As consumers, we are becoming more dynamic every day. Our expectations from the brands we connect with are evolving constantly. We have 24*7 access to reach out to our favorite brands online and we don’t hesitate to be vocal if we have received a poor service. With the rise in our demands, retailers have become more cautious and are working to match the level of expectation we have from them.
In 2011, Gartner predicted that by the year 2020, 85% of the customers will be managing their relationships with a brand without the involvement of a human. As we move ahead, the future of customer experience in retail is becoming exciting. In this blog, I will discuss the landscape of customer experience in retail as customer experience becomes a benchmark for success or failure.
Enriched experience due to technological advantage
In today’s connected world, the barriers of physical location are dissolving slowly but surely. Further, retailers are digitalizing their offerings and implementing adaptive technologies to create better in-store experiences. Such virtual and physical interactions between the customer and the retailer are helpful in creating personalized and immersive experiences. From the Internet of Things to digital screens, signages, and beacons – retailers are trying every trick possible to establish a deep connection with the customer.
Artificial Intelligence tools are making customer support powerful and helping retailers target and resolve the problems that the customers are facing. Chatbots are gaining popularity and retailers are using them to handle customer service requests quickly. Easy to deploy, these bots get to the woes of a customer through messaging apps, voice, instant messaging and provide effective and prompt resolutions.
The availability of a wide variety of tools allows retailers to gain access to a massive amount of data with regards to their customers’ website browsing, purchasing, and researching behavior. In the coming years, retailers will be able to slice and dice this data to deliver marketing messages that are tailor-made for individual customers, thus providing them an enriched experience. This, in turn, would also help retailers to build up a strong customer base and consequently, increase their revenue.
Mobile customer experience enrichment
The usage of mobiles has now become more prominent than ever. Internet monitoring firm StatCounter reported that in 2016, mobile internet use had surpassed desktop use. Customers today spend a considerable amount of time on the mobile, 80% of which is used in browsing through apps and websites. Retailers need to focus a majority of their attention and resources in providing an enriched mobile customer experience to their customers. In future, this could be a major differentiator between brands.
Instead of settling for difficult login and sign up procedures, retailers must look at making their apps and site simple and convenient. Banking apps are venturing into thumbprint identification, a novel method to ease the sign-up woes on mobiles. This could be used effectively in retail too. Further, curating video content increases the customer’s engagement manifold – a practice that retailers must adopt.
Focus on virtual stores
The key to effective customer experience is to make customer interactions with the brand comfortable and easy at all levels. A classic case of the same can be Pepperfry.com, an Indian online furniture store that was not getting the kind of orders it expected because most consumers would take an extremely long time to decide on the exact piece they wanted to purchase. To make the customer purchase process simple, Pepperfry studios were introduced.
The aim of these stores was to get the customer to explore the product and understand its functionality as well as its physical aspects through sensory assessment methods. The stores did not have salesmen but rather had interior designers who would gradually convert a prospective consumer into a loyal customer. Ashish Shah, the founder and CEO of Pepperfry, wanted to manage the entire customer purchasing process on a holistic level starting from pre-purchase to post-purchase.
Hence, to further accentuate the experience with the brand, Pepperfry gradually began to provide virtual reality tours of these studios for its customers. Without being physically present, the customers were able to understand the essence of Pepperfry studios and how they operated. Finding a strong foothold in the market as a result of these endeavors, Pepperfry is now strengthening its logistics to establish more such virtual stores.
The advantage of the Omnichannel experience
An omnichannel experience, in simple terms, can be defined as providing your customers the right to buy a product from one channel, pick it up from another, and, if need be, return through a third channel. In essence, customers should have multiple options, whereby they can interact with a brand.
Lenskart – one of India’s leading optometrist brands – uses this omnichannel customer interaction approach really well. You could shop online and drop in at one of their over 300 stores spanning almost every city in India to try out and pick up your new spectacles. On the other hand, you could be at one of the Lenskart stores and if you don’t like the store collection, you could look through Lenskart’s online catalog, purchase the frame of your choice, and have it delivered to your home. Such an omnichannel presence is going to be ubiquitous in the future of retail.
The future of magic mirror
Think of this scenario – you want to purchase a dress but not in the usual and traditional way. How about finding a magic mirror that provides an interactive experience and makes your shopping process more engaging?
Cisco Systems deployed a StyleMe virtual fashion mirror for customers at John Lewis, one of the largest retailers in the United Kingdom. This was designed to aid customers to mix and match a variety of garments, without having to walk the shop floor and visiting the trial room several times. With the help of this technology and by using hand motions, customers could eliminate dresses and pick up clothing that they feel would suit their taste.
Although John Lewis took down the magic mirror trials from their stores, we believe such experiences are enticing for customers to visit the store and ultimately make a purchase. As augmented reality technology improves, this particular retail experience is bound to reappear across many more retail brands.
With a paradigm shift seen in customer’s expectations, the retail landscape is also going to transform. The technological innovations being undertaken by various brands to exceed customers’ expectations are exciting and hold a huge potential. Customer experiences need to be novel and innovative and should make the customer talk and share their experience with others to build a network effect. The future of retail experience lies in delivering better customer experience through omnichannel presence and enhanced in-store experience.