Last year, personalized selling experiences were all the buzz and retailers tested new methods to make shopping more seamless for their customers. In 2017, we’ll see smart retailers focus on bridging the gap between the personalized in-store experience and shopping online.
By borrowing the best of both worlds — online and brick-and-mortar — retailers can engage customers across any channel and drive sales and brand loyalty. With that said, here are three top personalization trends retailers will invest in during 2017 to engage omnichannel shoppers.
Leveraging Sales Associates Online
Retail sales associates are the key to providing a superior personalized shopping experience. A strong one-to-one relationship keeps shoppers coming back to their favorite store and associate each time, especially since he or she is familiar with the shopper’s needs and wants. However, this level of personalization is often lost or lacking when customers shop online. In 2017, retailers will better integrate sales associates online in order to bridge the service gap between shopping online and in-store.
For example, retailers will adapt new technology where sales associates can provide personalized recommendations to online shoppers based on their past purchase history, through live chat or via one-to-one email marketing. Similarly, big-box retailers, which don’t offer personal shopper services, will leverage their store associates as a team to respond to local shoppers’ inquiries online and address local trends, inventory and pricing in order to drive shoppers in-store.
Personalized customer experiences rely on trust — the associate must have a relationship with or trust from a shopper to give expert guidance and opinions. In 2017, we’ll see retailers build this trust with online shoppers by redefining the role of sales associates to outside the physical constraints of the selling floor.
Using Digital Tools to Augment Brand Experiences
There’s increasing hype around new digital tools in the retail environment, like artificial intelligent chatbots, augmented reality, smart shelves and more. Although many retailers have begun testing some of these tools in specific areas of their business, most organizations won't see a complete takeover of digital tools in their operations that will replace humans or brand experiences in the short term. Instead, these technologies and tools will begin to augment the human service that already exists to provide more personalization.
We’re already seeing retailers implementing chatbots into their online sites to respond to transactional shopper inquiries. While these bots are an exciting advancement and can help answer quick questions about shipping or returns, they're not a true replacement to human interaction. There still needs to be an element of human intelligence in personalization. For example, Saks Fifth Avenue leverages instant live chat between its associates and shoppers to empower them to become “omnichannel associates,” market directly to shoppers and provide more personalized service online, rather than relying on chatbots.
Combining Buyer Data and Local Associate Recommendations to Convert Sales
Selling to consumers will become even more personalized in 2017, thanks to advanced shopper data. Retailers will use local store associates more to make recommendations based on this data or the shopper’s preferences, especially if they notice the shopper hasn’t made a purchase in a while.
For example, retailers are using new tools to provide sellers with insights into the top product recommendations made by associates and buyer requests across the nation. Therefore, if an associate wants to recommend a handbag to her customer, she can quickly see handbag styles other customers have purchased and asked about while seeing the handbags recommended by other store associates.
Through this type of proactive outreach and personalized suggestions, sales associates can encourage regular, repeatable sales, achieve higher overall margins and larger per order spend, while also increasing grassroots word-of-mouth referrals.
In 2017, personalization will continue to drive customer engagement for retailers. While we won’t see technology necessarily replace human sales teams to enable a new level of personalization, it will empower sales associates to build stronger connections and increased brand trust and loyalty with shoppers.
Oscar Sachs is CEO and co-founder of Salesfloor, the first platform to allow customers to shop online directly with their local store or favorite associate, bringing the in-store experience online.