The future of retail sure got here fast. It wasn’t that long ago that shopping meant a trip to a store or mall. It took effort. It was a visual and tactile experience where you could actually see and touch the products you were going to buy—assuming what you wanted to buy was on the shelf.
Things have changed. The shopping journey is increasingly an online activity—even when part of the activity involves a visit to a brick-and-mortar location.
Other things haven’t changed. Shopping is still an experience. In fact, the quality and relevance of that experience matter more than ever. Today’s retailers must deliver a compelling, real-time experience that helps them stand out in a crowded and competitive market—whether they have a network of brick-and-mortar locations or operate purely online.
So how can they do it? The first step is to understand the sea change in customer expectations.
Changing customer expectations drive retail innovation
Today’s retail customers hold all the cards. They have instant visibility into pricing and availability. They have virtually limitless choices in who they shop with. And because they have more information and choices than ever before, they have fewer reasons to stay loyal to a single brand or retailer. How has this shift toward consumer empowerment changed what people want from retailers?
- Always available – Retail engagement now happens around the clock, every day of the week. An unreliable online presence means much more than lost transactions. It also means losing the trust of a potentially loyal customer base.
- Consistency across channels – Customers expect that a retailer will see their cross-channel activity as a single, holistic interaction. What they do in one channel should be visible in the others. They don’t have any tolerance for the silos within the retailer’s enterprise. They see themselves as interacting with a single brand.
- Personalization – Generic experiences only lead to generic results. Retailers must personalize the shopping experience by drawing on the customer’s history, preferences, and interests and offer superior value that matters to them individually.
- Unified experiences– Retailers must have a fully connected web of retail processes stretching from their customers to their workforce and suppliers to increase efficiency across the value chain and improve every step of the shopping journey. Any silos within the organization inhibit the smooth flow of information and data that is essential to a seamless experience.
And here’s how today’s most innovative retailers are equipping themselves to meet those rapidly evolving expectations:
- Site performance – A site that’s always available and responds quickly to customer activity is table stakes in today’s cutthroat retail environment. Nothing happens without it. Retailers can’t afford to be taken by surprise by a sudden spike in activity.
- A 360-degree view of the customer – Retailers need a complete view of customer activity, beginning with the earliest browsing stages through the service and support cycles. This view is the key to supporting the omnichannel shopper and encouraging their ongoing loyalty.
- Insight and analytics – In addition to visibility into customer activity, retailers must have the ability to turn that data into insight to drive higher conversion rates and generate more transactions of higher value. They need to understand buying patterns and behaviors so they can deliver highly personalized, relevant engagement.
- Recommendation – A powerful recommendation engine build on a deep understanding of the customer needs and lifestyle at the by-name level to make relevant up-sell or cross-sell offers.
- Integration – Even the most engaging, compelling storefront can’t deliver results without the fully integrated capabilities for processing payments, managing inventories, streamlining supply chains, and balancing the books. Retailers need the ability to deliver what they promise—and they can’t do that without state-of-the-art back-office systems. This is both table stakes and opportunity to differentiate with robust and convenient delivery options that make your customers’ lives easier.
The bottom line: consumers want an elusive combination of advanced technology and humanized interaction. They return to businesses they can trust and that can adapt to accommodate their needs and expectations. Cultivating that loyalty isn’t easy—but the effort can pay off substantially by turning one-time buyers into lifelong customers.
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