Customer is still king
While COVID-19 may have had a major impact on retail one thing remains truer than ever - customer is king. But how do you keep on top of evolving customer demands? By keeping touch with evolving technology explains Carole Gilkes, chief customer officer at K3 Business Technologies
Let’s get one thing straight, not everything has been changed by COVID. Yes, we nowcan’t pay with cash in most shops and we have to follow a set path around stores, but what lies at the heart of good retail? A great customer experience. In fact, it is still the biggest factor in deciding whether retailers live, die or thrive in a fiercely competitive landscape. However, while its importance remains, what customers expect is constantly changing. It is therefore vital that businesses set themselves up with the ability to adapt and evolve at pace to ensure they meet and exceed the expectations of the ever more fickle shopper.
Looking at the key trends now, there are two that stand out. Before COVID there was a focus on personalised shopping experiences. Brands like Nespresso leveraged the data they collected via in-store and in-app to offer experiences and products that were tailored to specific customers. This trend has not gone away but has been joined by the need to provide safe, socially distanced retail experiences. To meet and exceed these two customer demands, retailers need to offer a quick, hassle-free and streamlined experience.
We are already seeing this shift with the major retailers, such as Amazon and the news of its latest set of Go Stores arriving in the UK. Combining its vast pool of customer data, technology and identification of the latest behaviour trends, it has developed a customer experience that perfectly fits the needs of today’s consumers. These new stores offer a completely tailored experience that caters for the consumers desire to grab what they want in-store and go. Without needing to interact with a salesperson, customers feel safer, and by using its data Amazon can personalise the experience by charging your account simply by monitoring you in-store. After making a purchase, Amazon can then send you promotions based on the very products you bought and continue the customer journey. By locating these stores at transport hubs, Amazon has also identified the right moment when customers want these experiences. Running to catch a train, plane or bus customers benefit from the quickest and most efficient shopping experience possible.
Amazon is not the only one to identify the power of combining physical stores and digital technology to offer the type of customer experience today’s consumers demand. Aldi too has stepped up its game in this area via the introduction of cashier-less stores. Trials of these types of stores were well underway before the pandemic, with Sainsbury's testing the technology late last year. Whereas pre-COVID there was a reticence to go completely cashier-less, the pandemic has fundamentally accelerated the move towards fully digital, consumer led shopping experiences. Businesses must now equally accelerate their technology offering and develop against the new customer expectation to remain relevant and keep customers loyal.
Sainsbury’s previously had to end one of its test cases because customers wanted to pay with cash and card, rather than via their phones. That is now the complete reverse of where we are with the need to maintain social distance. All of which means that the combination of digital technology and physical retail space to offer personalised, contactless experiences has never been more important.
The combination of digital and physical retail space is particularly important for smaller retailers who can make changes far quicker than the retail heavyweights. To do so they need the right technology powering their retail experiences if they are to thrive in the new normal we are now in. While some retailers may feel that an Amazon Go type experience is beyond their capabilities, it does not mean that they cannot offer a more personalised, socially distanced customer experience. Now is the opportune moment to turn to providers for cross-channel digital solutions that can help them understand what the customer journey looks like. Once achieved, these offerings can then be scaled as the business grows and help provide solutions that deliver the tailored, contactless experience customers are looking for. Regardless of channel.
To do this, businesses need the right technology that can power processes from the point of production to the point of sale and the customer’s hands. Having a fully integrated and connected system enables retailers to make data-driven decisions that positively impact the customer experience by identifying the products and sales channels that are preferred. Also, by having flexible systems in place, retailers can adapt to the changing demands from their customers. For instance, with social distancing measures likely to be in place for some time yet, retailers can launch their own app or connect with online stores to offer more sales channels. Failure to have the systems in place that offer full integration and flexibility will mean that businesses like Amazon continue to gain market share as they offer the experiences that customers increasingly want.
Old and new
To succeed in today’s retail environment, businesses need to remain focused on the customer experience. This means being able to deliver a more personalised and socially distanced experience, which has to be underpinned by technology. As lockdown measures ease the customer experience will naturally evolve and businesses need to be ready. Right now there are few constants businesses can cling to. Yet the importance of the customer experience and its ongoing evolution will always persist.