It wasn’t long ago that running out of a key ingredient for dinner meant rushing to the market, hoping for a short line, and getting home in time to get the food on the table. Just a few years ago, shopping for something more personal, like a watch, took you to every jewelry store in the mall. Now, there are apps that can bring you cumin within an hour, and hundreds of online stores where you can find a rose gold, square-face timepiece in your price range. The goods come to you with the tap of a keyboard or a question to a voice-activated assistant. You can get what you want faster and more easily than ever, and retailers deliver with increasing speed.
While endless choice and instant gratification are nice, these developments come with tradeoffs. You miss the tactile satisfaction of the weight of a new coat and the boost of confidence you get from a helpful salesperson.
And we do mourn this loss as consumers, with 75 percent of shoppers saying they want more human interaction in the future, not less. More than half of us (53 percent) believe encounters with knowledgeable, helpful salespeople give us more satisfaction than tech-enabled experiences like personalized offers or in-store screens.
What’s a retailer to do in this increasingly digitized world? Follow the lead of Nordstrom, Dollar Shave Club, and REI, retailers that are walking the tightrope between providing effortless experiences and creating an emotional connection with their customers.
Be the Expert Your Customers Need
Live chat is one way to offer a digital shopping experience with a side of human connection. When shopping online, Nordstrom customers who want the latest on collections from top brands can chat with a designer specialist. Looking for a makeup consultation? Chat with a beauty stylist. Nordstrom is meeting its customers where they are, offering one-to-one, personalized guidance that builds brand affinity and loyalty.
Lead With Personality
Brands that speak the language of their ideal customer reap the reward of an emotional connection with their buyers. Few do it better than Dollar Shave Club, an irreverent brand that delivers grooming products with a head tilt, dry wit and a few curse words. The brand appeals to the man who wants to stay fresh without a lot of fuss or muss. Dollar Shave Club's blog answers the question “How Much Should I Tip My Barber?” and warns of “The Self-Destructive Psychology of ‘Dude Food’.” If Dollar Shave Club members need more help, club pros are on call via email, phone, text, social media or chat.
Connect to Something Bigger
REI sells gear to adventurers who see the outdoors as their playground. The brand's commitment to the environment doesn’t end with product messaging. REI backs it up by donating millions each year to conservation efforts and empowering both employees and customers to give back to “the trails, slopes and waterways where we play.” The retailer also upholds sustainable business practices and is working toward zero landfill waste by 2020.
In this digitized world, it’s easy for retailers to prioritize technology over emotional connection at the expense of the customer experience. But tech and humanity need not be mutually exclusive. By offering personal help and expertise, investing in content that speaks to your customers, and communicating your values and purpose, retailers can build long-lasting relationships with their customers that inspire loyalty beyond the moment of instant gratification.
Amit Sharma is the founder and CEO of Narvar, a company that helps retail brands deliver premium post-purchase experiences.
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