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Keeping your customers at the core of your business

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Customers have always been at the centre of every retail business, but today keeping customers is becoming an increasingly vital part of what every online and high street retailer does.

At an Internet Retailing roundtable this week held in conjunction with eCommera, it was blatantly apparent that all retailers now have the customer at the heart of their business. And they all know that they need to offer them experiences, customer satisfaction and customer service on a previously unparalleled level.

The big talking point though is how to do it. Most retailers recognise that there is a massive lag between what consumers now demand and what they are able to deliver. Many see that technology is the key to making this happen – some think that it should be core in-house business process, others that all or some of it should be outsourced.

The issue, however, is paying for it. The retail industry is under pressure. Brexit uncertainty and slowly falling sales – not to mention the potential threat that people will realise that they are getting poorer by the day with falling wages and rising inflation – is starting to bite.

Projections of retail spend are levelling off, if not falling. As my colleague Chloe Rigby pointed out earlier this week, even Waitrose is limiting free coffees to shoppers who pay. Truly the end of days. But all this means that retailers are in a conundrum: they need to invest in technology to make themselves more efficient and to hang on to those customers, yet it looks like revenues will down.

The latest figures from IMRG CapGemini suggest that online retail sales are up 15% year on year, but that growth on mobile slowing – despite the fact that this month more than half of all online searches made were on mobile (largely for washing machines). The real truth here is that more than half of shoppers have a smartphone and/or tablet and while growth on mobile maybe slowing, mobile is increasingly an integral part of a new dynamic in how people shop. Even down to how they are using mobile to look at big ticket items such as washing machines. Meeting this demand is a costly business.

So what can be done? While there are huge investment decisions to be made into the underlying technology needed to make AI, machine learning and big (and small) data work across the business, there are other, more simple, things that can be done that can help make you more engaging and sticky for customers.

One of these is looking at how messaging can help. Email marketing never goes out of fashion – it works so well on mobile – but newer kids on the block such as WhatsApp are also about to start proving their worth in this new retailing world. News that iAdvize, has integrated instant messaging app, WhatsApp, into its conversational commerce platform shows that you don’t have to break the bang to offer customers something that they want and ticks the boxes of interaction, mobile and customer service.

And to find out more about how to make technology work for you – on a budget –get yourself along to IRX2017 at the NEC in Birmingham on 4 and 5 April. Here there will be technology providers from across the spectrum: from the big guns down to some really interesting little start ups. Each may well have the answer – or part of the answer – to your problems.

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