According to Gartner, 89% of marketing leaders expect customer experience will be the primary basis for competitive differentiation by 2017. Customer experience is fast becoming the key battleground where retailers vie for our attention and wallets.
With instant access to pricing and product information, shoppers can switch between retailers in a heartbeat. Today’s consumer is more discerning than ever before, with higher expectations than ever before. As a result, retailers find themselves in a race to provide an increasingly smooth, engaging and personalised shopping experience.
Technology is putting more information in the hands of consumers, and it’s also providing more channels for frustrations to be vented.
Fail to meet the expectations of your customer and you not only lose a sale, you are also likely to hear about your failings on social media. But technology is also enabling retailers to rise to the customer challenge, and meet the heightened expectations of the shopping public.
In the customer experience battle, personalisation is an invaluable and effective weapon. To provide a seamless personalised experience, however, many retailers must address a critical data challenge.
Linear path is outdated
Most customers today deviate from the classic linear buying path. They may start their shopping experience on a desktop, carry out research using a mobile device, and then continue the experience in store.
But because customer data is often siloed in disparate legacy systems, retailers often have disjointed conversations with the same customer. A retailer might have one database feeding tailored email offers, another for upsell, recommendations and content, and another designated for customer loyalty.
Unified data management – and a single view of the customer across channels – is needed for meaningful analysis of customer behaviour, and for personalisation to be effective.
Imagine, for example, a retail employee anticipating a caller’s request immediately after greeting him. If the customer had looked at a pair of ski boots online three times in the previous week, the call is likely to be related to that product. Even if the call is unrelated to the boots, the employee can mention the product, recommend it and provide availability based on size.
If the customer was preparing for a ski holiday and needed to get the boots immediately, nearby locations for click and collect could be suggested. Based on real-time visibility of the customer’s view, purchase and search data, the retailer would be able to contextualise the call, and personalise the offering.
One can envisage how this works online or over the phone, as most of us will have encountered some form of personalisation when shopping via these channels. Creating a bridge between e-commerce and in-store is less widespread, but an exciting area that will see more development in the coming years.
In-store technology like iBeacons will become familiar fixtures in retail outlets, and will become increasingly useful for both shoppers and retailers alike. They will connect with smartphones to display localised offers and promotions in store. These could be unique to each customer based on spending habits, browsing history or proximity to a certain date, such as a birthday.
iBeacons can be deployed from around £700 and set up in store in less than a week. The key to their success will be to provide simple, direct messages that are truly personal and can save customers time and money. For example, on entering a store, an iBeacon could trigger a click and collect order, enabling you to skip the 15-minute queue.
Alternatively, it could encourage you to buy toothpaste based on your purchase history and the fact that it was two months since you last did so. Retailers need to be careful here, however, as promotions will only be welcomed once they have a legitimate value to the shopper, and the right to present them has been earned.
Already central to in-store personalisation are smartphones and tablets. On a mobile device, personalisation becomes a two-way street where information is exchanged between retailer and consumer, allowing the retailer to add an extra dimension to the personal experience it delivers.
Imagine the ability to personalise the clothes being tried on in a dressing room. If a shopper can indicate fit and colour preferences via mobile app after she has tried on her first set of items, a sales associate can use this data to recommend and bring in replacement or additional items of interest in an efficient manner.
Each item the associate brings can be scanned for inventory levels, then based on shopper feedback, be rapidly purchased in store, via click and collect or through direct shipment from other stores.
This kind of joined-up journey across all channels is the ultimate goal, and technology is now at a point where this is becoming a reality. For those that seize the opportunity, brand loyalty and customer satisfaction are the rewards. Those that don’t risk losing ground to the competition.