With a new year, comes a new outlook on current processes and an opportunity to learn from the successes – and failures – from the previous 12 months. As regards the retail sector it appears to be a year of buzzwords, with topics like AI reaching their peak hype and millennials and generation Z dominating conversations about customer experience.
With this in mind, we take a look at three New Year’s resolutions that retailers should bring to the table.
Modernise the customer journey
The rise of online shopping, click and collect and the world of social media has transformed the buying experience. Customers have access to information, expertise and validation at every step of the journey online but today they want an in-store and offline experience that complements and meets the same standards of excellence they have already typically experienced online.
Whether it’s an in-store associate tracking down stock in another store and organising delivery to the customer’s home, allowing a customer to return online purchases without complication in-store, or ringing the call centre to change an existing order in-flight, today’s consumers expect service excellence at every stage of the purchase cycle including in the store and on the phone.
The problem is, many retailers still perceive the customer journey to be one that is linear. This is not the case. Customers often flit between in-store and online, with social feedback, phone interaction and email for communication. They do not always buy where they browse, they may return elsewhere than where they bought and if they change their mind they’ll expect the call centre to step in or the store associate to figure it out.
As such, retailers need to equip their store associates and their call centre operations with the tools they need to provide the customer with information about their order, the product, stock availability, fulfilment and return options, other complementary items they might like, and allow them to pay for multiple products and return any unwanted items all with one swipe of the credit card.
The time is ripe to really focus on the modern customer journey and reconsider the consumer’s dynamic and fragmented approach to buying, combine technology and culture to build an enjoyable and sustainable in-store, online and call centre sales model that allows the physical store to thrive, enables employees to provide service and ensures a frictionless customer journey.
Engaging Gen Z
The world of retail has become obsessed with Generation Z (Gen Z). But how many retailers actively engaged them? Gen Z now makes up over 20 per cent of the current EU population and they are demanding a slick retail experience.
They share each and every moment of their life on social media, so make fantastic, ready-made brand ambassadors – but only if the experience is good enough. Gen Zs are digitally native so they expect real time access to ecommerce sites at any time with a great customer experience.
They also expect to communicate with retail via social, sharing not only their joyous experiences but also their woes and strifes. Social listening has become a vital tool for retail to ensure they jump on service issues rapidly and rectify them, converting a poor experience into a good one, quickly.
And it’s usually made public. Enabling retail employees with the tools to catch these hiccoughs on the fly is a key part of customer engagement and finessing the customer experience.
And this digital expectation of Gen Z is not just about their journey as a customer, they expect it as an employee too. If retailers want to attract the right talent, they also need to embrace a digital way of working. Gen Z’s digital skills are a major asset and they don’t want to become frustrated when they can’t access customer or product information at the touch of a button.
This single device generation will look askance when shown one system to check inventory, a separate iPad for recommendations, plus another fixed Electronic Point of Sale (EPOS) for processing sales transactions.
If retailers are to engage Gen Z in 2018, creating a digital native work environment within the store will be key to attracting this generation as employees as well as consumers.
Don’t always jump on the bandwagon
AI, Machine Learning, Robots, Automation, Virtual Reality, Augmented Reality… The list of technologies that are dominating conversations is endless. But just because they are being talked about, it doesn’t mean that you need to adopt everything straight away. Not only could you run before you can walk, but over- or mis-use of digital technology and the implications for customer perception and employee morale could be devastating.
Retailers need to ensure the basics are in place with a solid foundation before they adopt any new technologies. Just because the bandwagon is there, it doesn’t mean it should be jumped on for the sake of it. Organisations clearly need to embrace the concept of new technologies available today; but with caution. Taking small steps, whilst recognising the limitations and the importance of human interaction, will be essential.
Georgia Leybourne is international director of marketing at Manhattan Associates