Seven months on and, for most brands, online sales are still rising while the overall retail landscape is challenged with plenty of uncertainty. Travel restrictions remain in place, lockdowns are lifting and returning, and the need to wear masks in indoor spaces is contributing to a marked decline in physical footfall. This is resulting in a permanent shift in customer behavior towards increased digital purchases. However, it doesn't mean that the role of the physical store is dead.
While this pandemic has given rise to — or accelerated — a number of emerging trends that are redefining the “retail experience,” those brands that are able to quickly deploy digital capabilities to service new and existing customers in transformative ways, both online and in-store, will be better positioned to have a successful holiday season. Those that don’t adapt will expire.
The Rise of Live Commerce
Appointment-based commerce and virtual consultations are on the rise. They deliver a high-touch personalized customer experience online that has been typically reserved for in-store customers and luxury brands.
The requirement is for much more than a simple Zoom, FaceTime or WhatsApp call. While point solutions may meet the immediate need of connecting virtually with your customer, if you have to piece together a number of different data points post-interaction, then the customer journey is disjointed.
More importantly, if the customer books an appointment or a video consultation and the brand doesn't know who she is, then it's missing out on connecting with the customer both pre- and post-appointment.
Innovative digital and retail teams recognize the power of personalized follow-ups and inspiring the next sale. There's a need to connect the dots from consultation through commerce to deliver a live transactional capability. The metrics speak for themselves:
- 70 percent to 80 percent of appointments are completed with limited no-shows;
- conversion from appointment to sale is high (60 percent to 75 percent); and
- follow-ups post-appointment are resulting in repeat sales within seven days to 15 days.
The Importance of Human Connection
Most brands underestimate the power of human connection and the huge value customer-facing teams can provide to inspire and nurture customers. There's often a feeling of doubt, and even mistrust, among some brands that their staff simply wouldn't be able to represent the brand effectively or intelligently.
The simple fact is that if a brand has stores, then its website must also be a door to the store. Having well-trained, well-equipped, motivated and informed employees that can service your digital customers with real-time clienteling is an absolute advantage and is no longer the sole remit of luxury stores.
The important thing to consider is that the relationship between people, customers and employees should never be robotic or automated. It's all about two human beings interacting with each other. There's absolutely no substitute for personal contact with a well-informed sales person, whether that person sits in a store, a call center or at home.
Supporting High-Peak Periods During Uncertain Times
Peak periods won't provide the perfect opportunity to make up for lost revenue if brands haven’t positioned themselves to meet new consumer expectations.
Brands will need to ensure that their store or dark store teams are able to service both the physical and digital customer and provide added value through high-touch, contactless digital capabilities. This approach is quite transformative and requires brands to invest in enabling technology that not only meets immediate requirements to book an appointment, start a video call or live chat, but also allows brands to connect and build lasting customer relationships, drive sales across channels, and safely serve customers who want to visit a store in person.
There's an enormous opportunity for those brands that respond positively to what's essentially very much an unknown customer demand. Customers will browse, engage and purchase across multiple touchpoints. This isn't new, but what is emerging is the need for deeper union of online and physical experiences and the need to be able to provide a seamless experience at any point within the journey. If brands get this right now, the 2020 holiday season may very well be the best ever for consumer experience.
Cathy McCabe is the CEO of Proximity Insight, a global leader in clienteling and assisted selling that helps brands to get closer to their customers, both in person and virtually.
Proximity Insight CEO Cathy McCabe has spent her entire career in global retail and as an innovator in technology. She is passionate about bridging the gap between digital and physical experiences by connecting, inspiring and nurturing businesses and their customers. Cathy started her career on the shop floor with W.H.Smith and Arcadia and moved from stores to retail operations to tech. Cathy was previously CIO at Jaeger and VP of Customer Technology and Payments at Burberry.