Retail sales finished strong in 2019, registering a 3.4 percent increase over 2018. Until recently, experts were predicting a robust performance in 2020 as well, with projections of 3.5 percent growth or more. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many retailers to close their doors in response to calls from public officials for people to stay home and avoid crowds. Now more than ever, a focus on customer experience is imperative as retailers adjust their operations to a new world where consumers are sheltering in place and only engaging with brands via digital channels.
For retailers, this means that the path to becoming digital is no longer a choice, it’s a need.
Here are some strategies retailers can leverage to maintain strong relationships with their customers while the world and economy adjust to today’s new normal.
'Digitally Driven' Takes New Meaning
In 2019, consumers were unforgiving when it came to expectations of digital performance, with 54 percent placing a higher value on digital interactions with brands than physical interactions. In the current climate, online shopping is the only kind of retail therapy consumers can get, and brands need to think critically about the first impression they're making across their websites, applications and social media channels — while ensuring their omnichannel experience is flawless from start to finish.
One recent study found that U.S.-based retailers with both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce channels experienced a 52 percent revenue growth rate online between the fifth and eighth weeks of 2020 (Jan. 27 to Feb. 23) — the period when the coronavirus began its rapid spread outside of Asia. Given this staggering rise in online growth, retailers have a lot to lose if their digital performance falls short, with 66 percent of consumers claiming to avoid a brand known for delivering a poor experience.
Your App is Your Brand
Even prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, the retail industry reached a tipping point: consumers were basing their buying decisions on the quality and personalization of the digital services a brand could deliver. Now, digital services are consumers’ solitary shopping lane, and providing a seamless, innovative digital experience is mission critical.
With that, the in-app experience needs to serve as the in-store sales associate, inventory checker, virtual try-on mirror and troubleshooting IT team all in one. Given that the number of consumers claiming they're now more loyal to an app than a brand has doubled over the last two years (46 percent in 2019 compared with 23 percent in 2017), apps are becoming the face of retail brands.
Areas to consider to keep your app's health in check include:
- Tapping into real-time data analytics to understand where issues are occurring for customers in their shopping journey — e.g., when they click to view full product details, lagging image load times that are causing the app to crash, or the point-of-sale system freezing when the customer goes from their shopping cart to checkout.
- Leveraging artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning to identify root causes the moment problems arise and automatically remediating them, saving IT teams time and resources that could be spent creating new application features.
- Using critical application performance monitoring (APM) tools to access the overall view of the user experience and prioritize issues that have the highest impact on business outcomes.
Compassion is Your New Bottom Line
The effects of this truly unique start to the year will inevitably reverberate throughout the rest of 2020. The best thing retailers can do during this time is:
- ensure the digital experiences customers do have are flawless; and
- make sure brand communications are supportive and sensitive to their customers’ needs.
During this pandemic, high-performing applications will make the difference in consumers being able to get the resources they need for their families. Companies that prioritize not only their digital performance but also the emotional needs of their customers during this trying time are more likely to earn the long-term trust and loyalty of consumers for years to come.
Steve Long is regional chief technology officer, technology strategy at AppDynamics, an application performance monitoring solution that uses machine learning and artificial intelligence to provide real-time visibility and insight into IT environments.