Retailers: remember the good old days when you controlled nearly every aspect of the customer’s purchase journey and customer experience was relegated to in-store interaction? Those days are long gone. You no longer control the customer’s experience – they do. This means one bad experience can reach thousands or millions of people in real time. Today’s shopping experience is increasingly mobile, social and content rich; hyper-connected consumers demand great experiences across all touch points, not just the in-store experience.
Times change quickly these days, and never has this been more true than in the retail industry. In fact, in a recent USA Today article by Jon Swartz (@jswartz) titled Why Shopping Will Never Be the Same, Cyriac Roeding, CEO of Shopkick, states, “The next five years will bring more change to retail than the last 100 years.”
The store of the future ‒ as well as the entire shopping experience ‒ is drastically changing, driven by rapid changes in personal technology. But are retailers prepared to take advantage of these opportunities this technology offers? Can they reach, engage with and build profitable relationships with shoppers? According to a recent research by ExactTarget entitled Retail Touchpoints Exposed, only 44 percent of brick-and-mortar stores connect with shoppers post-purchase via email. Further, only 5 percent of brick-and-mortar stores personalize emails based on in-store purchases.
With two-thirds of smart phone owners shopping from mobile devices, retailers must elevate the brand experience at every touch point to communicate value beyond just price. If a specific retailer fails to live up to a product, service or price promise, consumers have several alternatives – at their fingertips – to consider. To deliver on the consumer expectations and foster long-term customer loyalty and profitability, retailers must harness the power of data and insight to optimize the customer experience by adopting four key principles.
#1: Enhance Customer Connections
The most crucial realization for retailers is that everything begins and ends with the customer. Merchandise, promotions, pricing and other aspects of the customer experience must be based on a highly detailed understanding of the shopper’s needs that goes far beyond general demographics and addresses an individual consumer’s shopping preferences through various channels. A great example is Amazon (@Amazon). Amazon utilizes the shopper / customer’s previous online navigation and purchasing behavior to further customize the shopping experience and recommend products that person may like.
Shopping is now a journey of many touch points spanning online storefronts, mobile apps, social media, call centers, Web-enabled terminals and kiosks in brick-and-mortar stores. Some retailers are responding by adopting technologies such as geofencing (building a virtual perimeter for a real-world geographic area) via highly targeted communication to support social interaction and proactively arm shoppers with product, location and pricing information in real time.
While achieving true customer connections requires a wealth of data, today’s robust technology tools make it relatively easy for retailers to build a personal connection that leads to an optimal customer experience.
#2: Break Down Channel Barriers
Consumers become frustrated when the product they like online is not available or has a different price in-store. What’s more frustrating is the lack of visibility into item availability before traveling to a local retail location. With competition at an all-time high, it’s crucial to provide a seamless shopping experience across all channels that allow shoppers to navigate across channels with unconstrained visibility, flexibility and autonomy throughout the “path to purchase.”
Retailers must ensure the “front ends” are aligned – such as design, branding, pricing, product availability and shopping options – as well as the back-end systems that enable order execution and control inventory flow, shipping and other logistics. This seamless, omni-channel shopping approach, driven by customers engaging in all retail channels, often simultaneously ‒ is no longer a “nice to have” but a competitive imperative.
#3: Build Profit Intelligence Into the Customer Experience Strategy
A sound customer experience strategy defines how service goals can be achieved while still achieving profitability.
Today’s one-size-fits-all profit protections for every transaction are not sustainable. Retailers must build flexibility and profitability rules into the omni-channel shopping experience, and automate the rule administration to every unique transaction in real time. This automation allows the retailer to make offers online or empower an associate in the store sot hey can profitably meet customer demands and secure the sale in that moment. For instance: What options or incentives are available to a power customer? For a new customer? For a high-dollar transaction? For a high-margin transaction?
An agile supply chain, connected technology systems and intelligent cost-to-serve modeling will be key enablers of combining high levels of delivery flexibility and shopper satisfaction with long-term profitability.
#4: Translate Loyalty into Long-Term Success
In the past, most retailers focused on competing based on low price. In today’s omni-channel world, this low-price model limits strategic options. To stand out and build brand loyalty, retailers must instead work toward building a unique value proposition that reduces the role of price in purchasing decisions.
There are many ways to create loyalty and partnership, including rewards programs, membership groups, making connections and customizing shopper information and promotions via social media channels, subscription services, targeted coupons and digital campaigns.
The future of retail is here, and it will only get more complicated with new technology innovations. By focusing on the strategies that will improve the customer experience, retailers can continually evolve to ensure they meet the demands of today’s customers to drive long-term loyalty and success.
Tell us what you think will have the biggest impact on customer experience for retailers in the next five years. For more information, visit Optimizing the Customer Experience from JDA’s Real Results magazine.