Today’s retail customer is always shopping around, but while price, quality and brand name consistently bring customers to the table, it’s increasingly the retail customer experience (in store, online, via mobile and social) that keeps the customer and makes all the difference between buy, buy, buy and bye, bye, bye.
While it’s becoming harder for retailers to differentiate based on price and product availability, it’s becoming easier to differentiate based on the customer experience. Personalization, ease of experience, availability of information, seamless service across channels, customer-centric engagement; some retailers have it; some don’t. But those who don’t must if they are going to compete in the rapidly-evolving retail space.
The Near-Future of Retail
At the recent 214 Gartner Symposium/ITxpo, vice president and Gartner fellow, Daryl Plummer, gave attendees a sneak peek of Gartner’s Top 10 Strategic Predictions for 2015 and Beyond, emphasizing how digital business is driving big change. The list makes clear that an investment in customer experience, and increasingly the mobile one, is a best bet for the near future of retail (and every industry):
- “By 2017, more than half of consumer product and service R&D investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.”
- “By 2017, US customers’ mobile engagement behavior will drive US mobile commerce revenue to 50 percent of US digital commerce revenue.”
Retail, of course, will have to adapt to this much sooner than later, as Gartner’s 2017 prediction above aligns with the National Retail Federation’s (NRF) 2014 holiday shopping prediction that forecasts online retail sales to grow between 8% and 11% this year, contributing as much as $105 billion to the holiday draw.
Building Buy-In for a Better Digital Experience
Unfortunately, a new IBM survey of more than 2,000 consumers regarding The Digital Customer Experience, shows that most online customer experiences are currently lackluster at best:
- Less than 49% said their experiences using websites on desktops/laptops are excellent.
- 25% said their experiences using websites or mobile apps on tablets are excellent
- 18% said their experiences using websites or mobile apps on smartphones are excellent.
Overall disappointment in the digital customer experience is not only taxing customer service, but brands’ bottom lines. In regard to the online retail experience specifically:
- more than two-thirds who encountered an issue online left the site or visited a competitor
- 32% contacted customer support, increasing operational costs.
The bright side? When a consumer had an excellent online experience:
- 33% recommended the site or app to others
- 44% visited the site or used the app more frequently
- 14% posted a positive comment on social media.
Best practices for improving the online customer experience begin with:
- mobile-responsive websites and support portals
- better organization and accessibility of self-service knowledge around products, FAQs and customer service
- multichannel customer support access that’s front and center (think live chat, social, email, click to call, submit a ticket)
- proactive updates and alerts on both websites and social
- increased personalization and listening to the voice of the customer via feedback and social media to make real-time adjustments and improvements.
Change is Only Going to Get More Challenging
A recent Retailing 2020 report from PricewaterhouseCoopers raises the stakes for retailers even further, encouraging investments in omnichannel CRM and big data technologies now. “By 2020, we believe the need for a unified consumer omnichannel experience will be complicated by the need for nearly perfect execution,” predicts PWC. “However, expert use of business intelligence tools, coupled with a profound understanding of shoppers’ needs and experiences in real time, may make omnichannel a realistic goal.
“Retail brands in 2020, we believe, will have three key attributes: consistency, intensity and accuracy.
“The core competency in 2020 will be integrating and acting upon what the shopper’s passions and interests are with what he or she bought in the store and beyond.”
For many retailers already struggling to keep up, this will be no small change. But for continued success, it will be a necessary one.
For more information on what customers want and expect in terms of service, download the 2014 State of Multichannel Customer Service Report, commissioned by Parature, from Microsoft.