So… how was everyone’s 2020?
(Whoa, whoa…sorry I asked. Put the chair down, please don’t hurt me!)
In all seriousness, the past year has been pretty tumultuous — and has led to many sweeping changes around the world.
To be sure, these sweeping changes have had a major impact on the world of retail, overall.
And, even putting aside the pandemic and political upheaval, evolving technology and customer expectations have pushed retail businesses to make some drastic changes, as well.
As we put a bow on leave 2020 in the past where it belongs, let’s not forget the lessons we’ve learned that will help us better serve and retain our customers well into the future.
1. A Cohesive Customer Experience is Crucial
The importance of delivering a cohesive omnichannel experience to your retail customers is nothing new.
But it certainly hasn’t faded over the last year. Really, it’s become more important than ever to ensure your customers can pick up where they left off with your brand — regardless of when, where, and how they engage with you.
Now, “going omnichannel” doesn’t necessarily mean your brand needs to be active on every marketing channel in existence. Rather, the goal of omnichannel marketing is to be active on the channels your customers need you to be — and to ensure these channels seamlessly connect with one another.
(Yes, you’ll want to continue adding new channels to your distribution strategy over time. But, you need to be intentional when doing so; migrating to a new channel just because it’s there will likely cause more harm than good.)
Failure to provide a cohesive experience to your customers can be devastating to your retention rates.
As a 2019 report from MuleSoft shows, 72% of digital consumers say a disconnected CX would cause them to switch brands almost immediately. This is up from 69% the previous year — and there’s every reason to believe this percentage will continue to increase in the years to come.
Omnichannel cohesion inherently allows you to personalize your customers’ experiences with your brand in a number of ways. In fact, much of what we’ll be discussing ties directly into your brand’s omnichannel initiatives.
That said, strengthening your omnichannel efforts is perhaps the top priority for 2021 and beyond. Get this ball rolling, and it will open many more opportunities to deliver value to your customers moving forward.
2. Convenience Reigns Supreme
Let’s face it:
It’s pretty much human nature to look for the easiest way to accomplish our goals.
It is…literally why we spend our money on goods and services: We want or need something that is difficult (or impossible) to get on our own, so we pay others to help us out.
Of course, we’re not just saying that modern brands need to offer products and services that provide convenience and ease to their customers. This much is obvious.
As we touched on in the last section, the modern consumer wants their entire branded experience to be as convenient as possible.
Simply put, they don’t want to put any more effort than they have to in order to get what they want from your brand. Again, it’s about being where your customers expect you to be, with exactly what they’re looking to get from your brand — and being able to deliver it to them with ease.
Providing such convenience is huge for customer acquisition, satisfaction, and retention.
- 90% of retail consumers will go with brands that provide the most convenient options and overall experience
- Brands that have focused on convenience in recent years have experienced an average 67% business growth
- 1 in 2 retail consumers report spending more on brands due to the level of convenience provided
(The COVID era has, of course, piled on the need for convenience — but it’s definitely not the only factor. We’ll come back to this a bit later on.)
The writing is on the wall:
If you’re not constantly looking for ways to more conveniently deliver value to your customers, you stand a pretty good chance of losing them. At the very least, they won’t be spending nearly as much time and money with your brand if it’s not easy for them to do so.
3. We’re All in the Hospitality Business Now
Across the board, this year has been a wake-up call for brands and consumers alike with regard to our physical, emotional, and mental well-being.
Now, this isn’t to say that the safety of our customers isn’t always a top priority.
Unfortunately, many consumers report not feeling 100% safe and secure when buying certain products or engaging with certain brands. Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic has only made the modern consumer more wary of their own health and safety.
That said, it’s crucial — and, in many cases, legally mandated — that retailers revisit their plans for keeping their customers safe throughout their shopping experiences. If your customers feel that their safety is in danger, they have no reason to continue doing business with your brand.
In addition to making improvements to your overall safety plans, you also need to effectively communicate these changes to your customers. If they don’t know what you’re doing to ensure their safety, they’ll likely err on the side of caution — meaning they’re going to stay as far away from your store as possible.
So, no matter what products or services you offer, your brand needs to be in the business of hospitality above all else. Once you’re certain your customers will be able to safely engage with your brand — and you’re certain they know this — you’ll be free to deliver your branded experience to them exactly as you’d planned.
4. Proactive and Automated Customer Support is Expected
Piggybacking off the last section, it’s also vital to ensure your customers can get the maximum possible value out of every engagement with your brand.
It’s not enough to just give your customers the product or service they paid for. As a retailer, you also need to support your customers throughout their journey with your brand.
Unfortunately, this isn’t exactly the norm. According to Intercom, only 42% of companies feel that their customer support efforts aren’t exactly up to snuff.
They point to three key challenges in this area:
- Meeting customer expectations re: service and support
- Improving and streamlining customer service and support workflows
- Managing service and support volume
The key to overcoming these challenges:
Delivering proactive — and, when possible, automated — support to your audience.
Proactive support typically comes in the form of informational content and educational experiences, such as:
- Knowledge bases and FAQ pages
- Informational blog posts and emails
- Comprehensive user onboarding
You can also use chatbots, live chat, and direct messaging to preempt service requests from your customers — delivering the exact information they need to proceed before they even know they need it.
Whether providing it through automation or manually, delivering laser-focused support requires having a soup-to-nuts understanding of your overall customer journey. By anticipating every step your customers take with your brand, you’ll know exactly what they’ll need at any given moment — and can focus your efforts on making sure they get it.
The fact that less than half of retailers believe they’re on the right track — despite 73% acknowledging a problem in this area — makes clear:
We’re bound to see a renewed and improved focus on customer support in 2021 and beyond. If your team isn’t actively looking for ways to better serve and support your customers, it’ll be increasingly difficult to keep them from defecting to brands that are.
5. Pay Attention to Zero-Party Data
At the start of 2020, Google announced that Chrome will stop supporting third-party cookies by 2022.
This poses a huge problem for retailers who rely on such data to gain a better understanding of their customers. Though Chrome is just one of many browsers — and there are certainly other ways of collecting this third-party data — it’s still a problem that needs solving.
Which is why retailers will need to focus heavily on zero-party data in the years to come.
Basically, zero-party data refers to any information your audience gives you without being prompted.
A few examples:
- Customer service queries via email
- Direct messages via social media
- On-site behaviors and actions
Though zero-party data is that which is unsolicited, you’ll still need to put structures in place to enable your customers to provide it. If, for example, you don’t have a presence on social media, that’s one less opportunity for your customers to proactively reach out and tell you what they’re thinking.
(Umm…that doesn’t apply to your brand, does it?)
You also need to be able to recognize, identify, collect, and use the info your customers volunteer to make tangible improvements — both to your processes and your customer experience.
The modern customer wants to provide more info to the brands they work with, as it will ultimately benefit them in the long run. It’s on you, then, to ensure they can tell you what you need to know in order to put your best foot forward.
6. Temporary Changes, or Permanent Solutions?
If one thing’s for certain, it’s that nothing in the retail world is certain moving into 2021.
On the one hand, many of the changes that have come about due to COVID are likely to stick around even after the pandemic has settled. As a recent report from McKinsey shows, most consumers plan to continue doing more online shopping — and will also continue to use self-checkout well into the future.
On the other hand, there’s data to support the idea for some COVID-era consumer expectations to fade in due time. As Hub Entertainment Research reports, most of those who preferred in-store shopping to online before the pandemic hit will likely head back to brick-and-mortar stores when it’s safe to do so.
As unprecedented as the last year has been — in the retail world and the world at large — so, too, is the post-COVID era to come. With this in mind, the best course of action for retailers is to stay agile, keeping a close eye on the moment-to-moment changes in their industries.
To be sure, this should be the case regardless of any “big picture” goings on in the world. The retail world of tomorrow is not the retail world of today — and only those who keep up with the changing times will be able to thrive in a world that’s yet to exist.
Of course, we here at PostFunnel are dedicated to keeping you in the know, and helping you press forward in a way that will benefit your customers and your company. As we head into 2021, stay with us for the latest news and trends in the retail world — and keep your team prepared for whatever surprise is next in store.
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