The main challenge now is to connect the online and in-store customer experiences. Although e-commerce has grown, the retail store is still king. Customers want to visit the store and try the products for themselves.
Online customer experiences have more influence than ever on in-store purchases. A 2015 Forrester study found that 45 percent of offline sales will be web-influenced by 2020. A full 84 percent of customers turn to mobile devices to help them reach buying decisions in-store.
To find out more about how online and offline customer experiences connect for retailers in 2017, I caught up with Adobe’s industry sector lead for retail in Europe, Vijayanta Gupta, and put some questions to him.
Gupta is the head of product and industry marketing and industry strategy at Adobe Systems Europe. He leads Adobe’s industry-specific, go-to-market initiatives and Adobe Marketing Cloud product marketing initiatives across Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.
JB: Let’s dive straight in here. What does customer experience mean for the retail industry in 2017?
VG: It means the ways in which customers perceive their interactions with retailers online, in mobile, and in brick-and-mortar stores, and how they perceive the connections, or disconnections, between those touchpoints.
JB: What then do you see as the main customer experience challenges and opportunities in the retail sector in 2017?
VG: The main challenge, right now, especially for multichannel retailers, is definitely to connect the online and in-store customer experiences. A lot of companies have great e-commerce websites, but many customers use those sites not to buy online, but to give them ideas about what to buy in-store. Although e-commerce has grown, the retail store is still king. Customers want to visit the store and try the products for themselves. If they like a product they see online but it’s not there in the store—or if it looks or works differently than they expected from the website—then the company has probably lost the sale. But this reality also offers a great opportunity for retailers who can connect the online and offline experiences—letting customers try out product variations and see interactive close-ups online, then find exactly what they’re looking for in the store. That connectivity provides a huge opportunity to create delight.
JB: What are the benefits for retailers who can achieve that connectivity? Any use cases that spring to mind?
VG: Yes, actually. We recently helped the retail chain Spar integrate its online storefront with in-store offers. The company had a limited ability to centrally store and manage product images and design elements, which meant its messaging often had an inconsistent look and feel, so its customers weren’t as engaged as they could be. We leveraged the existing integration points between Adobe Experience Manager and Hybris to merge Spar Austria’s corporate web presence and online storefront. We helped the company to not only provide more engaging content on the website, but also deliver real-time online offers to customers who were shopping in-store, leading to a major increase in engagement and purchases.
JB: So by creating a more consistent online experience, and making the online content consistent with the in-store experience, Spar was able to drive more purchases both online and in-store.
VG: That’s exactly right. Another really cool example is what we did with the French cosmetics company L’Occitane. The company was providing solid customer experiences online and in its brick-and-mortar stores, but it was still treating these touchpoints as two separate channels, rather than as components in a single unified customer experience. We used Adobe Campaign to help the company integrate first- and third-party customer data, and gain a consistent, 360-degree view of each customer. These robust customer profiles enabled L’Occitane to create personalised customer experiences that would seamlessly connect online and in-store interactions, and turn customers into cross-channel shoppers. Customers now receive offers on a local or regional basis, based on their online and in-store activity—and those offers drive purchases both on the company’s website and in its brick-and-mortar stores.
JB: This reminds me of how, a few years ago, retailers were focusing on connecting all their online channels to provide a unified customer experience. Now they’re realising that the in-store experience also needs to be connected seamlessly with all the other channels.
VG: Right. That’s exactly what these retailers are working to achieve right now, and many of them are already reaping the benefits of this transformation.
JB: What does the immediate future hold, in terms of connected customer experiences in the retail sector?
VG: I see this as breaking down into four key categories: merchandising, personalisation, convenience, and engagement. In terms of merchandising, customers will demand more control over how they interact with retailers. In other words, they’ll expect shopping to feel more like entertainment; it should be a pleasurable experience in and of itself, on every channel. This also ties in with personalisation, which is going to become more proactive. Retailers will go beyond just providing personalised product recommendations, and will start to tailor visual merchandising and in-store screen displays around customers’ previous activity and geolocation info. We’re also going to see more innovation in terms of convenience. For example, 24-hour self-service kiosks, centralised digital shopping interfaces, and other technologies will give customers more choices in terms of how, when, and where they’ll interact with brands. And all three of those areas feed into engagement. Retailers will begin offering more engaging product demonstrations, and will give in-store associates more resources for making real-time personalised recommendations to customers. Everyday shopping will begin to feel more and more like interacting with a whole staff of personal concierges.
JB: It sounds like, as in so many other sectors, the customer experience is going to become more central than ever for retailers.
VG: That’s definitely true. All these tools and technologies are going to focus increasingly on providing the best possible shopping experience for the customer, across all channels.
JB: I think that sums it up perfectly. Thanks for joining me today, Vijay, and for sharing your insights on customer experience for retailers in 2017.
VG: Thanks Jamie. By the way, readers who want to know more about the priorities in retail for 2017 and beyond as well as learn further details about customer experience in retail should definitely read the research we recently published in conjunction with Econsultancy regarding digital trends in retail, and they can read my perspectives on it in my blog post.
Join me next time, when I’ll be interviewing Adobe’s industry sector lead for the automotive industry, exploring what customer service means for automotive marketers in 2017. See you there!