Eighty years after the classic movie "Casablanca" made its debut, lyrics from the film’s signature song still ring true today — “the fundamental things in life apply, as time goes by.”
I think of this every time there’s another story about the ways that retail shopping habits have been impacted by digital technologies and, over the past year, the COVID-19 pandemic. To be sure, there have been many changes. But we can’t lose sight of a fundamental task for retailers: we need to keep the customer satisfied. Regardless of the era or circumstances, they want and deserve exceptional service.
COVID-19 will continue to impact shopping patterns as we move through 2021. There’s no way of knowing what impact new variants will have and how long it will take for widespread immunizations to slow transmission of the virus. The pandemic accelerated consumer online shopping numbers, but it’s essential not to discount the importance of the in-store experience. The vast majority of sales are still made in person. In fact, even during the height of COVID-19, online spending still only accounted for $1 in $5 of retail spending.
In retail, delighting customers remains the pinnacle of importance. To this end, a seamless shopping experience is priority No. 1. In fact, customers are willing to pay more for services and features that reduce friction in the shopping experience. This year, top shopping priorities for the customer include:
- broad inventory that enables one-stop shopping;
- local delivery direct to a customer’s doorstep;
- incentives and membership rewards; and
- Hybrid shopping models such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS).
Before proceeding, it should be noted that curbside pickup and BOPIS grew by an astounding 500 percent in 2020. But it’s not enough to simply offer BOPIS and curbside pickup. In-store availability must be accurate. Filtering products must be simple. Pickup times must be convenient. Order fulfillment must be timely. Retailers that are focused on their BOPIS and curbside pickup offerings will continue to realize impressive results.
Now, a word about personalization. The best customer experience is personalized to the user and provides the appropriate brand presence across channels. The touchpoints in the consumer journey must create a unified experience — whether in-store, online, or somewhere in between.
A word of caution before going further. “Personalization” is subjective and it’s easy to cross the line that separates helpful from annoying (or creepy). Amassing massive amounts of customer data to create a comprehensive view of the customer’s preferences and experiences brings with it the responsibility of managing that data properly. Retail marketers need to remember that consumers often find personalized emails, direct messages, and push notifications neither accurate nor relevant. It may sound simple, but this is a good time to take off your marketing hat and apply the “golden rule” test. If you or a family member received the messages that your company sends out, would you find them helpful and in good taste, or are they repetitive and intrusive?
Creating an omnichannel experience for the consumer that takes into account their activity and preferences across all channels is no easy task. Every touchpoint must be included, whether it’s in-store, through an app, or online. Real-time data from all these sources is the key to success. A retailer’s ability to access and leverage a 360-degree view of customer data from both online and offline channels and marry that with real-time inventory data makes it possible to deliver the kind of experiences that keep the customer coming back for more.
Customer data platforms (CDPs) are being used throughout the retail industry to enable retailers to satisfy customer demands, both online and in-store. When tied to real-time inventory and integrated with shippers, CDPs can facilitate a frictionless shopping experience. They also can support post-purchasing nurturing and help optimize future marketing efforts.
By understanding customer behavior across channels, retailers can ensure that every interaction with your brand enhances customer satisfaction. And by always remaining focused on customer satisfaction, retailers will boost short-term sales and build brand loyalty that will last far beyond 2021.
Tom Treanor is the global head of marketing at Arm Treasure Data, an enterprise customer data platform.
Related story: The Value of Customer Experience