As autumn arrives and we mutter about darker evenings while wrangling with confusing weather systems forcing us to make inconsistent wardrobe choices, it is hard to believe 2021 is in its final quarter.
For retail, it has been another year peppered with uncertainty, challenges and change – but much of that change can be viewed positively.
Thanks to the customer experience revolution, the industry is alive and kicking and fighting back with a vengeance since the restrictions of the pandemic finally released their stranglehold.
The revolution was already underway pre-COVID but, in all honesty, received a huge kick up its backside as a result of brands and retailers being thrown into complete panic when stores had to shut up shop in March 2020.
Once the hysteria had subsided and with newfound time to think and refocus, many businesses took the opportunity to give their customer experience offering a head-to-toe makeover, with impressive results.
But what about the brands yet to take this vital leap? What are the rules when it comes to delivering an effective omnichannel customer experience? And what does it mean for the future of retail?
Oh do behave
Human beings can be a pretty fickle bunch and our shopping behaviours have evolved over the years – an evolution that has understandably sped up somewhat in the last 18 months or so.
While we can be demanding and difficult to please at times, we do appear to have plenty in common when choosing brands to engage with and making purchasing decisions.
Convenience is high on the priority list for the modern shopper so brands must carefully consider ways in which they can make the customer experience smoother, easier and faster such as providing QR codes to upload product information or paying instantly with a device, as well as click and collect options and drive-through facilities where feasible.
Life is busy and patience is a dying art, so the more straightforward and efficient a process is the more appealing it becomes. Omnichannel brand delivery works well with convenience in mind and, while no longer a new concept, it has taken on fresh purpose since the beginning of the pandemic when we had no choice but to put all our faith (and wages) into our favourite brands to provide an exceptional online experience as we got our heads around the dramas of lockdown.
Of course, connection became enormously important too, particularly for those feeling alone and isolated so brand communities are just as vital as the products themselves in ensuring audiences feel included and able to share their thoughts with like-minded people.
Back in the ‘normal’ world, with everything up and running again, hybrid shopping experiences remain de rigueur as they afford brands the ability to reach customers through a host of different formats, where they can deliver attention-grabbing content and connect in myriad ways.
This multi-channel approach gives customers greater flexibility and the luxury of choice, allowing them to shop in whichever way is most convenient and gratifying for them.
Shopping in-store provides the human touch as product experts are on hand to give help and advice, but this can also be achieved digitally through live or on-demand streamed content and video chats.
Tech me up buttercup
With a world of tech so readily available now, there really is no excuse when it comes to finding new ways to engage with customers; technology is enabling brands to get closer to their audiences than ever before – 24/7 if they wish to.
By investing in and developing a range of digital tools, new opportunities are open to enable smoother, more authentic communication processes to allow customers to not only look at products on their device, but also to learn about them in greater detail.
Using AR and VR, audiences can enter immersive experiences that give them a genuine feel for a product and how it would fit in with their lives and meet their purchasing needs.
Providing one-way video consultations from purpose-built studios or showrooms, or straight from the shop floor, means customers can view and be educated on a range of products as brand ambassadors walk them through their options and perform demonstrations.
This style of customer experience humanises the digital interaction; the shopper connects with the brand expert, receives a personal and tailored service and has their needs met all from their favourite armchair, kitchen bar stool or chaise longue (other relaxing furniture is available).
There is a host of flexibility and opportunity available to a brand utilising video calls or broadcasting content, as it can be targeted to an individual or a whole audience accordingly.
For our client Sage, we designed and built bespoke studios from which an array of content can be professionally filmed and broadcast as we know this retail experience trend will continue to grow in popularity at a rate of knots in the coming years.
Consultations, demonstrations, product launches and masterclasses can be aired live or on-demand allowing customers to view at a time suited to them – a chat function enables interactivity between the audience and the host and including a ‘buy now’ feature encourages on-the-spot purchases.
Tech is here to stay and continues to evolve at breathtaking speed, so invest in tools that will enhance and bring your brand to life before you get left behind.
Stay real, stay relevant
OK, we admit it, there has always been an element of keeping up with the Joneses in the retail industry. Most industries in fact.
But that is exactly why a trend works – a trend is popular and desirable and sought after, so to ignore it and hope for the best would be a daft thing to do.
Not only must brands keep up but to truly excel they must also stand out and, with shoppers becoming increasingly selective about who they chose to buy from, brand authenticity and relevance are the key to winning consumer favour.
Delighting customers with well-thought-out, unexpected, enjoyable experiences in the form of pop-ups, spontaneous entertainment or theatre makes a real impact.
Additionally, giving shoppers the chance to get to grips with a product through demonstration, hands-on, immersive encounters or exclusive masterclasses makes an experience all the more appealing and memorable.
Anything a brand can do to make their customers feel special and part of something new and exciting goes a long way when forging that all-important relationship and cementing brand love – so get creative.
Build a buzz around your latest product launch, invite your audience to join exclusive events and give them something unique and out of the ordinary, so they come away with a genuine sense of enthralment and a newfound passion for your brand.
And whether physical or digital, join the dots in your customer’s journey from online to in-store and back again – well-planned and seamlessly executed experiences should be available in both formats giving your brand the edge, securing sales and locking in long-lasting customer loyalty.