How will retail change and develop in 2019? We hear from industry insiders and share their predictions for the year ahead. This ongoing series will focus on a different theme each time. Today we’re looking at the in-store experience and the wider high street which, our experts say, is set to remain just as important in 2019 – but needs to evolve.
In-store personalisation should get better
Nikki Baird, vice president of retail innovation at commerce technology specialist Aptos
Since consumers leave a virtual crumb trail, it’s relatively easy to develop a good understanding of ecommerce shoppers’ preferences and make smart recommendations based on gathered data. As a result, online personalisation has paid off. However, this success is much harder to replicate in physical settings where in-store technologies such as facial recognition and phone sniffing have a creepy factor.
All of the personalisation that retailers have implemented to-date has been focused on generating insights based on observed behaviour, and delivering those insights in an impersonal manner, by relying on technology to make product recommendations or order search results. Store personalisation has to be delivered in the context of the physical location and the employees at that location. Retailers have to figure out how to turn personalisation insights into actions that store employees can deliver in a way that is not creepy – 2019 will see both retail #fails and some new successes, as retailers get better at translating the technology of personalisation into the store environment.”
Focus on customer service
David Rowlands, director, customer success, UK & EMEA at hosted VOIP specialist 8X8
For high street retailers, customer service is a hugely important differentiator of customer loyalty. However, retail customer service simply isn’t where it should be and the technology used to support it is rarely deployed fast enough or in an integrated way. There are too many spot solutions, preventing a smooth experience across the web, contact centre and stores, making it impossible for employees to work efficiently.
In a tough year for the sector, it has never been more important to get customer service right. In fact our research shows that poor service stops six in ten people shopping with a retailer; essentially, if service isn’t up to scratch, customers will vote with their feet and shop elsewhere.
Communications solutions powered by AI and machine learning can supercharge customer service teams by allowing employees to be more focused and respond to calls quicker. Bringing all cloud communications under one roof with one system of engagement and one system of intelligence will help retailers overcome the challenge of fragmented channels allowing them to deliver an excellent customer experience. This year, the winners in the retail space will be those who embrace new technology in order to create outstanding experiences for customers and encourage brand loyalty.
The high street needs a leader
Angus Burrell, general manager, UK, omnichannel solutions at payments business Valitor
The high street isn’t dead, it is just in a period of change. It is true that the traditional high street is no longer fit for purpose, but it won’t just be empty shop units forever. The high street will continue to reinvent itself in the coming years, not only offering a location to buy products or experiences, but also click and collect, facilitate returns and pre and aftercare services. What we believe is needed is for someone to take ownership and control over the transformation. We’ve seen some local councils, such as Doncaster, step up and make the high street an experience destination. We can’t keep waiting for something, anything, to make the high street better, it needs a leader to show the way, make a plan and make it happen. If the high street can truly react to the changing consumer need and behaviour then it can see brighter days ahead.
Digitalisation and mobilisation
David Nicholls, retail and hospitality chief technology officer and commerce technology business Fujitsu UK
A number of retailers have looked at digitalisation of the in-store environment over the past year, and we expect to see this accelerate over the coming months, driven by a need to increase employee productivity. With external factors and costs outside of retailers’ control, such as business rates and the national living wage, they’re under mounting pressure to find ways to improve operations and the bottom line. As a result, investments in digitalisation will become more of a focus to improve business process, the store environment and store operations, as well as drive a better and deeper customer experience and entice people to come into store.
With the increase in digitisation, comes greater mobilisation for store colleagues. Retailers will accelerate investments to empower store colleagues with access to product information and store systems in the aisle and warehouse to support customer journeys and optimise operations. Up until now, employees have had to carry clip boards or go to certain desk points in the front and back end of the store to help with queries and tasks, which has been an unproductive use of their time. However, we expect to see retailers’ rollout smaller form factor colleague devices and wearable technology and use actionable real-time data and insight generated to assign tasks dynamically to colleagues and mobilise them to the benefit of customers and the overall operations of the store.
The role of AI and convenience
Julian Fisher, chief executive of local deals specialist jisp
High street retailers must bring convenience to the shopper in 2019 in a variety of ways. This can include in-store product information delivered directly to their mobiles, faster and simpler payment options which again, should include mobiles and elsewhere, working with local councils, ensure easier access to shops via public transport and/or better parking. Other ways of introducing convenience should include ways to help shoppers with their purchases such by offering click-and-collect and even click to deliver – taking the battle against online resellers head on. Retailers should also be looking to better understand the customer by using AI to collect data on the customer’s needs, wants and interests. This can then lend itself to giving the customer a better and more personalised shopping experience, such as specific offers on a customer’s favourite products in their preferred location.
Retail will return to its in-store roots
Ross Mason, founder and vice president of product strategy at integration platform MuleSoft
In 2019, more ecommerce retailers will enter the physical fold, with reports suggesting that Amazon alone is planning 3,000 Go! stores by 2021. It will become more important than ever for traditional retailers to capitalise on their physical stores and digital capabilities to drive seamless omnichannel experiences that keep customers coming back. However, as retailers try to understand their customers from an online, in-store and mobile perspective, most still struggle to join the dots to deliver true omnichannel experiences. Our Consumer Connectivity Insights 2018 report revealed 56% of consumers believe retailers provide a disconnected experience across channels.
In 2019, retailers must find new and innovative ways to drive personalised customer experiences that maximise the potential of their physical stores. To do so, they must connect online and in-store systems in an application network so that customers can enjoy a seamless experience wherever they shop. APIs will be the key that enables retailers to achieve this, unlocking data so it can flow seamlessly between channels.
Shops won’t look the same, ever again
Andrew Westbrook, head of retail at audit, tax and consultancy business RSM
With smaller format, mixed use stores providing the best experiences, retailers will be looking at ways to entice customers in and showcase their wares. With many mixing products and experiences already (Rapha has stores with coffee shops and Sweaty Betty offers yoga classes) the shift will continue with retailers moving away from large stores packed full of products. For example, mattress disruptor, Casper, is offering customers 45minute naps in The Dreamery as a way to refresh when shopping, this blends both the product and experience authentically. Showcasing the product and offering a relevant but different experience will be key to standing out.
Stores will be all about the experience
Rachit Khare, VP, client solutions (analytics) at procurement, analytics and research business The Smart Cube
While there has been talk of retail apocalypse, there are brands that have found a way to grow by focusing on their core proposition. At a time when mundane, impersonal department stores are falling out of favour, retailers such as Nordstrom and Sephora are coming up with smaller stores – focussing on limited products and providing superior customer service through well trained sales associates. No matter how fast online may be growing, almost 90% of retail purchases are still through brick-and-mortar stores. Brands that will be able to go beyond transaction/sales focus, and offer experiences are likely to stay in their consumers’ mindscape for much longer, and are expected to witness higher loyalty and average ticket size.