As shoppers have grown more tech savvy, their expectations for retailers have increased.
Based on findings from PricewaterhouseCooper’s recent Total Retail 2016 report, customer expectations are soaring, but retailers who don’t meet the new shopping experience standard may see a serious slump in sales as a result. Unfortunately, this has forced some traditional retailers to play catch up with consumer expectations.
Part of that set of ever-changing expectations is for merchants to create an individualized experience just for them — i.e. personalized offers and tailored suggestions based on that specific consumers’ wants and needs.
“With customers changing quickly and expecting retailers to know their needs and habits and provide them with personalized offers and experiences, the question for retailers isn’t whether they need to change — it’s ‘Where to start?’” states PwC’s latest annual report.
That’s why it’s no surprise the research advocates for customer-centric solutions, including customized experiences for shoppers. And while the concept of a personalized shopping experience may sound overwhelming at first, there are a few concrete ways retailers can make the transition from offering a one-size-fits-all experience to a more tailored one.
Influence Customers on Their Terms
Modern consumers don’t differentiate shopping on a brand’s ecommerce site versus their store — they want a cohesive experience no matter where they engage a retailer.
“Customers want a seamless experience that engages them across channels,” says the PwC report. “When it comes to engagement, whether online or in a store, customers want more than products. They want communities they can feel they’re a part of — reinforced by brands they trust to support the lifestyle and experiences they’re looking for.”
“In today's environment, consumers are expecting a much deeper level of personalization,” says Melissa Gonzalez, founder of pop-up retail consultancy firm The Lionesque Group. “Via data collection, brands, and retailers can now truly understand patterns and interests if they truly listen and deliver delightful surprises.”
One of the best ways to provide a cohesive customer experience is by offering the opportunity for your customers to engage with your brand across a variety of physical and digital platforms. And according to the report, the pinnacle of customer engagement platforms is — you guessed it — social media. PwC found that 40% of the surveyed shoppers were heavily influenced after reading product reviews and/or feedback on social media. And that number spikes to 84% for millennial shoppers aged 18-24.
Source: PwC 2016 Total Retail report
In light of the seismic influence social media can have on the buying decisions of customers, these findings underscore the importance of brands building and curating a strong presence on these platforms to meet their customers where they live, regardless of whether that’s Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook, or elsewhere.
To boost your social presence and reach, it may make sense to promote your products via influential bloggers or Instagram influencers. Or try funneling some of your marketing dollars into paid social campaigns like Facebook ads and sponsored posts on Instagram.
Another major part of interacting with customers on their terms is turning the insights and analytics you collect into action. PwC’s survey suggests that retailers should closely examine what they’re currently doing with customer data, and ensure all the dots are being connected between this information across all their retail channels.
Gonzalez cited a number of examples of analytics retailers should follow to deliver a more personalized in-store experience, including where customers shopped last, what they previously purchased, what other websites they’re searching for those products, and what is their motivation to convert (whether it be a sale, free shipping offers, etc.).
As an example, she suggested retailers look to Under Armour for inspiration. The fitness and sportswear brand has created an entire ecosystem of apps for mobile devices, including MapMyFitness to track every run, walk, hike, or gym session; Endomondo for users to motivate their fitness network to reach their goals; and MyFitnessPal as a food diary and nutrition tracker. With thousands of regular users for these apps, UA has a bevy of data on their customers’ habits and wellness lifecycle to help personalize their offerings for each UA apparel customer.
In addition to following analytics from your physical retail presence and digital channels, Total Retail offers two other avenues for retailers to explore to curate a more personalized experience:
- Customize loyalty programs. As we’re all well aware, not all loyalty programs are created equal. So instead of creating a one-size-fits-all loyalty program for your customers, try to personalize your offerings based on the wants and needs of your most loyal customers. Whether that takes form as customized promotions, unique experience in your store, or a tailored email marketing campaign, retailers can get a little more personal with their brand VIPs.
- Examine other digital opportunities, including branded apps, beacon technology, radio frequency identification (RFID) tags, and other such high-tech solutions that can help retailers provide a more cohesive multi-channel experience, digitally connecting your online channels to your in-store shopping experience.
Provide a True Multi-Channel Experience
As aforementioned, offering an multi-channel retail experience plays a crucial role in your ability to customize the shopping experience. While some retailers are still trying to play catch-up to their tech-savvy customers, shop owners can make major strides by taking advantage of their cross-channel shopping behaviors. That’s why it’s important for retailers to take advantage of every potential sales channel.
In the words of PwC’s report: “By ignoring any particular channel, retailers are missing the potential that channel offers within a customer’s unique shopping journey. More importantly, a disconnect within one channel can create customer confusion and potentially alienate customers before they get to the purchasing stage of their journey.”
So not only should retailers look to build a presence across web and mobile channels, it’s important that that experience be cohesive. Don’t just create a great ecommerce experience, a well-designed app, and a beautifully merchandised store — collecting and analyzing customer data is the next step to ensure these efforts have the desired outcome and impact. From there, retailers can assess behaviors across channels and more deeply engage their customers using high-impact methods and tailored experiences.
To accomplish this, retailers can:
- Facilitate a positive cross-channel brand experience. A customer who first browses your products may actually make their purchase in store (or vice versa). The channel where a customer is first exposed to your product isn’t necessarily the same channel where they’ll pull the trigger and buy it. So make it simple and seamless for your customers to move from channel to channel, and your conversion rates with thank you.
- Raise awareness of different channels. This concept boils down to retailers making their customers aware of their various multii-channels shopping options and incentivizing customers to explore new sales avenues.
- Empower your store associates. According to the PwC research, 40% of consumers believe a knowledgeable sales associate would enhance their shopping experience. As such, it’s integral for retailers to give their staff the tools and information needed to personalize and elevate the shopping experience.
- Use data to support cross-channel experiences. Data is a powerful tool that retailers can use to tailor their initiatives to what resonates with their customers. Whether it’s in-store metrics that can help tailor your staff training or analytics to help you provide the right data to your customers online, retailers can encourage consumers to shop across channels when empowered with the right data.
Curate Offerings Tailored to Customer Needs
These days, simply offering a quality product or service isn’t enough for retailers. Creating a lifestyle experience that aligns with the values of your customers is also important for brands, according to the report.
One way retailers can rise above all that white noise and combat consumer overwhelm is to tactically curate their offerings. Limit your offerings to those that truly matter to your shopper and excise any superfluous products from your catalogue.
That translates into personalizing your messaging, offerings, and interactions. In other words, it’s more valuable for retailers to offer the right products rather than ALL the products. With so many offerings available both online and on Main Street, more consumers are suffering from decision fatigue. So, knowing which products or services resonate with your particular target demographic is more important than ever.
While it’s important to ensure your offerings align with your customers’ values, a competitive price is still the primary factor behind buying behavior. What truly lures in customers and keeps them coming back for more? A great deal for their dollar. Of the consumers surveyed, 66% of shoppers said they frequent their favorite retailers because they feel like they’re getting the best bang for their buck.
Although value is a major motivator for buying behavior, retailers also can’t get caught up in the race-to-the-bottom mindset that can come with low prices.
“To be able to compete, it’s necessary for retailers to balance consumer demand for good prices with their ability to provide tailored and personalized experiences,” says the report. “In multi-channel retail, this means taking the information learned from customers during the engage phase of the customer shopping journey and translating it into product offers, incentives and specialized or targeted experiences that highlight their understanding of individual consumers.”
Rather than racing to the bottom, retailers can offer targeted promotions and offers for their customers. According to a 2015 survey titled “Uncovering Truths of Millennial Spending” from Coupons.com Inc., more than 70% of Gen Y shoppers are very or somewhat interested in these types of personalized offers. So, give your customers what they want! Here’s how:
- Collect consumer data. You can use your point-of-sale (POS) system to collect and store valuable information about your customers. Use customer management features to build a comprehensive profile, including buying behavior, a history of previous purchases, and contact info.
- Dive into email marketing. When you’ve collected all those customer emails at checkout, it’s time to make use of them. Based on all that buying behavior data you collected, you can send personalized promotional emails to specific customer groups. Make use of email management software like MailChimp or Campaign Monitor to manage your manage your email lists, create segments (based on geography, purchases, or other parameters), design promotional offers, and deploy them to your targeted customer groups.
- Use location-based media. Beacon technology can deliver ads and promotional offers via push notifications to customers’ smartphones within a certain distance from your storefront. Serving up tailored promotions based on geography can lure shoppers into your shop when they might otherwise pass you by.
Offer Customer-centered Support
This is the final step when retailers turn multi-channel dreams into reality. That often means reorganizing your processes and technology around the needs of the customer for each channel.
For example, the PwC study shows that shoppers highly value stock transparency. Almost 40% of the consumers surveyed said even the ability to check the inventory in other stores would improve their experience. To help boost this kind of transparency, excellent customer service is a crucial ingredient. Empower your store associates to inform consumers about additional stock in storage, or offer to contact other locations about products to be transferred to the store nearest them for pickup (or offer to deliver the product directly to their door, if you offer shipping).
Source: PwC 2016 Total Retail report
Some of this responsibility for customer-centered support also revolves around enabling your customers to shop via their mobile devices. Smartphones and tablets are now significant point-of-purchase tools, with 50% of surveyed consumers aged 18-24 using their devices to check store coupons or promo codes and another 42% comparing competitor prices.
“As retailers transform into true multi-channel organizations, constantly refocusing on the customer experience and improving, enhancing and integrating all elements of the customer shopping journey will be an important part of their long-term success,” concludes the PwC study.
So, to really hone in on creating customer-focused support, here are some things to take into account:
- Encourage multi-channel conversions. Every sales channel is worth pursuing, as every channel a retailer ignores could translate into many missed opportunities. In the words of the PwC research: "The more information, access and exposure a potential customer has to a brand or retailer, the more likely that customer will make a purchase." So, don't dismiss any potential sales channel offhand, whether it be social media, a Facebook store, or a dedicated ecommerce site. That means retailers must embrace technology and leverage it to their advantage.
- Hire and retain solid retail talent. In the world of modern multi-channel retail, your store associates matter more than ever. That means taking the time to vet potential new hires; thoroughly train incoming new employees on your brand, processes, and customer service best practices; and empower your current staff to help them help your customers.
A Final Word
While the concept of a personalized shopping experience may feel overwhelming at first, particularly for smaller retailers, following the above formula can make it far more manageable. Such intrepid, forward-thinking retailers will thrive while other retailers will continue to play catch up.
Have any questions about personalizing your own store’s shopping experience? Share your thoughts in the comments below.