The retail industry has experienced a tough few years, and 2017 was no exception. High street store closures, political uncertainty impacting currency value, and regional spending, rising real estate costs, and an influx of ever-developing technologies: all of these factors and more have shaped the industry and will continue to do so in 2018.

But with the New Year comes a fresh outlook and more retailers than not have taken action to survive these transformational years and thrive in the new era of retail.

Meyar Sheik, CEO and Co-founder of digital CX firm Certona believes the need for greater personalisation, greater channel integration, and a re-imagining of the Customer Experience will be important for meeting ever-changing and demanding shopper expectations.

Here are his predictions for the year ahead:

Retail organisations will be forced to break down internal siloes to deliver a seamless, cohesive Customer Experience

Shoppers don’t see various channels as separate entities. To them it’s a single, homogenous brand experience – and retailers need to view the structure of their business similarly. Data must be shared across all segments of a business, moving away from the traditional notion of departments as disparate sectors.

By bringing together data from all aspects of the business – marketing, e-commerce, customer service, in-store, email, social media, and more – retailers can create comprehensive profiles of shoppers.

By using tools and techniques such as artificial intelligence, this wealth of data can be analysed and interpreted at scale to provide a highly individualised, in-the-moment Customer Experience across all channels, anytime and anywhere.

Retailers will better leverage digital channels to drive traffic and create more meaningful experiences in physical stores

Sustaining in-store footfall has been an ongoing challenge, with every new year bringing predictions of the demise of bricks-and-mortar. Retailers must adapt by re-purposing and re-positioning the physical store within the retail ecosystem.

This year we’ll see the emergence of new kinds of physical store, which creatively integrate the digital and the physical. AR and VR, mobile scanning and payments, greater adoption of clicks-to-bricks, and proximity marketing are just a selection of the tools we can expect retailers to trial.

Retailers also need to better leverage in-store data to personalise digital experiences after purchase. This will enhance personalisation across the customer journey and create more seamless, meaningful experiences overall.

Artificial intelligence (AI) will drive Customer Experience innovation, become more widely understood, and adopted to enhance the shopper journey

As the number of shoppers engaging via digital touchpoints grows, so does the volume of data retailers are faced with.

In response, a growing number of retailers will adopt AI technologies and automated platforms that can connect, deliver and adapt the omnichannel experience for each shopper in real time. This includes gathering and analysing banks of data, determining patterns and predicting future intent.

Retailers will increasingly move beyond basic personalisation and customisation and instead use solutions that combine real-time shopper profiling – from sources such as contextual data, behavioural profiling, purchasing history, and social – with in-the-moment updates to provide the most relevant recommendations based on a specific shopper’s current session.

Thanks to AI, we’ll see retailers be able to not only replicate but surpass the traditional in-store ‘personal shopper’ experience online and at scale. Those retailers using AI to its best effect will be able to influence purchases in-the-moment, even anticipating and pre-empting purchases and nudging the shopper towards the right products in a natural and highly personalised manner.

Personalisation in grocery will begin to see significant momentum

Next year we’ll see more grocers experimenting with ways to make the online experience as personal and tailored as if the shopper were browsing in-store. Harnessing data from real-time shopping sessions and loyalty card programmes, we’ll see more retailers deploying tactics such as: suggesting recipes based on dietary habits, recognising carted items to see if a potential ingredient may be missing and reminding shoppers when an essential item such as milk, is running low.

Also leveraging information based on purchase history and using geo-location to highlight upcoming holidays and calendar dates to suggest relevant products.

We’ll also see the trialling of different methods of delivery and order fulfilment, such as buy online with option for delivery or in-store pick-up, subscription boxes (eg: organic vegetable boxes), recipe meal kits, and using third parties for delivery and logistics.

Development of a personalised Customer Experience through conversational commerce

ComScore has predicted that by 2020, 50 percent of all searches will be by voice. If this is to become a reality, next year will see retailers ramping up R&D in this area in a bid to get ahead of the competition.

Amazon currently holds the share of the personal assistant market, which it will no doubt capitalise on to increase sales in other areas of its business. Other retailers must follow in Amazon’s footsteps, and develop their own features and experiences which harness this technology to engage and suggest products or content to shoppers.

Retailers will also invest in voice recognition technology for customer service, integrating features like chatbots into their digital channels. This will give rise to a new trend coined by industry experts – A-commerce – that will see shoppers capitalising on the ease, speed and convenience that chatbots and assistants provide, by outsourcing their shopping needs to a virtual companion.

The easier it is to buy, the more both retailer and shopper benefit as 2018 heralds a new age of retail.

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