Consumers today have seemingly endless retail options. Beyond price, product and delivery options, shoppers can choose how they communicate with their favorite brands, whether that’s through a voice assistant, chatbot, Facebook Messenger, etc. A recent study by Narvar revealed that shoppers are indeed choosing a combination of these channels and expect that brands use them to reach out in proactive, personalized and emotionally intelligent ways. These shifts in expectations are impacting customer loyalty. In fact, Accenture found that 51 percent of shoppers are loyal to brands that communicate with them through their preferred channels.
In this age of constant connection, information overload and infinite choice, brands must do more than offer rewards programs and discounts to build trust and retain customers. Brands must differentiate themselves by building relationships with customers, providing thoughtful communications and proactive care.
Here are a few of the trends that are influencing this shift and what it all means for retailers.
Voice Shopping is Here, and it Impacts the Entire Shopping Experience
Voice-controlled artificial intelligence (AI) is going mainstream; 39 million American adults now own a smart speaker like a Google Home or Amazon Echo, and voice shopping is expected to generate more than $40 billion by 2022. The Narvar study found that voice device ownership and voice shopping both nearly doubled over a six-month period. And it’s not just millennials who are shopping via voice; device owners between the ages of 45 and 60 use them to shop even more than their younger counterparts.
This change in shopping behavior involves much more than just search. While research is the most popular use case at this point, nearly a third of shoppers are using voice to track their packages. Voice offers brands a way to build loyalty with their customers by providing predictive experiences and proactive updates.
My advice for brands is to plan for this behavioral change now by getting inspiration from brands that are innovating in this space, like Starbucks and 1-800-Flowers. Think about how you can best leverage the strengths of voice shopping. While it’s not the easiest channel for product discovery, voice lends itself to sending order updates and communicating about the status of returns. In the future, you might recommend the products you know your customers have already bought and rated highly, particularly if they’re replenishable (e.g., cosmetics, household goods).
Shoppers Expect Proactive Updates More Than Ever Before
As shopping behaviors evolve, so too are consumers’ expectations for proactive updates about the status of their orders. Our study found that 83 percent of shoppers expect regular updates, while only 8 percent say they’re getting too many notifications about their purchases.
While it’s clearly important to prioritize proactive communication, be thoughtful about the channels, frequency and content of your messages. Seek permission to communicate with shoppers through multiple formats, using your own data and industry trends to understand how segments of your customers prefer to interact.
One such trend is that more shoppers are getting comfortable with chatbots, even if they aren't a replacement for human support. Narvar found that the number of people who said they “don’t like bots” decreased from 35 percent to 14 percent over a six-month period.
Make sure you’re considering the best application of bots and other AI technologies where they can add the most value — e.g., provide information quickly and fulfill simple transactional requests. When you get the balance right, you can free up your human customer support reps to handle more complex, sensitive and high-value interactions.
Transparency About Tracking and Delivery Drives Loyalty
Consumers increasingly value effortless commerce, which includes accurate package tracking and a painless delivery experience. Fifty-four percent of shoppers say they’ll absolutely give repeat business to a retailer that can accurately predict when their package will arrive; nearly as many (53 percent) won’t buy something if they don’t know when it will arrive. Exceed your customers’ expectations for proactive communication by providing return package tracking and timely updates about their refund status.
It’s never been more important for brands to build long-term relationships with customers. With the emergence of new channels, technologies and consumer options, it’s also never been so complicated. Your customers expect online shopping to be personalized, proactive and effortless. If those expectations aren’t met, they’ll bring their business elsewhere.
To build the foundations of true customer loyalty, communication is key. Understand what your customers expect from your brand and make sure you’re delivering.
Amit Sharma is the CEO of Narvar, a company that helps retailers deliver premium post-purchase experiences.
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