COVID-19 hasn’t just driven an unprecedented upsurge in web activity; it’s sparked a huge shift towards digital-first living and behaviours that look set to become permanent changes.

Alongside record levels of time spent online, the year so far has seen ecommerce sales rise by £4.5 billion and 17.2 billion consumers — equal to 25 percent of the UK population — plan to continue their current digital-centric shopping habits after the pandemic.

Adapting to keep up with this new kind of ‘always-connected’ consumer is crucial for future business success, and especially key when it comes to retail. As buyer focus moves away from physical stores, and opening restrictions constantly fluctuate, a strong online presence is more important than ever; not only essential to stay aligned with evolving consumer needs, but also maintain relevance, revenue, and market share.

All of which makes maximising the digital customer experience vital. As every retailer knows, the companies that win and retain shopper loyalty are those who deliver better experiences than anyone else. In the web environment, that’s going to mean providing streamlined, tailored and valuable interactions that drive engagement across each channel, as well as prioritising gaining long-term customer favour over short-term sales.

The answer to how this can be achieved lies with covering the three core pillars of optimal experience: relationships, personalisation, and data-based precision.

Trust underpins every great relationship

It’s well recognised that negative online experiences have far-reaching consequences.

As shown by previous research, consumer tolerance for bad digital interactions is low — with 64 percent only willing to give retailers three chances before taking their spend elsewhere — and more than half (56 percent) of shoppers share their dissatisfaction with family and friends. But there is often too little emphasis on what makes for a good digital experience.

Ease and convenience matter, particularly with fundamentals such as smooth checkout and returns processes. What makes the biggest difference, however, is trust. According to the latest Edelman Trust Barometer report, 70 percent of global consumers say trusting a brand has become even more important since the COVID-19 outbreak.

Moreover, 75 percent of consumers with high trust levels now say they will not only immediately check out new products from their preferred brand, but also buy with them exclusively even if competitors are cheaper.

The pandemic therefore offers an opportunity for businesses to sharpen their competitive edge and reinforce relationships by offering experiences that fuel trust, retailers included. For instance, a simple yet effective starting point is improving media consistency. Using a testing and personalisation tool, they can ensure individuals, who click on digital advertising messages are directed to onsite pages that mirror the imagery and content used in specific campaigns, thereby increasing perceptions of dependability.

At a more advanced level, activating data through a Customer Data Platform (CDP) to drive bespoke interactions will serve to deepen customer bonds by creating more meaningful connections. Not to mention boosting the chances of repeat visits, buys, and advocacy.

Making retail interactions hyper-personal

Growing consumer expectations of personal resonance might be nothing new but meeting them is still critical to secure sustainable survival. Today’s shoppers have long expected tailored communications as standard, with ads and offers continuously adjusted to match real-time requirements. For retailers striving to stand out in the increasingly crowded online environment, this means stepping up experience personalisation is paramount.

Making the jump to hyper-personalisation will enable retailers to not only outshine their rivals, but also bolster the impact of in-the-moment interaction and develop even closer customer ties.

By delivering highly contextualised messages via the ideal channel and at the perfect time, they can demonstrate granular understanding that’s especially key in a climate where 85 percent of consumers want companies to solve their unique problems. The added advantage being that applying hyper-personalisation throughout individual journeys will help further increase consistency and the likelihood of shopper loyalty.

In practical terms, that could entail using information about past purchases and current onsite engagement to determine specific interests, which products consumers have a high probability of buying in the future, and fine-tune various messages for optimal relevance. For example, shoppers returning to retailer sites several months after buying a TV might be greeted with promotions for related complimentary items, such as surround-sound systems. Alternatively, retailers can make conversion easier for frequent site visitors who are yet to purchase by adding recently browsed ‘favourites’ to the homepage.

Of course, this depends on first obtaining one vital component: reliable insight. Retailers must be able to translate their data into granular knowledge that informs great experiences; and that will call for the right intelligent technology.

Turning analytics into a competitive advantage

Tech giants such as Amazon and Google have already highlighted the best way forward for driving digital success: harnessing rich customer databases with advanced analytics. By following in their footsteps and making better use of analytical tech, retailers can significantly improve online experiences; leveraging sophisticated tools to realise the full power of their data and identify what their next steps should be.

Implementing customer data platforms with the capacity to assess data from multiple sources will allow retailers to instantly uncover insights buried with the information they hold. By running in-depth analysis of data about customers and prospect — including interactions across mobile apps, retail sites, and customer relationship management (CRM) systems — they can generate a precise picture of current and historic activity, purchasing patterns, and preferences; unlocking the individual-level insight needed to produce unified profiles that can guide persistent personalisation and create memorable experiences.

Additionally, tapping tech with smart segmentation abilities will enable retailers to delve deeper into their data and guide smarter marketing strategies. For example, that could mean identifying consumers who have followed certain orders of events — such as clicking through on email campaigns without purchasing — and using this insight to form refined sequential targeting segments for online advertising campaigns. Similarly, this approach can also be applied to build segments containing only consumers with a high propensity to buy specific products or repeat buyers; allowing retailers to connect certain messages and discounts with the most appropriate audiences and provide greater value for consumers.

While it’s true that every sale counts amid ongoing COVID-19 turbulence, this shouldn’t mean reduced focus on customer relationships. Retailers adapting to the sudden escalation of digitation will need to remember that ensuring lasting custom brings much greater rewards than quick revenue hits. As a result, future-proofing their business will mean not only being more web focussed, but also keeping their attention firmly fixed on earning trust and loyalty by providing consistent, personalised and insight-powered experiences, just the same as an in-store visit should be

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