Embracing retail technologies for the ultimate retail experience

Retail technologies

Retailers’ biggest priority today is allowing customers to browse and shop wherever they are. When retail shifted online during the pandemic, linking online to offline became critical in order to deliver outstanding customer experiences. In-person shopping still has its draw, with younger mobile shoppers showing a strong preference for more hybrid off-and-online shopping experiences. Yet ecommerce spend has been driven up by the rapid rise of fashionable product influencers, with almost a quarter of shoppers in the UK finding products first on social media. 

This means retailers will need to ensure they have a seamless shopping experience that offers customers the ability, for instance, to move from a Facebook page to the website, to view a product in-store, and check-out online – while maintaining consistent personalised customer communication throughout this journey. 

What is an enhanced retail experience? 

Enhancing the retail experience used to be something that added ‘an edge’ to your business. But since the pandemic, with the shift in consumer workstyles and lifestyles, buying habits have changed dramatically. Getting the customer experience right is more sink or swim than you might think and not keeping up can mean the end for a business. At least 30 leading retailers went bust or disappeared in 2020, and those who haven’t adapted are struggling to keep up with consumers’ changing demands.  

But many business leaders don’t realise how quickly and easily they can use what they already have to develop smart retail technologies that engage with customers and have real business impact. A 2022 enhanced retail experience means engaging with your customers in the ways they want to browse and buy from you – and it means everything to a business. 

Ever-changing customer expectations 

Surprising and delighting customers requires consistent personalised communication, whether it’s online, on the app or in-store. The store associate can immerse the customer in the experience, drawing them in. Whether a customer has the potential to check out from there, or return to store to complete their purchase, the store associate can handhold the customer throughout. Memorable and meaningful experiences are the holy grail for customer loyalty. 

Most of all, customers need a seamless journey from browsing to buying, using a combination of online, mobile and in-store to get them there. Consumers do have added expectations of swift checkout processes, being able to choose their carrier and where and when their parcel is delivered. They are more socially and environmentally aware, wanting to know more about a company’s eco-credentials and recycling, as well as how and where products are made, and retailers need to be ready to supply this information. 

To maintain competitive advantage, retailers will need to implement a highly optimised, data-driven, and customer-focused solution which can provide exceptional digital experiences. This must take into consideration the following technology and processes: 

Omnichannel strategy 

A truly omnichannel strategy requires all the channels to your customer to be working in synergy with one another to provide one seamless customer experience. It’s not a term for bolting on bits of technology to work independently, such as a mobile app or a Facebook store, which don’t have long-term impact. What you are looking for, is to converge channels and weave digital into the very fabric of the business; to blend offline and online. This involves using data, technology, and human digital expertise. 

Omnichannel involves the integration of legacy, third party and new systems to make the data work for organisations. This means educating retailers and their CXO decision-makers across the board about how quickly and easily they can use what they have already to launch omnichannel services, from clienteling to order management, workflow, and fulfilment. 

Shoppers like to add products to wish lists and their baskets to browse or purchase later, wherever they choose. Furthermore, store associates can, in turn, add products for customers to consider next time they’re instore or to buy at a later date. Keeping an open conversation with shoppers is what will engage with them, keep a brand front of mind, and enable cross- and up-selling. 

Understanding customer data 

Understanding your customer data is the only way to prepare for omnichannel strategy. Analysis of customer data unique to digital commerce – including purchase patterns, return visits, favourite pages, and abandoned baskets – allows retailers to build a comprehensive, detailed picture of consumer activity, which they can exploit to inform their business strategy on- and offline.  

Delivering to customers’ expectations requires analysing and making use of data which reveals their shopping habits, assessing their user journey across multiple touch points/devices and having a deep understanding of which technologies can deliver a great shopping experience. Quality data will allow retailers to bring online/offline together in a single experience, defined by the customer. 

Linking offline to online 

It’s critical for retailers to consider their physical stores and online operations as one presence.   

The overall web experience, the UI, the content information, imagery, reviews and social content all become part of the decision to purchase from a particular brand, whether the consumer decides to visit their local outlet or buy online. Organisations need a robust platform for digital commerce, with built-in flexibility for currencies and ordering, to allow retailers to expand internationally. 

Retailers who don’t use digital to enhance the in-store experience are missing a trick for revenue generation. Store associates with information at their fingertips thanks to integrated technology can engage with customers and become a personal shopping assistant. Some brands take this a stage further with interactive shelves/rails and ‘real-time’ offers, all adding up to an immersive shopping experience tailored to the individual.  

Personalised communication 

Personalisation is set to be a dedicated focus for retailers in 2022. The predicted growth in conversational commerce includes a boost in the adoption of messaging services, with the Live Chat Software Market anticipated to grow at 7.29% CAGR by 2026.  Clear data insight into a customer’s previous purchase history and preferences, combined with a store associate poised to support them during their buying journey across all channels, is what will drive sales. A streamlined unified chat screen can allow a retailer to send messages via each customer’s preferred channel, including video calls, push notifications, email, text, and WhatsApp. 

New collections and inspiration boards can be shared through 1-to-1 or group communications, allowing the customer to build their wish lists for in-store appointments and consultations. By allowing the store associates to engage with customers via a combination of consultations and messaging, they can take the customer through to making their buying decision, wherever they are shopping from. 

Value of the store associate 

The most effective retail technologies allow store associates to create personal connections with customers using smart retail solutions that allow for personalised communications and push notifications based on customer insights to preferred channels such as their smart device. This allows brands to engage with customers, no matter where they are situated, without the need to rely on memory or an online presence. 

The role of the store associate will continue to be elevated as they grow into their roles as tech-enabled shopping companions, wherever and however they engage with the customer. Using powerful machine learning to understand behaviour and purchase lifecycle, store associates can confidently recommend products and services to their customers at a time when they’re ready to buy. 

Clienteling 

Clienteling apps can equip store associates with all the tools, content, and insights they need to deliver a truly personalised customer experience, whether it’s a pre-arranged appointment or a virtual consultation. Retailers see an average of 35% increase in secondary purchases after implementing clienteling technology. 

The more equipped a store associate is to deal with customer needs and the more willing they are to lead the individual on their journey to purchase, the better the outcome for both customer and retailer. The technology must be there to enable them to have all the information they need at their fingertips – from product details to stock availability to the purchase profile of the customers themselves – to leverage this information to provide outstanding customer service.  

This ‘human touch’ is a priority for 2022 customer experience. Because customer service is what will continue to draw people in-store – a rich, personalised experience resulting in the purchase of their desired item at the right price will always be preferable to the more transactional process of browsing and buying online.  Personalised consultations in industries like furniture and beauty, where customers can experiment assisted by a brand expert who can walk them through the products, are more likely to see customers return to the store to follow-up once they have seen the products.   

The last mile

Checkout and delivery is a critical part of the seamless customer journey. The ability for retailers to provide a faster, more streamlined purchase journey either in-store or online is vital. Two-way integration with online accounts enables a seamless transition from online browsing to instore experience and back again for complete-at-home purchases, which allows for safe store operations. Retailers are turning to easy to manage apps for stock management and inventory, which are increasingly essential to empower store associates with the right information to minimise the risk of customer disappointment. 

Smart retail technologies like frictionless payments and anytime self-checkout allow retailers to make shopping a pleasant and stress-free experience. For major purchases like furniture and homeware, an in-store 20–30-minute transaction time can be reduced to around five minutes with the right technology. Efficiency at the last stages of a purchase has a lasting impact on a customer. 

With customers wanting more flexible fulfilment of their orders, click and collect/BOPAK (buy online pick up at kerbside) have become even further embedded into the seamless shopping experience. With a wealth of shipping options including Ship from Store, Click and Collect, Reserve and Collect, and Order in Store, customers want to choose their delivery method and expect nothing less than rapid. 

According to McKinsey, 90% of consumers expect a two to three-day delivery minimum and 30% expect same-day delivery. They also value regular communication updates as a package moves through different stages of its journey. Retailers can let customers know when their order is ready to pick up with personalised notifications sent via their preferred channel, including push notification, email, text and WhatsApp. 

The view from the bottom line 

Improving the blended in-store and online customer experience in 2022 must involve digital innovation and intelligent data management. This means smart communication based on truly personalised information which considers wider aspects such as social and environmental preferences. All of this must be delivered via customers’ preferred channels and part of an omnichannel strategy. 

Retailers must feel reassured that they can use their existing data and systems as a starting point to build on. Those brands which incorporate social and eco-responsibility and honesty with customers into their retail transformations will outclass competitors, be in tune with customers and offer a winning proposition. 

Contributor: Sarah Friswell, CEO at Red Ant 

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