As consumer expectations continue to rise, retailers are responding by leveraging data, technology, and empowered customer experience professionals to create improved in-store and omnichannel experiences and results.
Greg Melia, CAE
CEO, Customer Experience Professionals Association
Today’s consumers expect retail shopping to provide both great experience and value. Progressive retailers are meeting these challenges by enlisting customer experience professionals to work across their entire organization and its functions to ensure that the retailers meet or exceed their customers’ expectations. These professionals — empowered by a brand commitment to customer-centricity — leverage data, technology, and insight drawn from customer feedback to drive better results for both the retailer and their customers.
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed consumer expectations, creating increased expectations for safety, convenience, and omnichannel integration. Customer-centric retailers understand that many consumers feel more comfortable patronizing businesses that provide a safe, welcoming, hygienic environment and have upgraded their facilities to reflect these priorities. Supply chain disruption has also had an effect. Consumers want straightforward ways to determine what is in stock and a seamless process to complete the purchase.
While there are times when speed and ease are primary consumer expectations, other retailers are finding success in transforming the buying process from a mere transaction to a value-added interaction. In-store café spaces, demonstration kitchens, and activity centers are just a few examples of how retailers are attracting potential buyers to retail stores, building brand engagement, and keeping shoppers happily in their store for longer periods.
Other advancements include relevant value-add elements such as related accessory recommendations, recipe suggestions, and user communities to help the customer have a wonderful experience using their purchase — and to build a continuing relationship with the retailer.
New consumer monitoring
Leading retailers are going beyond traditional solicited feedback methodologies (such as asking purchasers to complete a post-transaction survey rating their experience) to gather insight on the efficiency and quality of the retail experience. Innovative technologies monitor consumer time-in-store or on a website, and even provide insight into shopper emotion through facial analysis. Many retailers are using sophisticated systems to monitor and evaluate public social media comments to ensure that the brand is aware of shopper perceptions, both positive and critical. Of course, collecting and monitoring this data is just one element. Companies must be prepared to use this information to assist shoppers as close to real-time as possible and to redesign processes when the data uncovers repeated points of friction for consumers.
Preparing for returns
While the aim of a great retail customer experience is to help make a smooth, informed purchase that meets the consumer’s expectations, it is a reality that some purchasers will want to return a product to the retailer. This is always a decisive moment — a point of influence at which the customer’s perception can radically change. A carefully designed customer experience process for returns can meet that challenge with a positive outcome. Progressive retailers are making it easier for purchasers to receive and retain their purchase receipts, understand the return options and process, and evaluate options such as returning an online purchase in-store or via a pre-paid return mailing solution.
Focusing on strategy
To achieve success in this new environment, savvy retailers will hire customer experience professionals and invest in customer-centric technology to lead these transformations across people, processes, and technology. When executive leadership believes in the power of customer experience and empowers their staff to deliver it, businesses and their customers will prosper — together.