It’s hard work being a successful retailer these days. Customer expectations hold merchants to higher standards of conduct, and they demand an increasingly personalised and seamless experience.
As these expectations go viral, retailers are left in the background to pick up and implement solutions which, in many cases, don’t yet fully exist.
In the scramble to stay in the game, retailers now have to choose between keeping their best face forward and focusing on their product offering, or following their customer demands and really creating a personal, experiential operational model which often limits their short-term goals.
So what are some of the main disruptive customer expectations, and how can retailers position themselves to meet them?
Repositioning retail from mass market to individual experience
At its heart, retail and eCommerce is now really all about people – rather than processes or products.
Due to the always-on consumer, retailers have had to change everything from marketing to customer service to meet these expectations. The most impactful customers demand new values like sustainability, demonstrated product value, accountability to the individual consumer and, though maybe not so new, brand sexiness. The ability to share experiences – good and bad – online and on social media are also key to a connected customer’s happy shopping journey.
We recently surveyed 100 retailers in Europe to learn more about retail perspectives on innovation and technology.
One thing we learned was that retailers across fashion, electronics, jewellery and more are all looking to personalisation to improve their sales and brand positioning.
Whether its in adapting their product line to feature personalisation options, repositioning their marketing to focus on social media (in order to capture a more personal engagement), or developing their lines with consumer feedback at heart, we found merchants across the board have shifted from mass to personal to meet consumer demands.
Beyond products and marketing, retailers also have to meet the more complex expectations of customers who move seamlessly from mobile, to desktop, to store, to console – and back again. And while merchants scramble to find working solutions for this expectation, they’re also tasked with keeping their ears open to “the future” of commerce.
Going beyond multichannel and omnichannel to immersive and seamless
“Multichannel” is ancient history and “omnichannel” is old news, so what’s now? And, more importantly, what’s in the future?
The three top contenders – AR, VR and connected devices – all have two things in common: experience and personalisation.
AR, or augmented reality, is already in wide use among luxury brands, and is on the radar for many established brick-and-mortar institutions. Shiseido, Dior and Neiman Marcus have all piloted “magic mirrors” in stores, allowing shoppers to virtually wear apparel or makeup in different colours and styles.
And with Amazon now entering the arena in a big way, having filed patents on technologies to help turn your living room into an AR showroom or show you in real time what a wrist watch would look like on your arm using your mobile, AR is turning into more of a standard part of the shopping process, personalising what can often be an impersonal or time consuming part of in-store shopping.
Tackling the impersonal online shopping experience, VR, or virtual reality, creates the most possibilities for shoppers to engage with products and brand – more so even than shopping in-store.
Some of our latest research took a look at eight key retail markets around the world. We discovered a clear expectation among shoppers for the retailers to implement VR into their strategies.
62% of the shoppers said that VR has the ability to change how we shop and that it’s way more fun than shopping online. In fact, 57% of these shoppers want VR for better engagement with the product they’re browsing for and the brand they’re buying it from.
Having developed a proof of concept for payments in VR , we’re confident in the immediacy of real retail use of VR – opening up the possibility for merchants to expand their online shops to create a more personal, experiential and seamless purchasing process.
Connected Devices and the Internet of Things
Beyond personalisation, simplicity of purchasing is also key for consumers – and something retailers are really getting behind it in order to secure their futures.
Whether in the continuing success of virtual assistants like Siri or Alexa, fridges that can order eggs for you when you’re running low, or drones that can deliver your packages right to your door, the future is really unfolding before our eyes – and fast. And while consumers may have reservations about the increasing lack of human interaction in these (essentially) customer service functions, the trade off with some mass market products far outweights their concerns.
Connected Devices and the Internet of Things might be two of the most impactful trends in the futuristic retail revolution, and the ones that can offer the most genuine impact on shoppers‘ lives (for more information on the subject, keep an eye out for our new research coming out later this month).
Meeting the futuristic consumer expectations
My greatest learning from speaking with merchants lies in the understanding of the sheer scale of work that businesses need to do to stay ahead of the game when dealing with their customers.
While we might like to say that multichannel and omnichannel are old news, the implementation of them is very much cutting-edge. Creating these new experiences is not as simple as signing on a solutions partner and getting on with things.
Complete back-end reorganisation is a lengthy, expensive and difficult process to undertake. It requires a change in priorities, and on finding partners that can seamlessly facilitate customer needs – regardless of whether they’re in the store or online.
When making decisions on how to facilitate consumer expectations – like omnichannel sales, new marketing channels and new markets of entry – one of the most important things I suggest to my customers is to seriously consider the retail ecosystem in its entirety.
And for those component pieces where in-house knowledge might be lacking, retailers need to partner with providers who provide trusted advisory, direction and thought leadership – putting forward best-in class solutions to facilitate the transition.
Andrew Meere is Corporate New Business Manager for Retail eCommerce. Based in our Amsterdam office and providing advice to retailers across fashion, electronics, B2B and more, Andrew’s key interests lie in helping retailers expand globally, cut costs and optimise operations. Click below for more information on Andrew, his work and where to meet him.Visit Andrew's profile page