Sean RusinkoSean RusinkoOctober 4, 2019
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12min2668

Today’s Customer Experience doesn’t begin or end with a visit to a store or a website.

Customers shift between channels and devices depending on where they are and what’s convenient for them. In order to offer consumers exactly what they want, on the platform of their choice, brands are increasingly offering services such as personalised product offerings, discounts for loyal customers, and subscription models.

In part, this has been fueled by the ‘Amazon effect’, whereby popular online brands have set a precedent of using customer data they collect to offer personalised, quick, and consistent customer experiences. On top of this, many consumers also expect their shopping experiences to be made as convenient and fun as possible, with brands there to support, advise, and entertain them throughout the purchase journey.

Therefore, in order to acquire and retain customers, brands need to deliver against these expectations. Here, we not only discuss the five customer demands made of today’s retailers, but how brands can meet them and ensure they offer the experience that is desired. 

1. Make it easy for me

Frictionless journey navigation, easy access to products and information, and lighting fast speed make for happy consumers who are more likely to purchase.

According to the The new retail ecosystem report from PwC, fair prices are the most important factor for customers when shopping offline, with 64 percent basing their purchase decision on a good price. However, when shopping online in particular, customers rank convenience as the most important factor. Therefore, brands looking to improve Customer Experience should make the online experience as convenient as possible, giving the shopper all the necessary information needed to make a purchase decision.

More specifically, the KPMG International Global Online Consumer Report found that the flexibility to shop when they want, the convenience of not having to go to a store, and free shipping offers are all in the top ten reasons that consumers shop online. In fact, stores such as Walmart are using their brick and mortar presence to meet this demand. For example, in 2018 Walmart installed click-and-collect kiosks in 500 of their stores to offer quick, simple and convenient collection for customers.

Another convenience trend is ‘Try now, Pay Later’ services, which encourage consumers to try a larger assortment without having to pay upfront. For example, Sitecore customer ASOS use a ‘Pay Later’ capability, and Amazon’s ‘Prime Wardrobe’ gives customers seven days to try clothes at home and only paying for items they decide to keep. 

2. Assist me

As well as having the flexibility to collect their purchases from a store of their convenience (or have it delivered), consumers also expect to be assisted throughout the entire purchase journey. Many brands are meeting this expectation with personalised experiences, which includes individual product offerings, using data collected about each customer to tailor the messaging, offers, and experiences each receives.

And they are right to do so – research from Econsultancy found that 93 percent of companies see an uplift in conversion rates from personalisation. 

Nemlig.com, an online supermarket in Denmark, has used Sitecore’s platform to personalise customer journeys, and has reaped the benefits. It uses customer data around product preferences and buying histories to personalise the front page, category pages, and search results for each shopper, and engages customers with individual messages throughout the site, via email and text messages.

Since doing so, the number of site visitors has grown by 55 percent, the average basket size has increased, and turnover has risen by 28 percent.

However, it is also worth being mindful on how data is being used to target customers. The Consumer Perceptions of AI Survey from Rocket Fuel found that while consumers are open to being targeted based on product interest, search, and purchase history, they don’t want to be targeted with ads using their name, sent urgent notifications that a certain item is low in stock, or reminders to make repeat purchases of the same product. 

3. Reward me

The battle for winning brand-loyal consumers is extremely difficult, but the benefits are equally rewarding to the business. PwC’s The new retail ecosystem report found that more than 70 percent of people are staunch brand-loyal shoppers, and less than a third are willing to try new offerings. What’s more, many also respond well to loyalty programs and appreciate brands showing that they value customers. 

However, it is no longer enough to offer a one-size-fits-all offering, such as the generic discounts or specific free products offered by brands in the past. Today, a personalised loyalty program, where different promotions are offered based on individual customer data and preferences, is needed to meet customer expectations. One company which has created a successful personalised loyalty program is Ulta Beauty Inc., which uses customer data to offer a wide variety of products to test, personalised birthday gifts and a tiered system of rewards based on levels of loyalty. As a result, 90 percent of its sales are now driven by loyalty program members.

4. Inspire me

Virtual and augmented reality (VR & AR) experiences are increasingly welcomed by customers. However, while in-store experiences such as VR mirrors previously just showed how customers would look in an item of clothing and were merely an entertaining addition to the in-store experience, they now offer added value and convenience to the customer.

For example, AR can allow those browsing online to visualise how a product will look on them before they make a purchase, allowing them to be better informed and removing the inconvenience of returning undesired products. L’Oréal has used AR and face mapping technology in its mobile app, allowing customers to try out different styles, such as hair colours, and lipstick shades, before making a purchase.

VR can also enhance the experience of using retail mobile applications. Fashion brand H&M is using its Image Search tool within the H&M app to allow consumers to upload an image of a similar product into the app. The app then presents several similarly looking, instantly purchasable items from the H&M catalog – moving the consumer closer from the moment of inspiration to a purchase.

5. Convince me

Finally, consumers do not take what message a brand puts out there as fact – they base their purchase consideration on what everyone else has to say about the brand and its products. When Amazon pioneered and implemented ratings and reviews, their business transformed overnight.

One way to convince customers to choose your brand over others is through user-generated content. In fact, research from Stackla found that 79 percent of consumers say user-generated content such as product reviews and ratings both on the brand’s own website and on other listing pages, is highly influential in increasing their propensity to buy.

Also, although social commerce has grown in popularity in recent years, with many consumers starting their search and even completing purchases on social channels, user generated content still remains more impactful than influencer content published on social media. In fact, according to Stackla, consumers find user generated content almost ten times more impactful than influencer content when making a purchasing decision.

Today, customers are more demanding than ever, expecting an experience that goes above and beyond just the available products. In order to offer quality experiences, build brand loyalty, and remain competitive, brands must consider these five main demands and put tools in place to meet them, from the use of effective personalisation to quick, reliable delivery services, through to providing loyalty programs and investing in VR and AR technologies.


Bartek RozbickiBartek RozbickiAugust 27, 2019
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8min1184

When it comes to property and real estate, virtual reality (VR) has a remarkable number of use cases that are set to transform the way brands engage with customers.

But before we dive into the many applications and benefits of VR in the real estate sector, it’s important to understand the technology and how consumers perceive it.

VR is a computer-generated simulation of a 3D environment that you can interact with using special equipment such as a headset and controllers. It sits under the wider extended reality (XR) umbrella, which also includes augmented reality (AR) and mixed reality (MR).

Agency SYZYGY XR recently polled 1,000 consumers in the UK to better understand their mindset, behaviour, and decision-making in relation to VR. Advancements in the underlying technology have brought the cost of consumer VR products down while increasing quality and functionality. When asked: “What are the biggest barriers stopping you from purchasing a VR headset?”,”quality” ranked as the lowest barrier to entry, with just three percent of consumers concerned about the quality of VR products.

Second, consumer behaviour has matured to a point of acceptance and anticipation – in other words, the modern shopper can now envision VR in their daily lives.

According to our research, 72% of consumers believe that VR will become part of their daily routine, just as the smartphone is now. Younger generations are even more bullish. In fact, 81 percent of 16- to 34-year-olds believe that VR will play a ubiquitous role in their daily lives.

Keeping up with change is pivotal, but adoption must be done in such a way that it solves existing problems in the business infrastructure.

The commercial case for VR in real estate

VR is a powerful tool for real estate brands, but most have yet to harness the technology in a meaningful way.

Get this: more than half of all shoppers (53 percent) would be more likely to purchase a product or service if it included a VR experience. While the public holds a positive view of VR, just 26 percent of consumers have taken part in a VR experience when purchasing a product or service.

This gap between consumer demand and brand activation highlights an exciting opportunity: today’s shoppers would be more likely to purchase if advertising included a VR experience. Yet brands either a) aren’t offering VR experiences or b) aren’t delivering VR experiences that provide quality, value and substance. As a property developer or real estate agency, now is the time to act.

Redefining the future of Customer Experience

Over the past decade, pioneers like Amazon have rewritten the rules of business, meaning today’s real estate brands must deliver purpose-driven experiences that are fast, reliable and super-efficient.

Consider this: in 2019, 81 percent of companies expect to compete on the basis of Customer Experience. While competition is high, the rewards are great. In fact, customers who have a very good experience with a brand are 3.5x more likely to repurchase and 5x more likely to recommend that company to family and friends.

In 2018, Danwood S.A., a leading property development company in Europe, approached us with a challenge: “How can we convince potential clients to purchase a premium house that is not yet built and can’t be seen real life?”

Designed by Danish architects, the property development featured luxurious, modern design with a clean look and finish. To capture the essence of the homes, we created software that would take the customer into a virtual house, so they could look, feel and touch.

Tasked with creating a line of premium houses named ‘Vision’, we crafted each home in 3D with astonishing attention to detail and light. The experience, which only requires VR goggles and a sales representative, means that the property line can be shown to customers in any market across Europe.

Vision for tomorrow

For the first time, property viewing has become mobile and agile. This is a bold move that redefines the future of real estate.

With VR, the customer and agent experience full immersion in the house. This technology serves as more than just a compelling visualisation; it actually enhances the selling process, since a salesman can enter the property with the customer and advise or even modify aspects of the home as they journey together.

For an industry that relies heavily on aesthetic appeal to drive marketing and sales, the use of lifelike VR simulations opens up an entirely new window of exploration. With in-store VR headsets, real estate agents can build virtual applications that thrust the customer into a rich, vivid, lifelike home.

For businesses skeptical about the significance of XR, we must learn from history: innovation speaks louder than words.

As the world hurtles towards a more immersive digital ecosystem, the convergence of VR and human behaviour will usher in a new era of discovery, interaction and purchase. 


Simon BrennanSimon BrennanJune 27, 2019
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5min1304

The current conditions for UK high street retailers are far from favourable.

Not only are they battling market pressure and challenges from ecommerce competitors, but also increasing rents and tough trading conditions. To ensure survival, retailers today must keep their finger on the pulse of all the latest technological advancements.

What businesses must remember is that as technology advances, so do customer shopping behaviours and expectations. We are already starting to see more and more businesses implement chatbots, artificial intelligence, and messaging apps to keep up with demand. We are in a time where consumers have never been more vocal on their wants, and this is highlighted with the results of our research.

Our data showed that in order to satisfy customer needs organisations have to offer a variety of channels in which to engage with – 81 percent of respondents demanded this. Consumers not only want choice but also, a seamless, integrated experience across all of them. Taking this one step further, many consumers are wanting Augmented Reality (AR), Virtual Reality (VR) dressing rooms and even drone delivery, to be a possibility.

Termed as “technologies of the future”, large, online and in-store retailers are already reaping the benefits of AR and VR in an attempt to make the customer journey more immersive and engaging. For instance, IKEA, has introduced Amazon’s AR view to help customers visualise how furniture will look in their home before making a purchase.

For customers who prefer ‘ease of use’, these new technologies couldn’t be more perfect as they allow consumers a chance to ‘try’ before they buy. As well as convenience, AR and VR are helping stores to stand apart from the traditional retailer. L’Oreal Paris, for example, guarantees loyal customers with an in-store virtual makeover tool that enables you to try make-up and certain looks before buying. On paper, it has never been so simple for retailers to deliver a more engaging and convenient approach to Customer Experience.

Future sight: VR and AR are changing the way customers interact with brands

However, AR and VR are not the only new inventions transforming the CX landscape. Increasingly, we are seeing chatbots being used as a more convenient way for customers to interact with brands, specifically when they require assistance. In fact, 87 percent of businesses say self-service customer enquiries are a current priority of theirs.

Apart from the obvious benefits like saving businesses money, self-service chatbots are improving CX and satisfaction. It’s fair to say we have all had our share of agonising waits and frustrating calls with agents and can therefore, understand the appeal of having access to instant help and real-time information.

In the age of GDPR and data sensitivity, customers are very particular about who they give their personal data to. With this in mind, retailers must remember to be upfront about who or what they’re speaking to. Giving customers the option to self-serve will only succeed if you’re as transparent as possible.

Ultimately, although traditionally we associate a human touch with CX, retailers that do not adopt the latest technologies and integrate them into the customer offering jeopardise losing the loyalty of existing customers as well as potential new ones.

However, before businesses embark on this digital transformation, they must remember not to run before they can walk. Implementing chatbot technology initially can be just as effective as implementing technologies which are grabbing the headlines, such as AR and VR.

 


Courtney WylieCourtney WylieJune 5, 2019
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10min1472

Customer relationships with brands continue to evolve, based upon changing expectations, and desires, and impacted massively by the speed at which ecommerce develops.

The ability to buy almost anything, quickly online, has altered the brand loyalty that used to be built up by visits in store.

Exacerbating this instability, the past year has seen the decline and fall of many household names, including Maplin and Toys R Us. House of Fraser announced 30 store closures, and Marks and Spencer, Debenhams, Mothercare, and Carphone Warehouse have been the subject of ominous profit loss reports and quick-step restructuring and branding initiatives. All of this has created an unease and negativity around the future of the high street. However, perhaps it is just further evidence that the high street is, and should be, evolving.

Before online shopping became so omnipotent, the regular high street department store relied and flourished on basic principles of choice, value, convenience, and efficient customer service. Ecommerce then arrived, and blew this idea out of the water. They competed aggressively on choice, value, convenience and efficiency.

So what can retailers do about this challenge?

What seems to be separating those brands that are managing to stay relevant is a willingness to enrich and evolve the physical experience of their brand, through ‘experiential retail’ approaches. The experiential retail movement might be thought of as a new wave of innovative experimentation by retailers that takes their bricks-and-mortar stores beyond being merely a point of transaction. Through experiential approaches, traditional shops are being reconceptualised as hubs for immersive experiences, meeting places for vibrant communities, and even unique event spaces.

As if to underpin the above evidence that despite the remarkable rise of ecommerce, consumers actually crave sensory-rich physical shopping experiences, experiential spaces are not only being embraced by pre-internet established brands. For example, ecommerce giants such as Amazon, realising the value of providing tactile ‘real world’ experiences, are heading in the opposite direction with the establishment of bricks-and-mortar shops.

Some impressive recent examples reflecting this trend include FarFetch’s new London store; John Lewis’ ‘experience desks’; and Ikea’s Facebook competition to stay the night in one of its vast warehouse outlets with a sleep expert.

The above examples show that in the digital age, those prospering on the high street are the ones brave enough to think outside the conventional box. To create deeper, more imaginative, and immersive Customer Experience that incentivises people to step away from their laptops and smart devices, and step into a store where the promise of human-centred interaction, value exchange, community building, or just plain fun, awaits them.

Some recent fantastic examples of experiential retail include:

Farfetch

Farfetch’s new London store. Customers can be recognised as soon as they step foot in the store via an app connected to their online shopping account – providing assistants with an instant overview of purchasing history and preferences.

Far out: Farfetch’s London HQ.

In addition, RFID-enabled clothes rails are able to detect products that interest customers, and have them added them to their online wish list. And touch-screen mirrors enable customers to request alternative sizes, as well as paying up without leaving the dressing room.

A truly innovative example of how the convergence of online and offline can take customer personalisation to the next level.

John Lewis

The high street brand that never puts a foot wrong, John Lewis, recently carried out a revamp of its store design, to include ‘experience desks’, where concierges are on-hand to book special services such as blow dries and manicures for shoppers in-between their retail therapy.

Welcome: The Experience Desk at John lewis in Cheltenham. Photo by Anna Lythgoe

In addition, at their new Cheltenham store, the brand have been trialling a private shopping service that will give customers the shop floor all to themselves (providing your bill tops a cool £10,000, that is) with staff available after normal shopping hours to serve individuals, groups of friends or families.

Ikea

A great example of a brand using experiential marketing to create one-of-a-kind events. Fulfilling the mundane fantasy of many a flat-pack furniture shopper, Ikea set up a Facebook competition where 100 winners were invited to stay the night in one of its vast warehouse outlets.

Sleepover: Ikea invited customers to get cosy in one of their outlets

Customers were able to luxuriate with massages and salon services, as well as pick out the mattress, sheets and pillows they wanted for a perfect night’s rest.  A sleep expert was even on hand with tips for getting a good night’s sleep.

Topshop

Back in 2014, Topshop ventured into the world of immersive tech to create something a little bit different for London Fashion Week. Shoppers in their flagship Oxford Street store were able to don special headsets and ‘take a seat’ for the retailer’s catwalk show taking place at the Tate Modern – in 360 degree virtual reality.

Fashion future: Topshop has embraced the potential of virtual reality for customers

And more lately, in the spring of 2017 Topshop decided to re-dip their toes in the water (pardon the pun) of experiential playfulness with a virtual reality waterslide ride taking customers on an adrenaline-fuelled journey through Oxford Street.

Ultimately, retailers understand that they still need relationships with customers, and loyal customers are still worth investing in. The development of experiential retail has given the high street armoury to re-engage customers, and give them a reason to come in store. Those brands providing brave, exciting, immersive experiences will shine head and shoulders amongst the rest.




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