Retailers must adapt to changes in technology to gain new customers, retain existing ones, and maintain long-term brand loyalty. Never has this been truer than in today’s age of digital consumers. The rise of e-commerce has blurred the lines between digital and physical retail, leaving many businesses confused about how to capture and influence their target customer who is exposed to a sea of fragmented brand interactions.
However, a transformation is underway as retail brands abandon channel-based initiatives in favor of a customer-centric approach that focuses on the experience across all channels. This goes beyond the basics of providing a simple online presence to creating unique experiences that close gaps in the buying process.
E-commerce isn’t replacing brick and mortar
Contrary to popular belief, e-commerce is not responsible for the closing of large retail stores. In fact, while in 2015 e-commerce sales increased 14.6 percent over 2014—an additional US$43.4 billion—94 percent of all sales still happen in store, and this is not projected to drop below 90 percent for the next few years.
Digital is a gateway—that is, it’s often the start of a customer journey that leads to other touchpoints from the brand and hopefully results in a conversion. Today’s consumers use both online and offline channels, often starting their journeys “digitally” from a mobile device, and ending them “physically” in a brick-and-mortar location. As a testament, while customers spent US$35 million via mobile devices in 2015, this mobile engagement helped drive another US$977 million in sales taken by associates at registers.
To drive this revenue, brands need to understand and manage customer interactions—from the first mobile search through the in-store purchase.
It’s the micro-moments that build a brand
The rise of e-commerce has fragmented the customer experience into many seemingly disconnected touchpoints that often occur outside the brand’s control. The channels that these micro-moments occur through need to be optimised to provide a unified experience that guides the customer toward conversion.
As an example, most consumers prefer web apps over mobile apps when interacting with retailers, so before investing in a strategy, consider what value it will provide. Similarly, phone interactions usually center on prices, store hours, and available inventory. Understanding how customers want to interact through specific channels helps retail marketers manage their omnichannel strategies.
Decisions are complex, with hundreds of moments and interactions influencing the outcome. And while the capture and correlation of these events over time is difficult, it is necessary to effectively manage your digital presence in a way that measures and influences the long-term value of a customer over a lifetime of interactions.
Differentiation through unique experiences
Businesses are experimenting with new ways to redefine the in-store experience as well. From Kellogg’s trendy NYC café to Story’s monthly redesign, brands are finding creative ways to create unique in-store experiences that match their digital presence.
Businesses are also empowering employees with digital technology, turning sales associates into experts to deliver a truly personalised experience. For example, North American Consumer Technographics found that shoppers most often look to store associates to use mobile devices in-store to get product information or locate and reserve inventory. This type of insight allows businesses to deliver the exact in-store experience their customer is looking for.
Consumers are also seeking simplicity in the shopping experience. There is a bottleneck between the decision to purchase a product and the customer’s ability to enjoy it. UK retailer Argos has addressed this by allowing customers to pick up online orders in-store with a guaranteed 60-second visit from arrival to exit. The company recently expanded this model to include a hub-and-spoke distribution model, so consumers can order items while on the train and pick them up designated kiosks in London Underground stations.
Customer experience: The old battleground but with a new battle for retailers
Retail marketers that exploit established and emerging technologies that make shopping convenient for the customer, will be successful in delivering retail experiences that attract and keep new customers.
Because in the end, customers just want to shop. They don’t spend time thinking about how many channels they’re interacting with your brand through, or the number of devices they’re using. In their minds, the retailer’s role is to provide shopping experiences that are as effortless and enjoyable as possible.
For the retailer, this requires an experience-first culture that unifies the brand across all channels and is built upon rigorous testing and a commitment to guiding the consumer from first digital touch to unique in-store conversion. That is the new battle that retailers must fight in this old battleground.
To find out more about experience driven commerce, download the Moving Beyond Click and Mortar: 5 Steps to Experience Excellence report.