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Optimise digital retail experience

digital retail experience

Modern Retail spoke with Alister Harris, CEO of Lokulus about the importance of creating outstanding digital customer experiences and utilising tech to connect with customers and optimise digital retail experiences.

In this piece, Alister explains ways that retailers can optimise digital retail experiences and create loyal customers.

1. What changes have we seen in retail customer experience in recent times?

Put simply, the biggest shift has been the power. Consumers now have the power, it’s totally shifted from the brand. And if you’re not satisfying them and giving them what they want, they go elsewhere, it’s that simple.  Before consumers used to be told what they wanted. Now they know what they want and they go direct online to get it and that’s not always with a trusted brand. If they want guaranteed next day delivery, they go to Amazon. If they want same day click and collect, they’ll go to Next. What we’ve seen time and time again is that when retailers don’t respond to what customers want and expect, they don’t survive. Debenhams, Topshop, Warehouse, Oasis, the list goes on. Customers demand more and what we’re seeing now is the new owners of these brands, accelerating them – ASOS with Topshop, Boohoo with Debenhams. 

And, albeit accelerated by the pandemic, people want to and are comfortable making all sorts of purchases online. Yes they might go into a shop to look at a particular item, such as furniture or a bigger ticket item, but they’d have no qualms in buying it online from home where they can choose a delivery slot that works for them, speak to an online customer service agent if there are any further questions or ask the opinion from other family members etc.    

We’ve been providing a seamless digital customer experience for 20 years but the expectations and loyalty of these customers is what has really changed. These customers are much more au fait with online, but they expect excellent service in any brand setting, whether that’s to do with their website, their store, their pop up, their social feeds. And if they don’t get it, they’ll go elsewhere. They’re not shackled by what’s on offer on the high street, they’ll head online and find another retailer that gives them what they want. And the only way you’ll keep those customers loyal, is by giving them what they want, good product and good service, which is fast, responsive, frictionless and ultimately a delight. Remember who they are and their history with your brand and speak to them like a human. There have been numerous surveys done and in every one, almost 90% of customers who have a bad experience online are less likely to return.  

2. How important is it to create a digital retail experience?

Well as I’ve mentioned above, we’ve seen what happens when retailers don’t focus on giving a positive customer experience.  But in terms of the digital customer experience brands give, it needs to be representative of the brand and it needs to speak to them in a relevant way. 

Because of the pandemic, the demographic of online customers has shifted to an older audience and so retailers need to make sure they’re understanding what these customers want, how they behave and understand any pain points they may have. Online is a constant evolution, so retailers need to be on this. Without a digital customer experience, giving them the best online experience and giving them a reason to buy with you, you’ll lose market share. 

John Lewis is a good example of this. They’re doing a huge online piece at the moment to make sure they’re future-proofing their digital experience. Yes they’ve historically been known for their loyal customer base but they realised during the pandemic that their digital experience wasn’t providing the experience it should be and in order to survive, it needs to.  And Marks and Spencer is the same, nothing was off the table in terms of rewriting their digital strategy. 

3. What role has technology played in overcoming the COVID pandemic?

The pandemic rewrote online service and the importance of technology forever. The biggest challenge for retailers was supporting teams remotely. Customer service agents were having to work from home rather than a call centre and retailers had to ensure they had the technology and support to enable that, all whilst dealing with higher than ever volumes of online enquiries and not faulting on service. One of our clients, who saw huge growth was Ideal Shopping, who anticipated this and created a new contact centre in two weeks to support the upsurge in sales.

More traditional retailers had to shift too. Those bricks and mortar retailers had to quickly accelerate their click and collect offering so they could still service clients. Our client Matalan was a good example of this and technology was critical for them.  

4. How important is personalisation and how can retailers implement this?

Personalisation is completely fundamental to success online. It gives brands an opportunity to create that greater connection and insight into their customers so brands can offer the right products, offers or service, using customer data to be proactive and drive sales. However retailers and technology providers need to find ways around the dichotomy of greater personalisation and consumers now understand the value of their personal data with 98% of customers concerned about what happens to it with the additional shift of the major technology businesses (including Apple) putting the choice of tracking online in the hands of the consumer.

I think now the challenge is having this data across all platforms and ensuring the experience is consistent, whether customers are in store, on the app, on the website etc so the retailer can behave consistently, relevantly and as personally as it can. 

Instore is still tricky and I’m not sure anyone has nailed it but digital agents need a one pane view from across their customer interaction management and CRM platforms, that gives them all the data they need to provide the best experience.

5. What are the benefits of streamlining customer service and how can it be done?

Streamlining simply joins the dots across technology or platforms which is essential to providing the best experience possible for your customers. People expect a good service across all devices to offer a swift resolution, but also want to know they can speak to a human when the query is in-depth. 

The key to this is having the technology to join up those dots and data so you have a unified view of your customer in one place, allowing your customer service team to provide a best in class experience.  

6. What are your top tips for retailers looking to connect with customers and create a stand-out experience?

Ultimately, they have to know their customer – it’s not all about clunky segmentation of the audience by age, sex, demographic, it’s about looking at the data and their previous behaviour and segmenting it more intelligently. It’s about that really personal experience.

Delivering on promises is key. If you’ve broken a promise with a customer, be a human, apologise and react appropriately. Resolve issues and turn the issue from villain to hero. It needs to be painless and frictionless and needs a resolution before you throw yourselves through hoops. Your technology should be able to pick up on this customer sentiment and if they’re unhappy it should be escalated to a more senior team member to resolve asap, or else they’ll go elsewhere. 

A good example of this was last year when I couldn’t go and collect my Click and Collect item as I was isolating. One phone call and they sent me the item to my home address, without any hassle whatsoever. This comes back to my initial point that successful retailers understand that  the customer has the power and to keep this new age customer loyal to your brand you need to satisfy them as best you can and have the technology in place for your agents to exceed their growing expectations.  

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