Personalization: How Retailers Fulfill the Promise of the On-Demand Economy
Mobile technology has revolutionized retail by giving consumers tools to ensure immediate satisfaction through “on-demand” goods and services. For consumers, shopping online is convenient and useful — if you know exactly what you want. However, for most purchases, consumers still overwhelmingly prefer to visit a store. Why? Because the promise of the on-demand economy, which assures consumers they’ll get the goods and services they want when they want them, omits one crucial component: personalized service and attention.
An ‘Uber’ Opportunity
As the “Uberization” of goods and services accelerates, brick-and-mortar retailers are faced with a unique opportunity and challenge to meet consumers’ on-demand expectations with personalized assistance. Smart retailers strive to match the promise of “on-demand” with “concierge” service that provides a highly personalized, informed retail experience. By providing concierge-style services, retailers can ensure a personalized experience with the convenience of the on-demand economy. Consumers get personalized attention, helping them get exactly what they want, where and how they want it.
In-Store Still Shines
Even with advances in online shopping and home delivery, brick-and-mortar shopping still far outpaces e-commerce, a trend that will continue for the foreseeable future. TimeTrade recently surveyed more than 5,000 consumers about their shopping habits and perceptions, as well as 100 senior retail executives about their plans for customer experience. The resulting 2016 State of Retail Report supports the continued prevalence of in-store shopping, with almost three-quarters of respondents planning to shop in stores as much as they did last year. Eighteen percent expect to shop in physical locations more than they did in 2015.
According to the report, the preference for buying in-store goes beyond necessity. When given the choice between buying the same item in person or online, 71 percent of consumers would choose in-store — a 6 percent increase since last year’s report. The biggest difference consumers cited is the ability to touch and feel the products. Eighty-five percent of consumers reported they want to interact with products before purchasing.
Much like consumers value Uber for the convenience, they value retail locations for prompt, knowledgeable service and purchase assistance. Survey respondents ranked prompt personalized service and smart, informed recommendations as the top attributes they value most when shopping in-store. As a retailer, it’s paramount to provide the personal touch in-store. If not, your store isn’t much more help than a computer screen. Without personalization, consumers might ask why they aren’t making this purchase from home — and with good reason. Eighty-five percent of consumers responded that they would abandon a dressing room and store altogether if not given prompt attention.
According to the data, there seems to be quite a disconnect between consumer expectations and retail reality. Only 27 percent of consumers polled feel as though traditional big-name brands are making an effort to provide personalized service to everyday customers. This is a missed opportunity on the part of these brands, which could surely be securing more purchases and loyal customers by making them feel like VIPs. To avoid this, store managers need to make sure their associates are responsive and informed, keeping consumers and potential purchases in-store. This opens up the opportunity for upselling and repeat customers.
Timing is Everything
Providing good service isn’t always enough. The next challenge for retailers is to make it easy and worthwhile for customers to come to a retail location for better service. For a busy consumer with long working hours and a tight schedule, a trip to the store might not always be highest on the list of priorities. However, retailers can combat this mentality by helping consumers make the most of their time between appointments and obligations. By allowing customers to book pre-scheduled visits, retailers can ensure that each customer receives one-on-one attention from the correct store associate as soon as they step inside. Given the option, consumers are very receptive to the idea. Fifty-nine percent of consumers polled would schedule an in-store appointment from a device of their choosing if a retailer offered that capability.
Additionally, retailers can share helpful reminders about appointments via mobile. Fifty-five percent of consumers agreed that mobile text updates on their appointment status would be helpful. By providing updates on devices that consumers carry with them, retailers can begin the relationship well in advance of their visit.
A Winning Formula
Brick-and-mortar retailers have the opportunity to radically transform the industry. It’s clear that consumer expectations are growing. They want results fast, but with a personal touch. By providing friendly, informed assistance and catering to a busy consumer base, retailers can give shoppers the best of both worlds — the convenience of online shopping with the speed, guidance and experience only a knowledgeable store associate can provide.
Gary Ambrosino is the president and CEO of TimeTrade, a provider of an appointment scheduling SaaS solution.
Related story: How to Maximize Your In-Store Experience and Technology