The Evolution of Customer Experience Management in Retail
Over the past year, the shift to e-commerce has accelerated across nearly every industry sector. As customers relied heavily on digital channels, brands needed to create meaningful customer experiences with shoppers through a screen. What consumer behaviors and expectations have changed, and how can retailers and brands adapt?
Factors Influencing Customer Loyalty Changed
During the height of the pandemic, many consumers stepped outside their comfort zones when it came to brand loyalty, abandoning favorite brands in favor of convenience or health and safety. This impacted loyalty to stores and loyalty to brands within stores. This was especially true for essential goods, but was also a side effect of choosing a retailer for accessibility and services vs. price or assortment. Loyalties became less important for consumers in a convenience-focused, e-commerce mindset.
As shopping begins to more closely resemble pre-pandemic life, some consumers may revert to their old favorites, but there are behavioral changes that will stick. Brands should look across retailers and channels to understand where their sales are happening and how that has shifted over time. They should evaluate what e-commerce experiences those retailers offer customers and determine what they, as a partner, can do to influence them.
Customers Expect More From Online Experiences
The convenience of digital shopping is often at odds with the enjoyable exploration aspect of an in-person shopping experience. Large online stores have so much assortment that browsing without a specific item in mind can be unpleasant. Consumers are yearning for exciting, personalized experiences they can enjoy from home.
Many retailers tested new technology to meet customers’ needs, like virtual stores and livestream shopping channels. Retailers should keep exploring digital opportunities that recreate the magic of in-store shopping while bringing curated inventory to customers. Brands can partner with retailers to build that curated assortment, and retailers can use first-party data to bring relevant experiences to specific customer segments.
How Brick-and-Mortar Brands Should Think About the Future
Rethinking customer experiences shouldn’t be limited to online channels. Retailers can also elevate their brick-and-mortar experience by incorporating new digital elements. In-store digital screens, for example, can deliver a more physical experience while providing continuity with digital marketing efforts.
Retailers should work to establish similar connection points between brands and customers. These elements can be part of a retailer’s retail media network (RMN) offering and provide value for brands and retailers alike, giving brands a new touchpoint with shoppers and giving retailers an incremental revenue stream. Consumers also benefit from a new way to learn about brands that are relevant to them.
The Role of RMNs in Customer Experiences
Beyond digital in-store interactions, a RMN allows retailers and brands to engage with shoppers in new ways. With a RMN, brands can make customer connections that might not be available via other channels. For example, services like buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS) give brands a new customer touchpoint during a commerce moment. Brands can then access BOPIS data from the RMN to gain valuable insights while increasing sales and share within stores. Regardless of where the customer is, RMNs can help brands better reach their target audiences.
The pandemic increased use of digital platforms and created a need for reimagined experiences to keep shoppers engaged. While the pandemic accelerated this shift, changes in customers’ needs and expectations will remain. Brands and retailers that recognize the value of these experiences and continue to evolve both online and in-store shopping journeys will stay ahead of the competition.
Megan Cameron is the vice president of new stream media at Merkle, a leading technology-enabled, data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company.
Related story: How Retailers Can Prepare for Disruption From COVID-19
Megan Cameron is the Vice President of New Stream Media at Merkle, a leading technology-enabled, data-driven customer experience management (CXM) company that uses data, technology, and analytics to help the world's best brands make their advertising more addressable, their experiences more personal, and manage relationships over time.