Throughout the last decade, bricks and mortar retailers have had to battle fiercely against online powerhouses, like Amazon, for the attention of consumers. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), internet sales have risen steadily as a proportion of all retail sales, from 9% in 2010 to 21.5% in 2019. This year, likely driven by the pandemic, that figure has leapt to 32.8%.

With this shift towards online shopping and the growing importance of customer experience (CX), Leanne Docherty, Account Director at Paragon Customer Communications, explains how leading brands are seeking the next differentiator in this ever-changing market.

Keeping ahead of the curve

CX has become increasingly important for brands. Consumers are highly attracted to brands that provide easy and convenient ways to shop and communicate. They want personalised recommendations and offers, simple and quick ways to communicate with brands via their preferred channels and a seamless shopping experience, whether in-store or online.

Putting omnichannel shopping and communications into place, however, requires two things: data and the infrastructure to support its use. Together, these enable brands to understand what products consumers want, know when they are in stock and offer them to customers who want them at a time they are most likely to buy. What’s more, they can communicate this via the most appropriate channel and at the most opportune times.

Establishing this kind of digital transformation is not without its barriers. Its implementation can require internal change that doesn’t always go without opposition. Departmental silos will need removing so that data can be unified and the customer journey mapped. At the same time, some manual tasks may become automated, changing the role of employees or requiring them to learn new skills.

Managing IT and making use of the insights that data provides will also require expertise that might not be available in-house, while the procurement, management and integration of different platforms and suppliers might prove challenging. To overcome this, many brands find it more effective to work with a single communications partner that provides bespoke, end to end solutions that utilise advanced technology to deliver communications that the modern consumer demands and which drive growth.

Progressive technologies

The increasingly blurry line between the realms of offline and online shopping is encouraging more bricks and mortar stores to adopt new technologies in order to stay relevant. With the right technologies in place, they can go beyond the basic requirement of having separate online and physical outlets, combining the two to offer customer-friendly services like click and collect. 

The latest technologies drive progressive change in how retailers communicate with and engage customers to improve CX. The most advanced retail chatbots, for example, can answer customer queries instantly, initiate conversations to generate leads and provide personalised recommendations based on the customer’s shopping and browsing history. So, too, can voice-activated virtual assistants which can be accessed not only on smart speakers in the home, but in-store via apps on mobile phones or even on wearables.

Indeed, in 2019, over a third of users showed interest in using voice to research and buy products, rising to 43% for younger consumers and 45% for individuals from households with an income of over £75K.

During the lockdown, these technologies enabled brands to offer drive-through shopping, keeping physical stores in operation while shoppers were not allowed in the store. Customers could find out in real-time whether items were in stock, place an order en-route and collect from the car park.

Following the reopening, other stores began to implement voice-activated merchandising that users could interact with hands-free in order to increase safety. Both of these are advancements that will continue to offer enhanced CX long after the pandemic is over.     

The latest development is the smart speaker with integrated screen, for instance the Amazon Echo Show. These devices combine the ease of use of voice activation while enabling the customer to see the product that has been recommended. The chief benefit for retail is that this overcomes the barrier of consumers not wanting to pay for products, especially high-value items, without seeing them first. With higher income consumers more likely to make purchases using voice, this kind of device is particularly useful for improving CX.     

The increasing variety of ways in which customers use digital technology to communicate, interact with and buy from brands makes it all the more important for bricks and mortar stores to adopt advanced communications platforms that embrace these technologies. Working with an experienced communications partner can help overcome many of the barriers to adoption, provide both the expertise and the infrastructure required, accelerate deployment and reduce costs.

As retail enters a new digital frontier, those brands that are able to effectively integrate intuitive technology into their multi-channel marketing strategies have a distinct opportunity to deliver compelling customer experiences that bridge the gap between online and offline shopping experiences, and capitalise on the growth of online sales. Particularly relevant as e-commerce sales are predicted to grow a further 5% by 2021, meaning they will soon make up 17.5% of total global retail sales.

To see how Paragon Customer Communications can inaugurate the next phase of your multi-channel communications strategy, and support the transition to genuinely intuitive customer experiences, visit: www.paragon-cc.co.uk