In times of crisis we re-evaluate what we think. Tried and tested concepts no longer feel appropriate as we turn a critical eye on brands, institutions and governments based on what they have said and done and what they will say and do.

Lockdown has forced many of us into a period of reflection from the value of human connections to the craving of familiarity and even the benefits of having a simpler lifestyle. Many have been left feeling cautious and critical which, as consumers, has upped our expectations. This new mindset needs to be taken into account if retailers are to help get the economy moving again which means the role of digital innovation in the customer experience is greater than ever.

In an ever-digitising world, risks from coronavirus are forcing us to completely reimagine retail experiences. Where once bricks-and-mortar stores turned to automation to speed up the shopping experience, the emphasis is now on reducing human contact post-lockdown. As a result, we’re likely to see more self-checkout options – Amazon Go, Jack & Jones, Hema.

Facial recognition, checkout-free stores and click and collect will grow in importance. There will also be a rise in collection-only kiosks, as we’ve already seen with Boots and Amazon, and further crossover store concepts like IKEA’s central London Planning Studio, which allows retailers with larger warehouse operations to storefront new functional brand experiences.

The impact on physical stores has created fierce competition online, in the increasingly crowded e-commerce environment. Brands entering the online space for the first time would be mistaken if they think they can copy and paste their physical retail experience without making significant adjustments for digital platforms and consumption behaviours.

Patience is scarce online, so slick and seamless digital customer experience is key at all moments – from browsing and comparing, to checkout and customer service. Showcasing inventory is a struggle for most e-commerce retailers, as consumers have to work harder to find what they are looking for, thanks to an abundance of choice.

The use of AI and machine learning can considerably help speed up the decision process, refine recommendations and predict behaviours – critical to helping keep consumers focused finding what they need, rather than losing interest and navigate to a competitor’s site. But machines don’t always get things right, which is why CRM and mapping customer behaviours is a growing area of investment and hugely important.

 

 

Online shopping naturally presents more opportunity in consumer decision consideration – the information a customer can take in – than browsing aisles. Retailers can use this to connect customers with wider brand truths and product differentiators – to capture the visual and emotive cues of physical retail, but also to drive brand recognition and salience. If done in a novel or innovative way, it can be as impactful as visual merchandising and in-store creative activations.

In an omnichannel marketing mix, this must also be reflected on mobile. Many brands still don’t invest in optimising their mobile experiences, leading to poor buyer experiences, abandoned carts and – even worse – losing customers to competitors. Brands must test and then test again, to make sure their mobile site and shopping experience doesn’t have broken links, false claims or disconnects across your desired customer journey.

As many have taken to buying online, there’s been a fascinating revival of customer service and call centres.

Providing emotional safety net is key where consumers aren’t able to see a product, hand select it, or even get more advice. There are many options: an on-site integration ‘call now’ button while signed into your account; a web chat or ‘sticky’ help buttons throughout the digital customer journey; or even a backend system that helps retrieve the status of your order.

Whatever the solution, consumers find it more reassuring when they are speaking to a real person they feel they can hold to account. EE and Vodafone are particularly good at integrating customer service within an in-account experience – making it feel like you’re not having to ask the same question several times, thanks to meta technology that captures previous conversations and queries.

An older example we can still draw insights from is the Dominos Dom Bot – this creative device helped bridge an anticipation and expectation gap in a way we’d not seen before, other than in private delivery companies. It broke down the process of what happens post-purchase and made it transparent – creating peace of mind because often, the hardest part of buying an item online is simply not knowing what’s happening next. Put that into the hands of a consumer and they’ll come back for another slice of your brand as well.

This month alone Marks and Spencer, Ted Baker and Arcadia Group were among the many retailers announcing significant job cuts with numerous household names also announcing their relaunch as online-only stores. Digital customer journey has gained significant relevance and it is integral that brands offer exceptional experience across all of their touchpoints, to increase dwell time and sales.

But it requires constant testing of durability and user experience to mitigate bad buyer experience. Innovation and creativity are already proving essential to create cut through – if retail brands stand a chance of weathering this storm they must observe, learn and adapt.

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