Gita Samani
Gita Samani 26 March 2021

Retail Customer Experience in 2021

How should online retailers and brands be thinking about CX in response to changes in customer behaviour as a result of Covid-19? The old models for building an ideal customer experience (CX) online and in store have been upended by the events of 2020.

Where the focus was once mainly on building a different CX for each channel, Covid has served as a wakeup call to build a strategy around the customer that will deliver a seamless, consistent and frictionless experience for the whole journey. 

Lifting of Restrictions

Even now that the roadmap out of lockdown has been announced, with a tentative date set for the full lifting of restrictions, it's clear that there won’t be a full return to the old normal. First, people will continue to be aware of their own safety and this is certain to affect consumer confidence at least through 2021. And that’s just at home; with vaccinations being staggered globally, these fears will increase again when people look to travel abroad.

Secondly, the landscape of people’s lives has changed. They are trying to embed the work-life balance that they were suddenly able, often for the first time, to embrace during lockdown, and embark on new lifestyles and work schedules. As a result, their shopping behaviours have not only changed but become more unpredictable.

It is also now clear that ecommerce as a proportion of all retail will continue to rise. New customer segments have tried shopping online and find that they like it for its safety, ease and convenience. And even where a store may be involved for pick up, the journey will have been managed primarily online, including browsing for products and promotions, ordering, delivery tracking and returns.

What this all adds up to for retailers and brands is a huge challenge unless they are fully tuned into their customers’ needs and behaviours, and then able to build a CX that leads ideally to lower acquisition costs, higher conversion, larger baskets and more frequent spend.

For instance, consumers confined to their homes have shifted their focus from the far horizons of the office and the beach to their own neighbourhoods and communities, resulting in a growing interest in local retail, local brands and services. And while they may later return to many of the brands they favoured before lockdown, there is certain to be a mix of large and small, global and local in their preference profile.

Brand Commitments

Local or global, consumers are also looking much more closely at brands to determine how committed they are to sustainability, diversity and enlightened working conditions for both their own and supplier employees. These elements are all being rolled into the purchase decision making process, adding even more complexity for the brand in being able to tell the right story online whilst also enabling a personal, frictionless and engaging online experience.

Add to this the challenge of designing the perfect online experience for consumers’ whose expectations, already high before the pandemic, have now risen to new heights, dependent as they are now for so much more of their lifestyle and spend on the Internet.

Frictionless Customer Journeys

In creating and continuously curating the customer experience, there is therefore a balance to be struck between the rational and the emotional. The rationale is still about creating a frictionless shopping journey from browse to buy, while emotional is about trying to emulate the in-store experience - adding content about product material, sourcing, production and transport, as well as rich content featuring products in context, be it sports, influencer lifestyles or tutorials.

This content needs to be broadened for new consumer lifestyles, which may well mean that services become as important as products, as brands move to offer self-improvement classes, DIY tutorials and outfit recommendations.

These virtual experiences may well be critical to converting ecommerce sales where they include personal shopping appointments through video conferencing, connecting employees directly to customers, augmented reality for trying on clothes, or operating electronics, or creating virtual travel experiences designed to drive bookings.

Where a physical connection is made for click and collect or curbside delivery, brands need to ensure the beautifully structured experience that begins online continues as customers re-emerge back into the real world outside their homes. The experience may also need to emphasise safety to include self-serve, contactless and touchless or unattended fulfilment options.

Here is a checklist of things to consider when building the perfect CX in 2021 and beyond:

  • Start by collecting and analysing your customer data across multiple touchpoints so that you are able to surface the right information within proposed experiences.
  • Think from the very start about your customers' safety, as they will be more aware than ever about threats in the physical world post-Covid. This also means thinking about their safety online in terms of appropriate content, data sharing, and data privacy and protection.
  • You will then have the right source data and guidelines to build both physical and online experiences that recognise the increasingly cross channel journeys customers are now making.
  • Then think about how to service them in the best way at each touchpoint, closing any gaps that can arise when they are looking for help
  • Incorporate personalisation capabilities so that you can respond to each customer’s chosen journey and build in agility to react quickly to their behaviour as it changes.
  • Make use of attribution tools so that bespoke marketing, promotion, rewards, and sales strategies can be developed based on knowing who is buying.
  • Use visualisation tools which will get customers as close as possible to the product.  Include the use of apps that enable customers to see and speak to staff who manage the whole sales cycle from showing products to processing payments, warranties and delivery.
  • Continue to use your human resources more dynamically, for instance enable customer services to become a sales channel, equipped with resources such as educational content and then add FAQs and bots so that low-level enquiries can be handled automatically, leaving customer management teams to spend time with customers.
  • Work with partners to fill any potential gaps in the perfect experience such as the last mile for instance, which is most likely handled by a third party. Work even more closely with them to ensure that communications after checkout reflect the best of your brand.

Bazaarvoice surveyed over 6,000 shoppers located in the United States, Canada, Mexico, United Kingdom, France, Germany, Spain, and Australia. Read the full report here - Shopper Experience Index 2021: Rethinking the Approach to Retail.

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