Shoppers of the Future Want More Than Brands Can Give
We live in a “Jetsons”-like reality: robots can deliver our packages, we can place an order through our TV, and everything is available at the click of a button. (Hopefully that doesn’t mean we’re headed toward a “Wall-e”-like reality, too.) But do these so-called “futuristic” features speak to what the modern shopper actually wants from their favorite brands?
According to a new Elastic Path report, The Sci-Fi Shopper: How to Future Proof Your Brand for the New Customer, there’s a disconnect between what shoppers want and what brands deliver. While marketers rate themselves a seven out of 10 in terms of futuristic retail experiences, customers rate the same experiences as a four. Ouch.
A majority of customers (57 percent) also report that brands aren’t doing enough to solve their most common pain points — and they made those pain points loud and clear. More than anything, the sci-fi shopper wants easy tools that save time and money.
So who is the sci-fi shopper? And how can businesses play catch-up to not only meet their needs, but future-proof their brands?
The Sci-Fi Shopper Isn’t Flashy
While today’s customers are open to new experiences and new tools for interacting with brands, they don’t want tech that sounds new and cool, but doesn’t actually do anything. Instead, sci-fi shoppers crave new features that eliminate old pain points like long lines, out-of-stock inventory and long waits for customer service.
Every shopper has had at least one of these throw-up-your-hands moments. How many times have you located an item via the “find it in store” feature on a brand’s website, then arrived at that store only to find the item out of stock? It feels like the brand lied to you.
That’s the kind of problem your brand’s new tech needs to solve if you don’t want to leave sci-fi shoppers frustrated or disappointed. While two-thirds of customers said they would be willing to switch to a new brand that offers a more futuristic experience, the sci-fi shopper’s definition of “futuristic” leans away from buzzy tech like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR) and toward tech that makes the shopping experience fast, simple and convenient.
What your brand needs to do: Prove that your technology improves customers’ day-to-day experiences. Modern shoppers will see right through your company’s trendy tech if any aspect of the shopping experience is burdensome or confusing. Therefore, before you try to sell customers on any new AR or VR experiment, make sure these three basics of your shopping experience are flawless:
- simple sign-in and customer profile management;
- stored addresses and payment details; and
- consistent cross-channel access to purchase history.
The Sci-Fi Shopper Expects Convenience
You probably already knew this one. After all, we live in an Amazon.com-centric commerce world. But how does the sci-fi shopper define convenience vs. their current experience? They’re already using technology that makes their shopping experiences more convenient, but brands aren’t keeping pace. Two-thirds are already using or are likely to use checkout-less payments, a convenience only 18 percent of brands offer. Furthermore, 58 percent of customers order via smart device, which only 25 percent of brands support.
Brands have to shrink this gap if they expect customers to remain loyal. And customers’ expectations are only going to grow. Three-quarters of shoppers expect same-day delivery from all brands to be available within 12 months, while 72 percent expect curbside pickup in the same timeframe. That’s going to require a big investment in staff, tech and training on the part of retailers.
What your brand needs to do: Follow Amazon’s lead on practicality and convenience. America’s relationship with Amazon is complicated, but no one can argue about the retail behemoth’s share of the market. Consumers bought more than 175 million items during this year’s Prime Day sale alone, more than 2018’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday totals combined.
Nearly 80 percent of those who have shopped on Amazon rate the experience at an eight or above on a scale of one to 10. That’s because Amazon customers don’t have to struggle to shop — the site, app and Amazon Go stores are built to make purchasing so easy it feels like shoplifting. While your brand likely doesn’t have a similarly Scrooge McDuck-size budget to spend revamping your entire commerce experience, look for places where you can mimic the best with small test cases.
The Sci-Fi Shopper Wants to Be Treated Like a Valued Customer
Any shopper has faced the frustration of walking into a store where they also have an online account, only to be treated like a total stranger. It’s disjointing and leaves a bad taste in your mouth about how much a brand really values your loyalty.
Instead, a sales associate should immediately see every interaction customers have had with the brand, and seamlessly unify in-store and online experiences. If some of the plates on your wedding registry have been purchased, for example, but not all of them, the store should immediately recall that information the moment you walk in and help you buy the rest — at a discount.
Sephora is one brand that's great with these sorts of interactions. The company’s Beauty Insider program accounts for every purchase a customer has ever made in the history of their relationship with the brand, allowing for easy online and in-store re-ordering, exchanges and returns.
What your brand needs to do: Merge customer data for a unified experience. Siloed data between your marketing department and commerce systems is a guaranteed way to keep your brand in the dark ages. By adopting headless (or API-first) commerce, your brand can quickly integrate capabilities and data points across new environments. Customers don’t see your brand as multiple “channels,” so don’t treat it that way. The majority of marketers already are on board with headless commerce; 64 percent say they plan on using a headless (API-first) commerce strategy. Your brand will fall behind if you don’t join them.
The sci-fi shopper isn’t a futuristic prediction. They’re already here, and they’re ready for an experience that solves their problems. As customers have ever-more competitive retail options, you need to really understand where they buy, what they buy and when they buy to show you care about their needs. You’ll also need to incorporate new tech thoughtfully — don’t start throwing your money behind a fleet of delivery drones just because it sounds like a cool idea. Sci-fi shoppers will roll their eyes and move on to a competitor that actually gets it.
Darin Archer is chief strategy officer at Elastic Path, a digital commerce API for enterprise retailers.
Related story: Headless Commerce and the Future of Retail