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GUEST COMMENT Trends shaping retail experiences of the future

In the wake of Amazon’s path to dominance and massive stores closures, retailers are witnessing a transformation of customer expectations and experience. According to the latest research from PwC the gap between the number of stores closing and those opening on the UK’s top 500 high streets has reached record levels. 

In 2018 alone, 7,500 stores closed in the UK, a 36 percent increase from 2017 according to Deloitte. But there are lessons to learn from Amazon’s path to greatness, and there are many things retailers can do even better to move forward. Here are the trends we are seeing transform and reshape retail experiences:

Get Personnel

Delivering seamless CX across channels isn’t new but standing out is. Google found that the majority, 85%, of digital consumers start the purchasing workflow on one device yet finish it on another. There is no way to avoid the fact that shoppers who use multiple devices, and likely multiple channels as well, is what’s normal today. Using customer insight tools you can identify the customers who would offer the most value by receiving an individual omnichannel experience and build out pilots from there.

Consider Starbucks, widely regarded as one of the top omnichannel experiences, the Starbucks mobile app offers users a seamless transaction from ordering to store pick up with the same service options on any channel. Jon Francis, senior VP at Starbucks analytics and market research, was recently quoted as saying; “We’re meeting our customers where they are — whether in-store, in their car or on the go through the app — using machine learning and artificial intelligence to understand and anticipate their personal preferences. Machine learning also plays a role in how we think about store design, engage with our partners, optimise inventory, and create barista schedules. This capability will eventually touch all facets of how we run our business.”

Winning the last mile matters most

The ecommerce giants are homing in on shorter journeys from production to doorsteps. As options like next day delivery become the new norm, users are looking for real-time options they can access on any channel. The speed of customer service needs to match the speed of delivery. According to Klarna, 86% of UK consumers say a free return option increases their loyalty to a brand.

The largest online retailers in the UK aren’t so keen on communicating with shoppers during the delivery period though. This is shown by a study from ParcelLab, with only four of the 100 largest online retailers in the country providing customers with personalised information about their order status, while 27 don’t communicate at all during delivery.

The study also looked at the shipping and delivery process of the top 100 UK online retailers, with ecommerce companies appearing to largely ignore the customer once they have clicked on the precious order button.

In the UK E-Commerce Shipping Study 2019, it’s shown that 94% of the top 100 online retailers don’t give customers the opportunity to choose between delivery partners. There’s also not much choice when it comes to delivery times. Although 72% offer express delivery, only 7% offer same-day delivery (and not even throughout the country). And only 42% offer weekend delivery, while 25% lets customers pick a timeslot for delivery.

Create a customer service programme based on frequent problems and be aware of peak hours to build a strong support system for even the smallest inconveniences. Online shoe retailers like Zappos, famous for offering a 365 day returns policy, have created easy no hassle returns policies to satisfy customers with unsatisfactory experiences.

Practical AR and VR

With augmented and virtual reality becoming more accessible and cheaper, companies are using them for storytelling and exploration. Additionally, companies are utilising AR to replicate in-store experiences by augmenting items on the user of giving a preview of how the product will look in the customer’s home.

Consider the wider reach VR and AR has on user’s mobile devices and how your brand can be experienced on the go or at home. John Lewis and Partners replicated an interactive catalogue experience by hosting a virtual reality event where partners could move, alter and explore their products. And according to IDC, global spending on AR/VR is expected to be over £1.7bn in 2019, a near 70% increase from 2018.

Winners commit to a bigger purpose

More and more consumers expect brands to take a stand on social, political and environmental issues. Ethically responsible products also resonate with consumers. At the same time many brands are recognising the good they can do in supporting various causes with 1 in 3 international consumers shopping at organisations they believe are doing social or environmental good, according to research from Unilever.

After identifying the issues and values that matter to your core customer, provide regular updates on the impact your company is making as well as ideas on how customers can help and become involved. Look at Lidl for example, as part of its’ “Dream Big” initiative, it led a campaign with the England Team to highlight over 3 million opportunities they have created in football programmes for children 5 – 11 years old.

Experimental retail 2.0 arrives

E-commerce hasn’t destroyed the traditional retail experience, but brick and mortar locations need to reinvent themselves to offer unique and tangible experiences. Experiential retail initiatives that not only make in-store shopping fun but also frictionless are key.

Think of in-store services that offer value and experiences that aren’t easily replicated in other channels. 62% of UK Gen Z shoppers (18-22) choose in-store retail experiences over online experiences, according to Profitect Inc.

When the low-cost tech store Raspberry Pi opened its first brick and mortar location in Cambridge, it focussed on making a space where users could sample and educate themselves on products in an interactive and open environment.

In summary…

As retailer’s rush to adopt similar digital capabilities the winners will be the CX leaders who prioritise the moments that matter for their customers.

Author: Iain Banks, regional vice president, international markets, TTEC

Image credit: Fotolia

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