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A decade in days: the new age of retail experience

woman on phone
(Image credit: Pexels)

The last eighteen months posed challenges no one could have predicted. Physical shopping was abandoned overnight, and e-commerce became the only way to purchase. Finding themselves launched into unfamiliar territories, retailers who wanted to maintain a market share had to adopt new technologies quickly, managing largescale digital transformation in a fraction of time.

The rapid nature of this change has been dubbed “a decade in days” by McKinsey, where a decline in consumption, a shake-up of preferences and digital acceleration have redefined the retail customer experience. Shopping on phones, online ordering and home delivery became the new MO, meaning business models like direct-to-consumer sales and subscription-based services amped up.

Today, things are starting to normalize, with people back in the office and high street doors open. But how we engage and purchase from brands hasn’t returned to conditions pre-2020 – and it’s unlikely they ever will. The retail reinvention is here to stay, with several important considerations needed to ensure businesses meet the demands of today’s shopper. 

Understanding the customer and their journey 

Customers yearn for a personalized and tailored shopping experience, where brands demonstrate a strong understanding of their needs. Adding value at every step of the journey, whatever shape that journey takes, is what will distinguish a retailer.

The unfortunate trend is that communication is often poorly managed, with an overwhelming three in four (74 percent) shoppers still seeing disjointed, depersonalized communications from brands, according to Infobip research. These impersonal messages are the reason why more than one in five people switched brand allegiance during the Covid-19 lockdown. 

The most important part of the customer experience is the customer. No journey is the same and no two customers are the same. For example, it might be that one customer prefers an SMS to remind them about an upcoming delivery and another would like to manage refund requests via WhatsApp, instead of having to go in store. 

Understanding these nuances is what will elevate a good customer experience to a great one, so it could be worth adding check box options on a sign-up form to ask what channel(s) a customer prefers to be contacted on. Or gather information through post-purchase feedback surveys.

The more information retailers can gather, which they can connect to create a 360° view of the customer, the closer they’ll be to offering a unique experience specific to their needs.

Eliminating pain points  

You can discover a product and fall in love with it, add it to your basket and pay, only to find out that the tracking software doesn’t work, or the item delivery is delayed. Getting the item suddenly becomes extra hassle and you may need to contact the business to understand why; it is in this moment where a point of friction is created.

Every added consumer effort makes it harder to nurture lasting relationships. Our research found almost a third (31 percent) of shoppers were frustrated at the limited ways and times they can contact a company. Over a quarter (28 percent) were irked by long waiting times for a response and 24 percent hadn’t even received one. 

Slow and reactive customer service, a lack of customer insight, and the inability to scale communication channels, all compromise the experiences a retailer can offer. If a customer associates a brand with this negative experience, it can easily result in a loss of loyalty and sales.

The easiest way to eliminate friction is to introduce self-service options, such as keyword or AI chatbots. These automated chatbots can answer frequently asked questions, share relevant information about products, process purchase details, streamline returns and refunds and share new offers. 

By providing automated, immediate support for these straightforward queries, retailers can gather essential customer information and ensure they have a complete view of a customer’s engagement. Then in the instance a query needs to be escalated to a human agent, they have all the information they need to provide the most accurate and valuable response possible.

Preparing for the channels of the future 

There are currently more than 2 billion WhatsApp users around the world – and that’s constantly rising. It’s immediate, personal and global, making it a great tool for customers to communicate with businesses directly, from chat initiation to resolution. It’s no surprise that 68 percent of WhatsApp users think it is the easiest way to connect with their favorite brand. 

Many retailers are starting to realize the benefits of engaging their customers through conversational apps, where contact center agents can provide personalized support through multiple chats at the same time. For the customer, this means they can simply message a brand – as they would do a friend or family member – to manage a query or find out more information. It also enables retailers to grab attention and engage customers through rich media and clickable buttons. 

Google Business Messages is another platform with similar conversational benefits. Customers can use this service to find and engage with brands directly through Google Search and Maps. Given that 68 percent of online experience begin with a search engine, and with Google taking the lion’s share of the market, Google Business Messages is primed to be one of the most used discovery tools for consumers worldwide. A customer can enquire opening hours, or check availability of items in particular sizes for example, and retailers can benefit from the automated, instant line of communication open with potential customers, which helps facilitate more customer connections and nurture loyalty.

We’re seeing similar benefits through enhanced SMS communication as well. Rich Communication Services (RCS) give customers a richer, smarter, more conversational experience – all from the comfort of an SMS inbox. Via RCS, brands can build meaningful relationships with customers by exchanging text, images, audio, video files and location information via a branded messaging experience. For example, if there is a special offer or discount on a certain product, retailers could promote this through RCS, using images and offering the option for customers to click to a website or contact them directly to find out more. 

With strides being made in new communication tools each year, it’s worth considering how these channels could help elevate your customer experience both now, and in a future where it will be more difficult to keep customers captivated and engaged. 

Final words

We have settled into a new way of browsing and buying – the duality of online and in-person experiences is taking precedence, as consumers enjoy being able to choose the right mode of shopping for them.

A twinned approach with digital and in-store will become an even bigger brand differentiator and revenue generator as customers enjoy a more captivating experience. Our research has shown 86 percent of shoppers are willing to pay more for a better customer experience, valuing the journey and not just the product. We may have seen a decade in days, but now we must prepare to enter an entirely new era of shopping; the age of experience.

James Stokes, Enterprise Team Lead, Infobip

James Stokes, Enterprise Team Lead, Infobip.