2019: The Year of the Empowered Consumer
It’s no secret that the retail industry has undergone a significant evolution over the past decade. 2018 alone introduced powerful and transformative changes that will have a lasting impact on the retail landscape, fundamentally altering the way consumers interact with and purchase from brands, how brands build relationships with consumers, and how the entire customer journey is managed.
And at the root of it all is one hard-to-argue fact: the consumer is in control. This new world of “the empowered consumer” boasts an abundance of choices and unparalleled access to goods and services. Now, the question for retailers going into 2019 is how will they adapt.
5 Lessons From 2018, and the Impact Going Forward
This year, retailers discovered that a price war doesn't necessarily win business. Price is just a piece of a much bigger pie. What consumers really care about is the emotional connection and the sum of their entire experience. They want to engage with and support brands that they feel understand them and their needs.
How do retailers develop this connection? By prioritizing human-to-human interactions. Here are five tips how:
1. Build personal relationships with customers.
With so much commerce moving online, the human connection has been pushed to the side. The retailers that will thrive in 2019 are the ones that understand establishing a deeper relationship will improve and strengthen the customer experience, grow basket size and, ultimately, improve business outcomes.
2. Unify the buying journey.
To accomplish this, retailers should focus on creating a single journey across the digital and physical divide, converting digital customers into in-store customers and strengthening the overall relationship. Too often, a digital customer is lost during the transition from online to physical. When a potential new customer is lost due to this divide, we call it the “failure zone.”
3. Leverage historical data to use in-store staff resources more efficiently.
To avoid the failure zone, retailers must not only converge data across all consumer-facing channels, but also consider their workforce strategy. Using historical analytics to forecast store patterns, retailers can help to ensure each customer is served in a timely and personalized manner. If in the end no sale is made, this strategy will at least ensure the retailer has secured a return customer.
4. Turn your brick-and-mortar footprint into a competitive advantage.
In order to provide valuable human-to-human interactions, retailers must learn how to get the most out of their brick-and-mortar stores. The physical retail footprint should be used to strengthen customer relationships (rather than destroy them, which is too often the case). An overlooked but important piece of the in-store strategy is proactively offering in-person engagement.
As we reported last year in our Modern Consumer Research Report, customers today are shopping across many channels before making a purchase, including brick-and-mortar locations. Furthermore, 35 percent of consumers are interested in online appointment scheduling prior to visiting a physical retail store. And, to no surprise, in our our latest research, “People [Still] Need People,” nearly 45 percent of all respondents said that having the ability to speak with someone during their final decision to purchase was critical. This all goes to show that empowering consumers with the ability to come in and meet with you in-store is not only a smart approach to completing an integrated buying journey, but one that consumers expect.
However, getting the customer in-store is only the start. Once there, retailers must be prepared for their visit with a well-trained staff that's not only informed about the products, but armed with background knowledge and (ideally) data on the specific individuals themselves. This will help to ensure that the customer has a personalized and positive overall brand experience.
5. Allow consumers to start anywhere and end anywhere.
With all the changes currently underway in retail, if there's one piece of advice I would give to retailers, it’s to allow (even encourage) your customers to start their buying journey anywhere and end it anywhere. This is likely the biggest trend in retail today. Whether they research online and buy in-store or vice versa, retailers must be agile enough to track each of these touchpoints and respond accordingly.
It’s easy to assume from consumer propensity to use multiple channels to complete a purchase that the customer journey will never be linear. It will always be winding and incorporate many unpredictable twists and turns along the way. In order to be successful in 2019 and beyond, retailers must be prepared to closely follow this dynamic journey. That means not only managing, but fully bridging the divide between online and offline to establish a lasting brand connection.
Glenn Shoosmith is CEO of BookingBug, online scheduling and booking software.