For many customers, shopping has been a uniquely online activity over the last 18 months. At last, they are returning to high streets and malls – but with changed expectations, having got used to their favourite brands understanding and anticipating their needs. A significant proportion may have forgotten that this wasn’t always the case.
Customers are changing
“As channels proliferate from brick-and-mortar, catalogues, and call centres to the Internet and mobile apps, customers tend to not only use multiple channels, but to use them in parallel,” notes leading global management consulting firm Kearney. The result is an omnichannel experience in which shoppers and retailers interact across multiple touchpoints. This could mean comparing specs and prices for electronics products online, and visiting the cheapest, best-informed retailer in person to check picture or sound quality. Or it may be buying clothes online, but returning ill-fitting items to a store, where they can be swapped for more appropriate sizes on the spot.
“Four in ten German shoppers prioritise purchases by whether the retailer allows online orders to be exchanged or returned in-store and a third look for in-store collection of goods ordered online,” says Retail Insight Network. “Similarly, nearly one in five (19%) prioritises the ability to return in-store purchases through the post.”
Increasingly, then, real-world stores are acting not only as purchase points, but as physical outposts for websites.
“For retailers, floor-space has become a gateway to ‘show-room’ their products and their brand philosophy to customers, to get to know their clientele better,” says Savills Commercial Research. “It is also, a competitive advantage compared to pure eretailers as ‘Click & Collect’ and ‘Return to Shop’ services have proven to trigger a rise in the average customer basket. Yet, footfall does not always directly translate into in-store sales. According to Ipsos, 70% of shoppers prefer to buy online with retailers that have a ‘brick and mortar’ presence. Hence, the main problem for retailers is that traditional retail metrics paint an unflattering picture of their store performance, which in turn, brings the property cost into question.”
Expectations are changing
Mid-2020 research conducted by Google in the Nordics and Benelux found that physical retail stores remained a crucial part of the shopping experience, even with “shoppers demonstrating an increase in online and channel-agnostic purchase preferences.” As a result, said Frank Smidt, head of retail marketing for Google Northern Europe, retailers must ensure online and offline teams work as a single unit, with shared KPIs. However, he continued, increasing the number of contact points simultaneously increased the number of problems that consumers experienced when shopping. “The majority of pain points were caused by inconvenient user experiences [such as] too little product information, slow customer support response time, lack of product reviews…”
There is no single remedy for each of these problems. However, the more data a brand has to hand, the better, enabling it to present more complete product information, recommend complementary purchases, or track customer histories to provide enhanced after-sales care.
Data strategies are changing
Performing well – as consumers expect – across every touchpoint therefore relies on relevant, accurate and timely data.
“Every customer-centric business must adopt a coherent identity strategy across different use cases,” says data consultancy Blue Pi. “Identity lies at the heart of delivering customer experiences and as the customer interacts with the various touchpoints in the organisation, the background needs to be seamless and consistent.”
Gathering customer data at each interaction, whether that’s a real-world purchase, or simply online browsing, is essential, and as hybrid shopping becomes the norm, it will require significant thought on the part of retailers.
“The success of your brand is based on the experience of your customers across multiple channels,” notes eCommerce Germany. To build a superior and consistent experience, you have to understand how your customers behave online and offline, their buying preferences, the kind of events that trigger purchases etc. The offline and online data can be used together to get the whole picture of the shopper’s profile.”
Shopping is changing
Browser cookies, in-store beacons, device IDs and loyalty programmes can all help, but consumers are becoming more aware of the value of their personal data, and reluctant to give it away without reward. Brands that want to build a comprehensive view of each shopper, actual or potential, must therefore devise a compelling proposition in exchange.
“Provided the business is transparent and responsible with how it uses that data, this creates an ongoing value exchange between company and consumer,” says Google’s Noah Samuels. “The consumer gets something of value, and the company learns more about their audience – allowing them to deliver better experiences and more effective marketing through the use of the first-party data.”
In many cases, going beyond the basics may even attract friends and family of potential shoppers to more ambitious omnichannel operations. US department store Neiman Marcus is deploying so-called memory mirrors at stores, comprising a camera and screen delivering 360-degree views of clothing as customers try it on. Moreover – and perhaps more importantly – it allows them to set up an account, so they can log in and browse past try-ons, and create eight-second videos, in Neiman Marcus clothing, to be saved on their mobile device, emailed, or shared on social media.
In the era of the online influencer, this sounds like a great way to access the contacts locked up in a shopper’s phone, even if the store doesn’t have access to that data itself. By turning potential customers into brand ambassadors, it’s using smart omnichannel processes to reach a far wider audience than it could on its own.
Speak to Worldpack about how we use data to help you understand changing consumer trends and streamline your GNFR procurement for both the short and long term.