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2017: the year of the connected customer experience

In today’s connected, always-on world, retail customers have more power than ever before. In 2017 this trend shows no signs of slowing – in fact, innovative technology will put even more power directly into the hands of consumers. What 2016 has shown us is that the in-store experience is still very important to today’s consumers – it’s just expectations around the experience itself which have changed. 

Retailers today must offer a blended online and in-store experience if they are to keep up with evolving customer expectations in 2017. Let’s take a look at some of the biggest retail trends set to arrive in the New Year…   

Personalisation and the single customer journey combine to create a terrific experience

While mobiles account for more than half of all online shopping traffic, beating computers and tablets, 90 per cent of purchases are still made in store. Today, the costly legacy systems that many brands and retailers use do not support the entire customer journey. They often lack the flexibility required to connect the various shopping channels consumers use. For retailers to compete, it will be absolutely essential to achieve a single customer view, pulling data from every channel and every customer touch point. 

They need to ensure those insights are used to deliver a real-time unified experience, without compromising the personal touch that consumers have come to expect. It’s about seamless customer communication - and that shouldn't end after purchase. What happens after purchase is an important part of the customer journey, too. 

Almost half of shoppers (47 per cent) felt annoyed when they purchased an item in-store, only to receive an online offer via another channel for the same product.    

The age of AI

As retailers seek to personalise the customer journey to a greater degree, it’s time to think one step ahead. In recent months, Artificial Intelligence (AI) has moved into the mainstream to the extent that customers may not even know they’re interacting with AI:  Amazon’s Dash services are just one example.   It might sound like sci-fi, but the technology is available today to help anticipate the needs of the customer before they act or make a purchase. 

For example, an AI-enabled ecommerce platform can provide product recommendations to personalise offers to customers, predict which goods and services they are likely to want, and provide insights as to how smarter merchandising and product purchase correlations can enhance sales. According to our Connected Customer report, exploring customer experience trends, 45 per cent of consumers and 57 per cent of business buyers say that by 2020 they will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate their needs.     

As a retail CIO in 2017, the more insight you have, the greater your advantage to win the heart and minds of customers and their future purchases. Expect to see more AI innovations in the coming year, because it’s set to be big business.

Millennials searching for star treatment

Millennials, with their growing spending power, are an increasingly important demographic – this digitally-savvy generation offers retailers an opportunity to carve out a customer relationship which could span decades. It stands to reason that a clear understanding of what millennials expect from their shopping experience should be front of mind for retailers.    

A personal, 1-to-1 experience is important to them and makes them feel like a VIP.  What’s more, while millennials are digital natives, they still like visiting physical stores. But their expectations around personalised service are increasingly different than those of their parents’ generation – the so-called Baby Boomers. 

For example, this younger generation is almost three times more likely to expect the stores they visit to know all about their online shopping and research on that retailer’s website (42 per cent of millennials feel this way vs. 18 per cent of boomers). 

Once again, it’s all about retailers’ ability to blend the online and offline experience in order to deliver a personalised journey – the star treatment younger customers increasing expect. While a focus on personalisation works across all generations, these rising stars are the ones to watch. Evolving millennial expectations will continue to shape the retail landscape in 2017 and beyond.

Forging emotional connections with customers

Currently we’re inundated with emotional Christmas campaigns from high street retailers – and consumers love them. Literally tens of thousands of people have tweeted about this year’s John Lewis ad ̶ last year its ‘Man on the Moon’ ad is credited with a 44.3 per cent increase in store sales in the five-week period leading up to Christmas. 

If this is anything to go by, then connecting on an emotional level has a pretty big role to play in influencing purchasing behaviour.    But to make that real connection with a customer you have to understand what motivates them and anticipate their behaviour. Emotional relationships are based on empathy and that only comes from a deep understanding of your customers’ needs. Analytics allow IT managers to look at individual customer behaviour trends to aggregate campaign engagement data. 

If you’re running an email campaign, for example, an analytics tool can automatically highlight which customers have read all your messages and which ones only open those offering 25 per cent discounts. Modern analytics apps enable retailers to build up a detailed picture of their customers: when they shop, what they buy, what offers are they’re interested in, which channels they use in their purchasing journey. 

This understanding can then be used to create content that triggers an emotional reaction   Insight is only part of the picture when it comes to forging emotional connections. As important is taking this insight and using it to engage across all channels. This means matching the mobile, to the in-store, to the online experience so that customers feel you care, right across their journey. For example, when a customer calls the service department, the agent automatically asks about the shirt they bought recently.  

It’s all about laying a strong personal touch on top of the customer understanding provided by analytics tools.    

This seamless, 1-to-1 experience, that allows customers to pick up where they left off each time they engage with a brand, is to my mind, one of the strongest ways to build an emotional connection with customers, because it makes them feel valued. I think it’s something we’ll see IT departments at retailers doing a lot more of in 2017 - and I think customers everywhere will welcome that closer connection.   

Gavin Mee, Area Vice President, Salesforce UK and Ireland
Image source: Shutterstock/Shutter_M

Gavin Mee works closely with companies to help them forge the personalised 1-to-1 customer relationships needed to thrive in a mobile, hyper-connected age.