From Hybrid Working to Hybrid Retail
The past year has been one of adaptation, survival and rapid digital transformation for retailers both online and in-store. Innovation in retail has always been driven by the needs and expectations of consumers, but if the customer’s influence was ever in doubt, the pandemic has put it safely beyond question. Today’s customers are looking to personalize and tailor their shopping experiences like never before, not just as a luxury, but in pursuit of safer, more convenient, and more meaningful interactions with the brands they love.
In October, JRNI surveyed 1,000 U.S. and 1,000 U.K. consumers to understand the current effects of COVID-19 on shopping behaviors — and what this means for retailers. As consumers continue to navigate difficult terrain in the wake of the pandemic, they’re leaning on technology more and more to help them retain the parts of the shopping experience they love and discard the parts they don’t. Customers want human interaction, quality service, and despite the pandemic, they still want to visit stores in person. Crucially though, they want to enjoy these things on their terms.
It therefore falls to retailers, as ever, to cater to their customers’ needs and present them with the ability to confidently take control over their own shopping experiences.
What are three key steps for retailers to do this?
- Be willing to meet customers more than halfway. Excellent service has long been the cornerstone of retail. Until recently, that service stopped at the store floor, but now it extends into customers’ everyday lives. While many of us hope that long waits and social distancing won’t be necessary this winter, retailers should already be making provisions in case it happens, giving their customers the option to pre-book appointments so they don’t have to worry about standing in lines or contracting the virus in a crowded store.
- Build a truly omnichannel experience and give control to customers. Even physical stores can start shaping and enhancing the customer experience long before they show up to purchase something. Offering virtual viewings, augmented shopping experiences, pre-order facilities, buy online/pick up in-store (BOPIS), and the ability to book in-store appointments can have a huge impact on how customers identify with a brand. JRNI’s research has shown that one in five consumers think the ability to book in-store appointments equates to better service, and a third say it shows a retailer is taking their customers' safety seriously.
- Be human and offer a meaningful experience. Online shopping may have soared during the pandemic, but more than two-thirds of consumers say in-store shopping features highly in their plans for the coming months. Even among those looking to combine online and offline shopping, or shop almost exclusively online, a majority say that connecting with another human is still a core part of the shopping experience. That means online retailers are going to have to work hard to create virtual experiences that closely mimic the in-store experience, with virtual appointments and viewings that are tailored to individual customers’ interests. And let’s not forget, physical stores should be looking to add meaning and creativity to their in-store experience with online features and technology that make the customer feel like the center of their own universe.
Just as some elements of hybrid working are likely to outlast the pandemic, “hybrid retail” is also likely to become a permanent fixture in the years to come. Technology that bolsters consumers’ engagement and trust will continue to play an essential role in helping retailers to sustain and supplement the shopping experience customers want now and well into the future.
Kelly Weaver is vice president of product at JRNI, an enterprise appointment scheduling platform.
Related story: Appointments: The Heart of Experiences