Look no further than the world of online retail if you’re interested in seeing how new technologies can be turned into profit-drivers — the amount of money flowing throughout the online world ensures that any business with the merest hint of ambition will eagerly explore the prospect of a new approach or tool that could boost its revenue.
And with so much competition around — and so little room to establish weighty profit margins with so many retailers bringing in stock from generic suppliers — the area gathering the most attention is customer experience. If you can’t offer a superior product, then you can at least find a way to offer a similar product in a superior way.
So, how are retailers finding ways to stand out from the crowd? Let’s take a look at 5 customer experience trends that are gaining a lot of traction in the online retail world.
Live chat and chatbots cooperating
Chatbots are powerful tools that make it possible to automate exchanges within certain generic parameters (and using preset phrases), but they’re not broad solutions for digital support. Leaning on them past their usefulness only makes them counterproductive. Customers go from being impressed by the convenience to being incensed by the interpretive shortcomings.
Live chat, on the other hand, has different problems that prove similarly difficult to handle. A live chat system can handle all the complexity that a chatbot support system can’t, but it comes at a great resource cost, and is pricey (and logistically challenging) to scale. A few cases for hour won’t be a problem, but ramp that up to 20 cases per hour and you start to encounter problems.
The future of retail communication (and a growing trend) is the use of these two systems in tandem. The concept is fairly simple: when a new request comes in, the chatbot gets the first shot at resolving it. If it can’t handle it, the issue is passed to a live support assistant. It’s essentially an updated equivalent of the classic model of only speaking to the store manager if the store assistant can’t help you.
Customer happiness methodology
No matter now extensively a customer interacts with your business — buying your products, browsing your store, reading your marketing materials, contacting you through social media — there is a limit to the role it plays in their life, and thus a limit to how extensively you can impress them and drive their loyalty to your brand.
Customer happiness methodology is all about looking past those direct interactions to consider everything that factors into a customer’s life, even if it’s entirely unrelated to your business. What are their general goals? What other stores do they buy from? What do they find amusing? What do they find frustrating?
By learning more about how your customers live when they’re not interacting with your business, you can identify ways to tweak your customer service that will make their lives easier in general. Why is this worthwhile? Because even if they’re not consciously aware of what you’ve done, they’ll subconsciously associate your brand with that improvement, and it will make their overall impression of you more positive.
Augmented reality previewing
While virtual reality (VR) technology is still far from mainstream utility, augmented reality (AR) tech has already entered public awareness and become a staple of the retail world. Since all you need to use AR tech is a reasonably modern smartphone with a half-decent camera, it’s extremely accessible, and we’re seeing it used more and more frequently.
Think about a segment of the retail world such as the makeup industry. Instead of placing a trained store assistant in a store to provide makeup tips and distribute samples, a makeup brand can install what’s called an AR mirror: a full-length screen that displays a live camera feed “reflection” with customizable AR overlays. A customer can then virtually preview a particular lipstick shade at the touch of a button.
This is a huge time-saver for retailers, allows them to lower the stock levels that they previously needed for samples, and provides a fun interactive customer experience that sets the brand apart. And mobile apps that do AR previews are perfect for retailers that offer large items — IKEA Place and Amazon AR View are glimpses of the future in that regard.
By now, it has become abundantly clear that experiential retail is key for differentiation: spend an hour looking at ecommerce businesses being sold online and you’ll become aware of how generic product listings can be. Some brands have the same suppliers and the same interfaces — how can you be different? AR content is the key.
Buying from a brick-and-mortar store is fine, but it isn’t always ideal. Sometimes you don’t feel like going outside, or the trip is inconvenient, or the weather conditions are awful, or it’s a busy shopping period and you’re not willing to spend hours waiting in line. That’s why ecommerce was so widely embraced when it appeared — it hugely expanded consumer choice.
And what we’re seeing as the months go by is a continuation of this process, but instead of adding to physical retail with digital retail, it’s massively diversifying the latter. Today, you don’t need to go to a store website to place an order. You can order through live chat, a Facebook Messenger chatbot, a search engine results page, or even through a different retailer (brands extend their reach through listing their products on Amazon, for instance).
Factor in the coinciding rise of mobile-responsive (and now mobile-first) designs, and you have a recipe for omnichannel retail. When you want to buy, you can, regardless of where you are, what device you’re using, or what site you’re on. The more chances a customer has to buy, the more likely they are to succumb to the temptation to indulge in some retail therapy.
The checkout phase is a vital part of the sales process, and often goes overlooked due to a wrong-headed assumption that a user who gets that far has made up their mind. That often isn’t the case. In fact, the checkout is the moment of highest pressure — it’s the last point at which the prospective buyer can change their mind and go elsewhere.
How many times have you woken up in the middle of the night, visited a store on your phone, drowsily added some expensive items to your cart, then achieved a moment of clarity at the last second and backed out? If you’ve never done that, then you have an iron will (or no smartphone), because it’s very common.
By making the checkout stage as easy as possible (typically by offering plenty of convenient payment options, providing social proof, showing trust indicators such as guarantees and return policies, and allowing users to place orders without creating full accounts) you can make it minimally likely that someone will have second thoughts before buying, boosting conversions.
These 5 retail trends are giving rise to superior customer experiences, and allowing brands to save time, money, and effort. Remember the term experiential retail, because that’s an indication of where the next decade will take us.