL

Shoppers want to be able to buy in a way that feels comfortable for them. That means using their own language and payment methods they trust. Global brands such as IKEA and H&M have this nailed. IKEA has 55 local language websites, from the UK to the United Arab Emirates, while Nike has a similar number, located across six continents.

Smaller businesses are no less able to target international markets. Musical equipment and accessories retailer Gear4Music sells through 20 local market websites, with all but the US site serving European markets.

Meanwhile, AO.com, which sells larger and heavier white goods, alongside smaller appliances and consumer electronics, serves Germany and the Netherlands from its German logistics centre. Its approach is to take the way it runs its business in the UK to its new markets. “We have worked hard to transfer our culture across to our European operations, always respectful of different customs and ways,” said AO World in its latest full-year results.

These approaches to the customer first appeared in the IRUK Top500 The Customer performance dimension report. Click here to read the piece in full – with another seven practical examples – and here to explore the report further. You can explore the Top500 series still further here.

Image: Fotolia

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