It’s a brave new world in the retail industry that’s changed drastically over the last 12 months. The recent implosion of global retail powerhouse Toys”R”Us is a reminder that digital disruption is far from finished in the retail segment. Even digitally-savvy clothing chains are risking painful revenue losses over customer outrage on social media.
Relationships between brands and consumers have changed. The way we consume products, services – and even marketing messages – is not the same as it once was. The proliferation of smartphones and tablets, along with the rise in value of the subscription economy is leading this change. Consumers are now hyper-connected in ways that never existed before.
Digital innovation has given consumers unprecedented levels of flexibility and has redefined expectations of what retailers can provide. Hyper-connected consumers are creating a mass of data and information. From demographic to social and transactional, consumers are happy to offer personal data in exchange for a more personal service and experience.
The power rests with consumers in this great future of shopping. Keeping up with changing needs and delivering the kind of optimal experiences that today’s new breed of consumers demand is emerging as the way forward for retailers.
Consumers know their power. They can delete, unsubscribe, ignore, scroll past, and uninstall in the blink of an eye. Once you give someone that power, you can’t take it back. They’re entitled. They want instant gratification, recognition, speed, control and results. They become angry when the Uber driver they’re tracking lags behind the automated satellite estimate of the car’s position. They fume when a free movie takes more than three seconds to load on their phone. They roll their eyes when they have to print out a return receipt.
In light of current data protection such as GDPR, customers are increasingly aware that their personal data is valuable. They know it holds the key to personalised experiences. Today’s entitled consumers increasingly demand personalised messages and product recommendations at every touch point.
So, it’s no surprise that according to a report by Accenture, over 75 percent of consumers are more likely to purchase from a retailer who knows their name as well as their purchase history and recommends on-taste products.
Customers now also expect good service in return for their data, with 54 percent of shoppers expecting to receive a personalised discount within 24 hours of identifying themselves and 32 percent after just one hour! When it comes to offering personalised service experiences, physical retailers are doing a great job according to 31 percent of shoppers, compared to only 15 percent for digital retailers.
On the way to delivering the kind of personalised shopping experiences that today’s entitled consumers demand, the following technologies are emerging as the hot ticket in retail right now:
• Location-based marketing: Retailers are increasingly personalising website content based on location - reflected in dynamic advertising, offers, and in-store-pick up at customers’ closest store location. Geo-optimising retail locations is money well spent since over 30 percent of all searches are already based on location (Google). On a microlevel, the combination of location tracking and geofencing via beacons and automated push notifications provides a powerful recipe for delivering personalised offers in real time.
• Artificial intelligence:The shift to digital channels creates massive amounts of customer data, but retailers need help transforming this information into actionable intelligence. By crunching terabytes of data per second, AI engines connect customer data platforms (CDPs) – think customer behaviour, purchase history, and demographics – with retail inventories and business policies. Next, machine learning-algorithms create predictive offers, individually tailored towards individual customers. Distributed via omnichannel solutions in dynamic messages, predictive offers bring one-to-one personalization into emails, websites, and push messages.
• Voice technology:“Hey Google, let’s order some donuts!” The rise of voice assistants such as Google Home and Amazon Echo is powering a landmark shift towards dialogue-based interactions. Customers can use online shopping services with their hands and eyes free while driving, walking or riding their bikes – so the future of retail may also mark the end of consumers’ addiction to small screens. Experts at Gartner already predict that by 2020, 30 percent of web browsing sessions will no longer happen on screens at all. That year, 50 percent of all search queries will originate from voice commands (ComScore). In the US, Dunkin Donuts already lets customers order donuts via voice commands, then pick their nearest DD location, and have their cherry-glazed donuts and coffee ready upon arrival.
• Augmented reality (AR):Customers have playfully explored the real world enhanced by layers of digital information in the popular Pokémon GO game. Now shopping is emerging as the main driver for “serious” AR applications, and AR-apps from furniture and automotive retailers are just the beginning: According to ComScore19, more than 100 million consumers will be conducting their shopping with the assistance of AR technology by 2020. Combined with AI, customer data, and location-based marketing, AR apps will display current promotions and product details for items the consumer is literally looking at in real-time. Large parts of this info will be piped in via next-generation Augmented Reality (AR) headsets, which may even become the future’s main communication devices. Although only 150 000 pairs of AR glasses were sold in 2016, analysts predict this number to reach 22.8 million units by 2022
The future of retail is personal. No matter which channel or medium consumers may use to make their purchase, the retailers who will get the sale are the ones who can keep consumers engaged in personal relationships that grow over time.
The key to this is a consumer-first marketing approach. Contextual understanding of desires and preferences is a key aspect of consumer-first marketing, as it opens up new possibilities for companies to deliver on needs through the smart use of data. It goes far beyond knowing who your customer is and where he is located.
The aim is to continuously build out a rounded profile of your customer. This approach can include tracking behavioural data, transactional data, data from social media and much more. The key is to create and offer content that is not just relevant and valuable for potential customers – but also triggers feedback.
Using feedback combined with other data sets, retailers can learn more about their customers, recognise strong signals of intent and begin delivering contextually relevant content at the right moment.
The retail store of the future may feature real products and services by real people – or not. Perhaps customers will be served by tablet-equipped store assistants or interact with holographic AI-projections via next-gen data glasses on their path to purchase. And maybe purchases are not even the end goal. Perhaps consumers will simply visit stores to snap a pretty Instagram post, try on an item or two, have a drink or a snack, and order their products online later from the comfort of their home.
But one thing is already for certain: Making sure that today’s entitled consumers will also be your customers tomorrow requires a relationship based on mutual trust and understanding.