The State of Retail: What do customers want? CX, the cost of getting it wrong, and how to get it right
It’s no secret that retail and eCommerce are taking a bit of a battering. You could call it a perfect storm. Covid shake-up, settling into a post-pandemic world, unprecedented competition, the non-stop evolution of digital marketing, and of course, the big talent problem. It’s a lot.
In the last year more than 17,000 chain retail stores have shut their doors – including some branches of high street stalwarts like M&S in the UK, and Macy’s in the US. And unless something changes, it’s likely more will follow suit.
In this three-part series, we’ll explore what’s happening in the retail sector and – most importantly – how you can find solutions to help you navigate these choppy waters and avoid the icebergs…
Let’s start with the lifeblood of retail and eCommerce: customers.
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What do customers want?
Evolving customer tastes and demands are as old as time itself. One day everyone’s buying MiniDisc players and hot-footing it to Blockbuster, and the next? Not so much.
In the retail space, you’ve always had to adapt quickly in order to survive. But now ‘quickly’ has become lightning speed.
The rise of digital means we’re experiencing hyper-acceleration of evolving demands. It’s no surprise when you can buy anything and everything with a couple of clicks on your Smartphone. Chuck a pandemic into the mix and you could be looking at overnight success – or failure.
So what do customers want right now? Well, it’s complicated. Covid obviously changed buying habits, with 76% of US customers shifting from physical to online. But, post-Covid, it’s clear that bricks and mortar is still top dog.
PWC’s annual consumer report found that 40% of consumers make a purchase in-store at least once a week, compared to just 27% purchasing once a week online.
Online or in-store, one thing is crystal clear: buyers want to feel connected to a brand - in fact 86% say they’d pay more money for a product if it means getting a better Customer Experience (CX). So what exactly do we mean by Customer Experience?
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The importance of Customer Experience
Customer Experience is the sum of every single interaction a customer has with your brand; a holistic impression of their experience with you.
From social media, apps, and your website to the way they purchase and receive your product, and customer service – everything you do impacts how they feel about your brand and – crucially – if they’re going to come back or not.
In a cut-throat market, CX is everything. A recent study by PWC revealed that 73% of customers say it’s more important to them than price or quality.
If you want increased customer loyalty, glowing online reviews, reduced product returns, and those all-important word-of-mouth recommendations, you need a next level Customer Experience.
The cost of getting it wrong
We all know what bad CX looks like. Rude or uninformed employees, long wait times, incorrect online information, unanswered questions, too much automation, clunky tech – why would you go back for more?
In a highly competitive landscape, people don’t need to – they have to want to come back. And there are plenty of companies in the retail and eCommerce space with CX to die for (just ask people what they think of John Lewis in the UK or Trader Joe’s in the US).
The cost of getting it wrong is simply too high. If people are unhappy with your CX, they’ll tell their friends and family, they may even write a scathing review or post on social media about it, and they’re unlikely to ever buy from you again.
In short: someone who could have been a loyal customer brand representative now has a negative perception of your brand – and once that happens it’s very hard to undo.
What does a good Customer Experience look like?
There is no one-size-fits-all. Customer Experience is a complex area of marketing and getting it right is hard. Every business is unique in terms of what you sell, how you sell it, and who you’re selling to – and the number and type of touchpoints you have will vary from brand to brand. However, there are some universal factors that will help you develop an effective CX strategy.
The customer is always right
Ultimately, this is what good CX comes down to. Ask your customers what you can do to make them happy – and then do it.
This is the first step in creating a CX strategy; you need to quantify your current Customer Experience. And this needs to continue so that you can measure the impact of your strategy against hard metrics like churn and revenue.
Feedback forms and surveys are an effective way to find out how you can improve your CX. But to do this, you need a proper system in place to collect and analyze the information you receive and – most importantly – to action changes and measure your ROI.
Who are your customers and your competitors?
Knowledge is always power but in retail and eCommerce, knowledge is vital. What do your customers expect from you? What frustrates them about your competitors?
If your industry is known for having long response times or poor customer service, think about how advantageous it would be if you became known for fast response times and excellent customer service.
You’re only as good as your employees
A fundamental part of great Customer Experience is your staff. Are they adequately trained to address your customers’ pain points? Do they know your brand values and ethos?
You can have the best brand messaging since Nike’s Just Do It campaign, but if your employees don’t live and breathe your message and your value proposition, it won’t matter. So don’t leave it to chance. Investing in employee training is one of the simplest ways to instantly improve your CX.
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The human touch
This is a biggie. In a world where automation is increasing, offering a human touch somewhere within your CX can be a significant differentiator. AI and chatbots are great but people like to speak to other people – particularly when they have a problem to resolve.
Pinpointing one or two milestones in the customer journey where you can offer human interaction is an effective way to keep your customers engaged and happy.
According to Accenture, 91% of customers say they’re more likely to shop with brands that provide offers and recommendations which are relevant to them. And 80% of customers say they’re more likely to buy from a brand that provides personalized experiences. It’s clear: the more you personalize your marketing content, offers, and recommendations, the more likely you are to attract and keep your customers. Of course, doing this at scale is no mean feat.
You’ll need to invest in customer journey analytics to pinpoint what, when and how to personalize – as well as who to personalize for.
If you walk into H&M in London you won’t find all the same stock as H&M Newcastle. Why? Many brands (Sephora, Zara, Apple, Netflix) have recognised that localisation is a key pillar of CX – and it’s good for everyone.
By analyzing data (H&M uses data pulled from loyalty cards and receipts), you can stock products that customers want at a local level. They get a more relevant, streamlined experience with the products they want. And you get fewer returns, better operational efficiency, and increased sales.
Inclusivity as a must
This is particularly important in physical stores. A good CX strategy needs to include everyone – and many retailers have already recognised this.
UK grocery chain store, Spar, recently worked with the Alzheimer’s Society to train over 7000 employees to be able to help vulnerable customers. Now staff wear ‘Dementia Friends’ badges to show that they understand the condition and are able to assist anyone who needs help. And last year, Aldi launched an initiative with the help of the Royal National Institute of Blind People to help partially-sighted customers maintain social-distancing in their stores.
It’s got to be seamless
Good Customer Experience needs to be seamless. Gone are the days where we talked about a desktop or mobile or Apple Watch experience. This is the era of Omnichannel; all of your sales and marketing channels and device options should sync to create a seamless, consistent experience. And this is especially important in retail and eCommerce.
Having an Omnichannel strategy (or not) has a direct impact on how much you sell. Why? It allows you to create a more personalized, hassle-free, on-brand experience for your customers. (We’ll take a deep dive into Omnichannel later on in our retail series).
Who you gonna call?
If CX sounds like something you can just improvise, think again.
Customer Experience should be viewed as what it is: a complex, strategic arm of marketing that has the power to dramatically increase – or diminish – your bottom line. Getting it right is far from easy – it requires expertise, and a whole range of analytical tools and tech.
Just as you’d employ a specialist for data analytics or app development, using experts to help you develop a robust CX strategy will save you time, money – and ultimately yield better results.
In 2022 it's clear that how customers buy your product is as important as what they’re buying. They want their experience to be easy, personalized, and seamless. With so many touchpoints and the rise of Omnichannel marketing, creating an optimal Customer Experience has never been more challenging – but for brands that get it right, the rewards are clear to see.
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