Exceptional Customer Experience Never Goes Out of Style
Before the rise of e-commerce, success in retail was driven by customer service, including interactions between store associates and customers. A hallmark of mom-and-pop shops, close relationships between associates and customers enabled a highly personalized level of service that drove sales and retailer loyalty. Yet, with the emergence of big-box retailers, shopping centers and eventually e-commerce, this level of personalization became outdated. Instead, consumers were offered access to more inventory than they ever imagined as well as the ability to shop discounted goods. For a while, this appeared to be the new standard of retail.
However, in recent years, consumer behavior has shifted yet again. Today’s shoppers are looking for more than just sale promotions. In our digital-first world, consumers want personalized experiences across their digital channels. This includes shopping options that are convenient for them with real-time and intelligent customer service to support them every step of the way. To match the demand for seamless omnichannel experiences, retailers must go all-in on unified commerce solutions that optimize the entire buying journey.
Optimized Customer Journeys Increase Margins
The race to truly understand the customer has become paramount in a world where stores are becoming micro-fulfillment centers, manufacturers are selling direct to consumer, and delivery must be fast and free. As stores are added to the fulfillment network in order to respond to competition from e-commerce giants, the ability of retailers to deliver personalized experiences to their customers becomes even more complex.
We’ve seen the explosion of new fulfillment channels, including buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS); ship from store; and curbside pickup. Initially, retailers scrambled to patch together multiple, disparate legacy systems to meet this growing demand. However, these quick fixes are costly and unreliable. Furthermore, they have no chance to scale to support significant volume. When it only takes one negative experience to turn a customer away, there's no room for error.
Retail leaders have already begun the pivot to systems that are built for the way consumers shop today and adaptable to the way they will shop tomorrow. Those who have gone all-in on omnichannel and optimized their customer journeys across both the physical and digital space are seeing substantial improvements in their margins. In fact, a recent survey found that doing so can increase margins by up to 8 percent. Yet, despite the demand and the opportunity to significantly boost margins, fewer than one in three retailers have optimized their systems for seamless omnichannel fulfillment experiences like BOPIS.
Insight to Deliver Exceptional Experiences
The key to successful experiences is real-time access to actionable customer insights — i.e., the ability to know the buyer. Since customers don't appreciate a one-size-fits-all shopping experience, the support they receive needs to be fluid and tailored. That can only be delivered by having the right data on purchase history and interactions, along with accurate back-end data on inventory and availability. Equipped with this data and intuitive connected commerce tools, customer-facing teams, both in-store and remotely, can proactively provide exceptional customer service and support, resolving issues before they become problems. Sales associates with insight into customer tendencies and preferences can better anticipate needs and offer more personalized recommendations. Associates are empowered to deliver a mom-and-pop shop experience without having ever met a customer before. This creates trust and brand loyalty.
For retailers to stay competitive, they must focus on personalizing the customer shopping experience. This means delivering seamless and successful customer journeys each and every time they shop. While it sounds simple, many retailers are still struggling, jeopardizing margins and customer loyalty along the way. It takes optimized systems specifically built for the way we shop today to be successful. Customer expectations for the promise of more personalized shopping are going to continue to escalate. And for retailers, it’s time to focus on delivering on those promises, and do so profitably.
Chris Shaw is director of product marketing and analyst relations at Manhattan Associates, a technology leader in supply chain and omnichannel commerce.
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