The evolution of the retail industry usually moves at the same speed with the evolution of technology. Over the last ten years, we have witnessed a major shift in customer behaviors, driven by the impact of the smartphone and mobile connectivity.
In a customer’s perspective, new tools mean new ways to connect with products and brands; in a company’s perspective, new tools mean new ways to create value and deliver memorable customer experiences. So, what’s in store for the future of retail?
No doubt that mobile devices have helped to change retail customer experience merging the physical and digital worlds and paving the way to other technologies (such as beacons, the Internet of Things, geo-fencing). Both the in-store and the online experiences have come out from this shift more complete and satisfying for the customer.
To say it with “The Retail Transformation” report from the Deloitte Center for the Edge, “technological advances and public policy liberalization are contributing to new flows of information, knowledge, and resources. As a result, retailers face new pressures:
- Lowered barriers to market entry are bringing in many new small players and fragmenting the retail landscape.
- Online marketplaces are transcending geographic proximity and expanding market demand for highly specific offerings.
- Technologies such as on-demand fulfillment are changing how and where retailers hold inventory.
- New retail models are arising out of new technologies and new ways to connect with consumers.
Amid all this change, the retail value chain is unbundling, and even remapping. To compete effectively, traditional retailers should reimagine how they create and capture value, thinking past omnichannel positioning to examine, and find the best uses for, their assets.”
The ultimate goal for every retail brand is to build a strategy to accomplish three different tasks:
- Engage customers across all touch points of the new customer journey;
- Understand customers’ needs and desires, studying their behavior patterns;
- Delight customers, offering experiences that are enjoyable, innovative, and contextual.
In our digital ecosystem, the proliferation of the points of contact between brand and customer forces even the most traditional retail companies to realize that they extend and live way beyond the concrete walls of the physical store.
The typical journey of a customer today is very different from how it was not so many years ago. A simple example:
- I visit the store to get an idea of what products may fit my needs;
- I look for more information on Google;
- I scan the reviews of blogs and communities;
- I compare the different prices and offers online;
- I post all my questions on the official Facebook or Twitter page;
- I finally purchase the product using the e-commerce site;
- I get back to the store to pick up the product;
- I use the live chat or the mobile app to access the customer service to solve a problem.
It is evident that retailers need to learn to connect with customers across different channels, simultaneously and seamlessly. Clients want to waste no time and demand that you can be there and everywhere!
The perceived quality of your brand depends on your ability to provide value, combining both useful/informative contents and personalized experiences, anytime and on any device.
This is the essence of an excellent digital customer experience in retail, the one that engages and keeps customers coming back again and again. This is your most critical differentiator in markets where the quality of the output (products/services) is taken for granted.
To get back to the initial question, what will happen next in the retail industry? To answer, we will use as a reference "The Future of Retail 2016" report by consulting firm PSFK.
This take on the subject delivers a different point of view on how the idea of shopping is changing, and how brands need to reshape their retail customer experience to overcome the challenge of digital transformation.
In more detail, they identify four key major areas for improvement in the shopping experience, and ten pillars to create and deliver a truly omni-comprehensive strategy.
ENHANCING THE PURCHASE PATH
Create Confidence: empower customers with useful contents, create new opportunities to discover products and help them choose the best option.
Eliminate Obstacles: streamline your technology and services to eliminate pain points, and avoid wasted time when customers connect with you.
BUILDING BETTER RELATIONSHIPS
Democratize Access: create a sense of exclusivity with your brand identity and values, while offering the same opportunities to every single customer.
Recognize & Personalize: recognize that not all customers are alike, promote personalized contents and tailor-cut the experience acting on specific needs.
Promote Transparency: in the Age of Digital Customers, communication is always a two-way process. Remember that your brand also speaks with what you do.
CREATING A VALUABLE COMMUNITY
Perfect Partnerships: choose the right partners and platforms to deliver more (and more useful) services and create a unique customer experience.
Optimize Ownership: the conversion path never ends with the conversion. Be ready to support customers and respond in real-time to their questions and problems.
Cultivate Community: as taught by sports teams, the sense of community is decisive to create loyalty and legacy. Use the mobile app and social media to strengthen the bond.
ELEVATING THE TOP TIER
Encourage Advocacy: the inbound marketing methodology aims at transforming generic users into brand advocates. Engagement paves the way to loyalty.
Deliver Delight: never stop improving and testing. Work to provide fresh and personalized contents that delight customers and reinforce the relationship.
Now it is your turn. Do you think there is something missing? What would you focus on to reinvent retail customer experience and fulfill your brand promise in the digital era?
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