Back in April, I attended a webcast on how retailers were going to manage the emerging pandemic. It was at the beginning, before “new normal” and “I’ll Zoom you” became part of our vernacular. And the most impactful words I heard came from Sandra Campos, the CEO of DVF: “You can’t just have clothes in a store anymore,” she opined. “It has to be emotional, more educational, much more of an experience where you’re getting something back.”
Think about it. Retailers were already starting to see increased competition for share of mind and share of wallet. Then, COVID changed everything, and retailers had to pivot in a hurry. They needed a new playbook based on strategies to deliver an individualized experience, while adhering to guidance about contact, capacity and social distance.
And that brings us to today. Consumers are expecting more of their preferred brands to compel them from the safety of their homes. Not surprisingly, for the past holiday season, you saw retailers offering virtual visits with Santa, remote classes for baking holiday cookies, and personalized in-store appointments. And what do they have in common?
- Each engagement is personalized for the shopper.
- Each is built for maximum safety and social distancing.
- Each is a true experience.
- At the heart of each experience is an appointment.
Whether it’s booking a time to meet one-on-one with a personal shopper to have a more efficient shopping experience, or it’s booking a time to enter a store and be notified while you wait in the comfort of your car, it’s all part of an experience. It puts the consumer in control during a time when some feel they have none over their circumstance; it puts them in control of their time and enables them to turn a transaction into a conversation, a delight, and an experience.
We, as consumers — as humans — need experiences more now than ever. As we Zoom into our work, as we Zoom into our school, as we Zoom into weddings and birthdays and baby showers, we crave human connection more than we crave any product or service.
Retailers were already taking us there, but COVID made it happen faster. A world where experiences are more important than things was already coming — and now it's here.
With people living more risk-averse lives, retailers will need to meet consumers where, when and how they want to be met, whether that’s in-store, on the phone or through digital channels, and ensure that those interactions meet, or, ideally, exceed customer expectations. Shoppers are going to want to manage their own journey and make sure they get the most attention. That will be a requirement, a minimum level of service that shoppers will come to expect.
There needs to be as high a level of personal engagement as one can have without contact. As you look for solutions that support you in engaging with customers, think about technologies that truly deliver on the promise of experience.
Nancy Liberman is vice president, marketing at JRNI, the enterprise SaaS scheduling platform for personalizing and optimizing the customer journey.
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