Digital Retail Needs a Human Focus Now More Than Ever
Recent weeks have brought unprecedented change into all our lives. Most of us are spending more time at home and less time engaging with others in social and work settings. We're restricting trips to stores to just essentials, and that reduces our social exchanges even more.
The face-to-face human interactions that made up the fabric of our lives are absent, and we're feeling a profound sense of loss because of that new reality.
COVID-19 has forced us to adapt and change our day-to-day behaviors. As social creatures, many people have found this situation challenging. This new scenario has led many to rely on online shopping. In fact, a recent survey found that the number of retail shoppers reporting online purchases grew nearly 35 percent year-over-year.
For retailers, this uptick in online buying is a bright spot in the COVID-19 storm — and an opportunity. As we work to ramp up our digital focus, we can help provide some of the social exchanges website visitors are craving — digitally.
Bringing a Human Focus to Digital Retail
Think about the differences between shopping in stores and online. When you visit a store, you can see and touch the products you're considering. You can also have a conversation with an associate when you need one. If you need support, you can talk to someone and get answers. The experience is human, personal, and conversational.
Typical online experiences are much more anonymous. When you visit an e-commerce site, you find an extensive product portfolio and detailed specs. These features can be useful — or they can feel overwhelming. And finding genuine and personalized help is often difficult.
Imagine a different digital experience, one where a real-time conversation with a human being is just a click away. A shopper can reach out with questions, express frustrations, or seek reassurance. Even if they don't buy, shoppers can feel like they were treated like a human being, not a number. They can feel heard and supported. And they're more likely to remember the experience and associate positive feelings with your brand.
The truth is, your customers want more human interaction in your digital channels. One survey found that 70 percent of people would prefer to engage with a human instead of chatbot online. And that was before COVID-19. No doubt, today's era of social distancing has made us all desire more human connection and more empathy.
Putting People First in the COVID-19 Era ... and Beyond
It's impossible for any of us to know what lies ahead, but one thing is certain: we can expect a new normal. For retailers, that means a shift in mind-set is necessary. We can't cling to outmoded, business-as-usual practices and expect the same results. It's time to change, whether we feel ready or not. This isn't new news, really. We've all known that customers want more from us and have seen digital adoption steadily climb.
However, COVID-19 has taught us that the everyday interactions we take for granted are immensely valuable. We miss them. Retailers have the power to fill those needs for human connection with their digital customers.
Businesses spent the first weeks of the COVID-19 crisis in reactive mode. They had policies and budgets to evaluate, and had to make swift operational changes. Now it's time to look ahead and envision the next chapter in retail.
We can't go backward, but we can center our business around what matters most — human connection and relationships. We can view customers as people, and make genuine listening and empathy a priority.
The brands that embrace the need for human connection can weather the COVID-19 storm and emerge stronger on the other side. We can recognize the important roles we play in customers' lives. And that can bring a brighter future for all of us.
Terrence Fox is director of strategy at iAdvize, the only conversational platform dedicated to building genuine relationships at scale.
Terrence Fox is Director of Strategy at iAdvize, the only conversational platform dedicated to building genuine relationships at scale.
As a semi-professional endurance athlete, I thrive in challenging environments and live to push boundaries. To say this attitude spills over into my work would be an understatement. My time as a trusted consultant for worldwide Hospitality Executives at TripAdvisor and marketing innovator for global Enterprises at HubSpot created a fascination with brand saliency and consumer perception.
2020 has tasked retail brands with differentiating through unique experiences, and I’m excited to run this race with you.