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2020 – the ultimate learning experience

2020 gave us a lot to reflect on – a year of unique, if not entirely positive, experiences which each had one benefit – we had to learn to quickly develop inventive and innovative ways to evolve what we do to meet the requirements of living with a pandemic.

And, as with all life-changing events, the adaptations we have made will have a permanent effect – retailers in particular have made lasting alterations to the customer experience that will ultimately offer more choice and improved service despite the conditions under which they were developed.

Here’s a look at retailers’ key customer experience initiatives over 2020, and what we can expect in the next 12 months:

Safety first

As stores began to reopen after the first lockdown, retailers were forced to look at how they could best serve customers and store associates without compromising on experience. Five main elements drove the ‘first wave’ of store evolution:

  1. Footfall management with virtual queueing and pre-arranged visits
    To help control customer numbers in-store, and make it easy for them to maintain safe distances while they shop
  2. Flexible fulfilment including BOPAK and runner options
    Simple extensions to existing services to immediately reduce contact and lessen risk
  3. Video calls to the customer
    Allowing retailers to confidently ask advisors and store associates to work from home when stores are closed
  4. Integrating contactless concierge consultations and services
    Giving luxury retailers in particular the opportunity to maintain service continuity and offer true VIP treatment delivered to their customer’s door
  5. Colleague tools to deliver a socially distanced yet personalised shopping experience
    This has played an essential part in giving store associates and customers much-needed peace of mind while in-store

Virtual evolution

As it became clearer that what customers really wanted was choice when it came to shopping – the ability to visit stores when it was safe to do so or to engage remotely if they preferred to shop from home – increasing numbers of retailers committed to the concept of virtual consultations as a way to connect with them on their own terms:

  • virtual clienteling and appointments with remote payments so store associates can connect with customers wherever they feel comfortable
  • integrated video consultations with messaging and communications so customers can still enjoy a full range of services tailored to their profile
  • real-time virtual product consultations and basket creation
  • remote payment via SMS link to allow safe payment both in-store and at home

Tomorrow’s world

There’s no doubt that, with the advent of a vaccine bringing a glimmer of hope for the coming year, life will slowly return to normal. But some of the changes in behaviour and the services adapted to meet the needs of customers with concerns above and beyond the purely transactional will be long-lasting.

Now that shoppers are accustomed to having virtual one-to-one relationships with store associates and advisors in the comfort of their home, they are likely to expect this level of interaction to continue, and retailers will be missing out on sales if they don’t make virtual consultations a permanent feature. And customer confidence in remote services will lead to an increase in demand for other innovative experiences delivered to their living room:

One-to-many masterclasses and tutorials with live purchases

Retailers in the beauty sector have been test-driving paid-for masterclasses for a while now, offering discounted shoppable elements as one of the benefits for customers who are happy to pay for a ticket. We can expect retailers to get more creative with these events, making the most of the technology available to deliver an experience which is truly worthy of an entrance fee without the overheads and costs traditionally involved in putting on a ticketed event.

Expanding the boundaries of ‘shopping'

While the physical store undoubtedly still has a role to play, particularly when it comes to big ticket items and specialist purchases, virtual evolution has opened up possibilities for experiential retail which would simply not be possible within the confines of bricks and mortar. The shift in status of store associate towards ‘advisor’ will become more defined, as opportunities for ‘live’ advice and interactive conversations become more apparent outside of the beauty sector. Home improvement stores could offer DIY expertise tailored to specific customer projects, for example, food stores could set up cook-alongs, interior design retailers could offer in-home advice without having to be in the same room as the customer. There are huge opportunities to elevate both the customer experience and the role of the store associate, to the benefit of both.

If the last 12 months have taught us anything, it’s that it is more or less impossible to predict precisely how the future will look. But we can learn from the past – and when it comes to customer experience, 2020 has been quite an education.

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Red Ant, 14th January 2021

Related resource

Customer experience – a virtual evolution

There’s no doubt that the last few months have seen a rapid evolution of the technology that has become central to our lives, helping the majority of us cope with the necessary changes to how we work, rest and play while we’re spending most of our time at home. And shopping is a key part of this.