Four Pillars of Retail Customer Experience

In this day and age of omni-channel, retail is all about the customer. What the customer needs and demands, how do they research and shop, which channels do they use to interact, what is their opinion about brands and products, what are their interests and preferences, which demographic segment do they belong to, what influences their purchasing, and so on – these are the questions retailers need to seek answers to, so that they are able to understand and serve their customers better. Additionally, since the consumer behavior is dynamic and so is the retail business, the same answers may not hold true every time. Thus there is a need for the retail companies to put in constant efforts so as to be able to keep pace with their consumers’ changing demands.

In order to be able to service their customers to the best of their abilities, retail brands must have a holistic approach in strategizing, conceptualizing, creating and offering experiences that can impress their customers. As such, the shopping experiences must be positive and enriching. There are 4 essential pillars of retail customer experience – personal, mobile, seamless and secure, that retailers need to focus on for optimal results.

Below is an infographic that illuminates the importance of these 4 pillars with some industry statistics that retailers need to pay attention to.

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Applications of AI in Retail

Application of AI driven process in retail will not only help retailers acquire new customers, but also boost repeat business. Increased accuracy in personalized communication to the customers along with tailored recommendations and offers will compel shoppers to strengthen their loyalty as they will begin to associate the retail brand with personalized, relevant experiences. Having realized this, retailers are looking to invest and use AI heavily in this coming year

According to a research, global spending on Artificial Intelligence (AI) in retail is expected to grow nearly fourfold over the next four years, from $2 billion in 2018 to more than $7 billion in 2022. This is expected to happen as retailers look at new avenues to boost their efforts to offer personalized customer experiences. As such, retailers will heavily invest in AI tools that will allow them to differentiate and improve the services they offer to their customers. These tools, ranging from automated marketing platforms that generate tailored and timely offers, to chat-bots or voice assistants that help to provide instant customer service, will be in the radar of retail brands.

Progress in AI and machine learning in the recent years gone by and those to come will be exponential. The combination of AI, cloud, Big Data have already begun the transformation of the retail industry and this will reach new levels in the near future. As AI leverages big data to personalize experiences, retail companies are looking at these applications to garner robust competitive advantages. As per the report, retailers’ spend will be the strongest in the customer service and sentiment analytics area to understand customers’ reactions to the products purchased and the service received, all being possible with the application of AI in analytics. This will prove to be the breakthrough for retailers looking to improve their customer experience.

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AI will also be able to help in actually predicting the purchasing behaviour as well as the needs of in-store customers. This means that sales staff can have this kind of information handy and will therefore have an idea of what a customer is looking to buy before they even ask for help. This will be a huge step in predicting the customers’ needs in advance and being able to serve them aptly thus revolutionizing customer service at the store.

AI driven insights would also be leveraged to not only design new product ranges but also to plan and create marketing and promotional campaigns and offers. Optimizing product pricing and discounting with the help of AI will prove to be beneficial to retailers. Further AI-backed demand forecasting is also increasingly becoming an essential tool for retailers. Understanding customer demand and accurately planning and managing inventory has become critical, especially during mega shopping events such as Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Singles Day and Chinese New Year. Demand forecasting with the help of AI will definitely empower retailers to be prepared for such big events in advance.

Mentioned above are some of the applications of Artificial Intelligence in the retail business and as time progresses, these applications may get further enhanced and there may be new ones that retailers may want to use and fuse into their businesses to further enhance their customer experience across channels.

What’s on retailers’ minds for 2018?

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At the NRF Big Show 2018, retail executives and leaders share the areas they are going to focus on this year. Here are a few things they are working on:

1) Retailers will continue to strive for providing more personalized digital experiences.

When asked for views, executives from Macy’s, Neiman Marcus Group and The Children’s Place clearly stated that personalization would be a big focus for them in 2018. Macy’s is continuing to focus on personalization according to an executive, “The whole concept of personalization is simply on steroids right now. It’s all about the consumer in that one moment in time. We’re doing anything we can do to connect directly with consumers and make shopping convenient for them.”

Retailers have worked on improving personalization for many years but it all boils down to customer experience. As such, providing great customer experiences in 2018 will be the result of blending technology with a more personalized touch.

2) Connecting online and offline store experiences will remain a major focus.

Leading retailers such as Macy’s and The Children’s Place are still fervent on ‘omni-channel retail’. Macy’s is continuing to see serious growth in the area of “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS). Macy’s executive stated that “physical stores are not going away. Customers will always want the option of coming into the store to try on jeans instead of buying three different sizes online.”

The Children’s Place is also striving towards making it big in digital and using a lot of the omni-channel use cases like BOPIS and ‘Save the Sale’. ‘Save the Sale’ needs store associates to be able to access real-time inventory across the store network. This enables the store associates to address the situation of stock-out and lost sales by helping customers to find their desired item online or at another store location with ease.

3) More retailers will look to leverage voice assistants.

Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite feels that voice assistants will start taking off in certain categories like consumables. However, categories like fashion may have a harder time to leverage voice. 1-800-Flowers.com having been one of the first retailers to launch an Alexa skill, the CEO & President believes that bots and AI capabilities will enable 1-800-Flowers.com to amplify its personalized experience. He envisions the possibilities, “With voice as the main interface emerging, I think it will bring us back to the retail experience of our first flower shop where we delivered a true 1-to-1 relationship. Voice enables us to have a 1-to-1 relationship with customers on a massive scale.”

4) As artificial intelligence (AI) matures, AI-powered retail applications are gaining adoption.

According to the Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite, 2018 will be the year that artificial intelligence will have its breakthrough moment. Retailers will start using it to power various parts of the retail and eCommerce experience. 1-800-Flowers.com uses AI to power conversational interfaces like Alexa, Google Assistant and Facebook Messenger, many of which need no human touch at all.

Using AI and its applications in various aspects of retail, retailers are looking to boost their businesses and enhance customer experiences.

5) Personalization, social media and Amazon Marketing Services will be used as acquisition marketing strategies.

The Children’s Place highlighted the importance of personalized marketing strategies. Its personalization strategy began in 2017 when the company hired a data scientist to clean up the customer database. Now that The Children’s Place can connect customer purchases online and in-store, the executive believes that it will aid in making acquisition, engagement and retention strategies more personal,.

Social media also seems to be one of the top marketing priorities for the CEO of Petco. On the flip side, Global Chief eCommerce Officer at Samsonite believes, “Amazon Marketing is going to become as critical to a brand’s marketing strategy as Google and Facebook. Today, Amazon has the return on investment potential of Google Paid Search in 2005 and display ads in 2002.”

3 Important Factors to take Retail Personalisation to the Next Level

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For starters, more than half (52%) of consumers are likely to switch brands if they don’t receive personalized their communications. Moreover, fifty-eight percent of consumers say a personalized experience is essential when purchasing from a particular company. Those are numbers retailers can’t and must not ignore!

If retail brands are vying to thrive and prosper in this forthcoming New Year, ‘customer focus’ is crucial. As a majority of brands will go customer-centric, one of the aspects that will stand-out as the differentiating factor will be the level of personalisation that they provide. Here are few important factors that will help retailer to take their retail personalisation to the next level.

Data centricity
Before diving right into personalisation, the first step is to understand the customer and then plan as to how to go about the personalizing his/her experience. For that it is important to collect data and as far as possible, the right data. And the easiest way to do that is through loyalty programs and for which brands can encourage customers to register at the point-of-sale (POS) with an in-built CRM system. The end goal of personalisation in retail is to create high-value customers who will stick to the brand and carry out repeat purchases.

Omni-channel strategy
While an omni-channel experience isn’t a necessarily a personalized experience, it is a mandatory building block on the path towards creating a personalized customer experience. After all, a personalized experience cannot be offered if customers are treated differently if they use different channels for interacting with the brand. The very essence of omni-channel is creating a seamless and consistent experience for your customers across different devices both online and offline. They key to omni-channel is providing a consistent and personalized experience to every customer regardless of where they’re interact with the retail business.

Technology
Retail brands need to harness the power of technology, necessarily, as an enabler for optimizing their operations and processes to achieve a superior customer experience. It is with the help of technology that retail businesses can be equipped to capture and assimilate data for basing their personalisation strategy. Also, it is through technology that retailers will be able to implement omni-channel into their business. The right omni-channel retail solutions which encompass multiple modules including a retail POS software with an integrated CRM solution, as well as an omni-channel analytics solution, and many more can help retailers integrate, consolidate their business data and processes and implement the necessary strategies to offer a personalized customer experience across all channels.

Personalisation needs to go beyond than just marketing and sales – it has to truly be at the core of the business, influencing and driving every aspect of it. With the right combination of plans, processes and technology, retail brands must be ready to push their boundaries and innovate and grab every opportunity that comes their way to enable their businesses to take retail personalisation experience to the next level.

Putting AI in Retail

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The human brain is more than just an organ – it is a complex system that helps humans to analyze information and take simplified decisions in various situations. But it cannot always gauge all the possible outcomes of a decision and hence our decision-making ability gets limited in certain circumstances. But what we cannot achieve with the powerof our brain is today being achieved by applying Artificial Intelligence (AI). It is much more than neural networks and complex algorithms; it involves enabling machines to take appropriate decisions in all possible circumstances.

With the huge amount of data being transmitted from electronic devices every day, it becomes imperative for the data-driven organizations to collect and identify a pattern in them. But, what exactly could be the advantage of collecting and analyzing data? Well, to predict the future it is necessary to understand the past and the present.

One of the biggest beneficiaries of Artificial Intelligence is physical retail. It is facing immense competition from e-Commerce portals, which not only provide user-friendly shopping experiences but also come up with relevant suggestions for future purchases. The need of the hour for physical retailers, therefore, is to revamp their business processes and come up with innovative measures to provide a more than satisfying customer experience along with an efficient stock management strategy. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can help achieve both. Here is a brief overview of how AI can help drive transformation in physical retail.

  1. Collecting relevant data: Data collection forms the backbone of AI. According to some of the industry stalwarts, “there can be no direct leap to artificial intelligence if substantial and relevant data is not being collected”. Most of the physical retailers lack the indigenous technology to collect and process large chunks of data by themselves. But that should not be considered as a hindrance to AI as there are efficient retail solutions like ETP V5 that can help them collect and process relevant and authentic data.
  2. Personalization: AI can be thought of as a complex algorithm that consists of all possible ‘if-then’ conditions. These conditions can be identified in various ways such as shopping cart analysis, payment preferences and surveys among others. The analysis performed can be used for managing product assortment, customer-specific promotions, and other loyalty programs. Personalization will ensure repeat footfall, which in turn will ensure a healthy bottom line.
  3. Supply chain and inventory management: If a retailer is able to collect relevant data, it becomes easier to maintain a healthy supply chain along with an efficient inventory management system. If the retailer wishes to sell the right product to the right customer at the right time and place, managing inventory across all channels becomes most important. This is indeed a mammoth task that can be eased out using an efficient Omni-channel Retail Solution like ETP V5 which can identify hidden patterns in the customer’s buying behavior and provide relevant suggestions to maintain the right inventory. Maintaining and managing supply chain and inventory are the backbone of a profitable retail venture.

AI has started revolutionizing the way in which physical retailers go about taking business decisions and with the enhancement of customer’s technical abilities, it can be safely claimed that AI will play an important role in the future of retail.

Build long-lasting relationships with your customers

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Traditionally, shopping as an activity was highly transactional, but today it is an exciting journey. Earlier, shopping seemed to be simple and straightforward. But today, it has gotten complex because every step in the journey involves multiple touchpoints available for retailers and customers to interact. However, from an optimist’s point of view, there is an opportunity for retailers to capitalize on this complexity.

Being at the epicenter of the retail business, every retail owner is trying to woo the customers in order to grab their maximum span of attention and maximum share of wallet. Customer experience has therefore become the ultimate battleground for retailers to compete. To be better than the other, retailers are trying all sort of tactics to be able to deliver the best customer experience to win and sustain them. And while many retail companies are in this rat race to strike big with their customers, only a handful are getting it right.

The reason for such a circumstance is obvious and yet highly overlooked. Simply put, the main cause for retailers failing to get their customers to stick is that they haven’t taken efforts to get the basics right. Fundamentally, it is the relationship that the retail brand shares with its customers. The stronger the foundation, the longer the relationship will last. Customers prefer to do business with brands that they can relate with and retailers therefore, need to build long-lasting relationships with their customers.

Being constantly connected with their customer is one way a retail business can help in fortifying the relationship. Staying connected effectively means that the brand needs to be available and ready to fulfil the customers’ needs be it for a product or for information, whenever and wherever the customer wants it. By seamlessly integrating together the various touchpoints a consumer might use to engage, retail owners can leverage and optimize the data from these engagements to plan and design a strategy that is most likely to resonate with that particular shopper.

Another surefire technique to strike the right chord with customers is personalization. Basically, it is the ability of a retail company to know their customer by name and also be able to approach them with a personalized set of communication. This will allow the brand to strengthen their customer relationship by demonstrating that they “know” the shopper’s preferences well. Personalization can ensure cementing the consumer’s loyalty in the retail business thus sustaining their confidence in the brand, making it a preferred choice.

Being connected to the customer will enable retail brands to understand their customer and deliver personalized offerings. This combination allows retailers to not only extend exceptional customer experience, but also it is a must to forge and fortify brand-customer relationships to ensure that their customers continue to stick to the brand.

Redefining the Future of Retail Personalization using Artificial Intelligence

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Personalization in retail is definitely not a new concept. Retailers have explored it in many ways over the years to improve shopping experience for the customers. While other retailers simply managed greeting returning customers by their name, Amazon has been one of the pioneers of personalization in retail with its ability to show different and relevant home pages for different customers based on their past clickstream paths and buying history. However, such rudimentary approaches are now considered the starting point for modern day retail marketers.

Customers are savvier than they were a few years ago. Personalization is not a need for them anymore, it is an expected norm. And retail brands must rise to the occasion to exceed this expectation. This may seem an extremely challenging task but with the proliferation of data analytics and implementation of machine learning and artificial intelligence, retail personalization can be majorly resurged.

To begin with, a very basic and brief preview into how AI works; AI uses comprehensive algorithms and logics to find trends in available data be it internal or third party and then helps analyze those trends to derive patterns that can be associated to shopping behaviors and customer personas. Utilizing machine learning that operates on probability and statistics, adjustments can be made in data sets to achieve the best outcome when it comes to creating the right marketing message for each individual customer.

Application of AI driven process in retail marketing and promotion campaigns will not only help retailers acquire new customers, but also boost repeat business. Increased accuracy in personalized communication to the customers along with tailored recommendations and offers will compel shoppers to strengthen their loyalty as they will begin to associate the retail brand with personalized, relevant experiences.

For retail personalization, the future seems to be pretty exciting. Leveraging the potential of Artificial Intelligence, there are limitless possibilities to notch up personalization to levels beyond the imagination of the customer. Infusing AI in marketing will be the differentiating factor for retail marketers that look to stand out from the horde of advertising and marketing communication targeting shoppers.

Personalizing The Retail Customer Experience

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Retail success can be visualized as a two stage process. It is not just about getting a customer to enter the retail store or to access the e-commerce website to shop, but also closing the sale. And both these stages are potential challenges and battles that retailers need to win, thanks to the ever-growing and fierce competition.

Recent trends suggest that shoppers are constantly looking for offers and discounts, and are likely to make a purchase from retailers who sell merchandise at discounted prices or offer free shipping and so on. But that’s not it. Customers are also seeking more information regarding products and services that interest them. All this can be viewed by retailers as probable opportunities to offer something extra to their customers by making it more relevant and personalized.

Busy shoppers value quick reminders about the products that they had left in their shopping carts during their previous interactions or even about those that they may have been researching for or had shown interest in previously. Personalized offerings such as tailor-made discounts, promotions or other benefits, during auspicious occasions such as birthdays and anniversaries or social occasions such as festivals really go a long way in influencing the customers’ decisions while making their next purchase. Additionally, personalized messaging and recommendations provide customers with the information that will enable them to determine products that are the right fit for their needs. Information about frequently purchased products, merchandise that can be coupled either together or with special offers and discounts also persuades customers to make a purchase. Location based or proximity marketing such as in-store discounts or free shipping can appeal to shoppers, driving them to buy. A superior after sales service could go a long way in boosting shopper affiliation towards the retail brand further as being interactive and engaging with customers helps keep their interest sustained in the brand.

Personalization, if done appropriately and by being conscious of not overstepping limits, retailers can make the customers feel special and important. In a more customer-centric retail environment, where the focus is on the customer more than ever before, providing a personalized service that is valuable and memorable can unquestionably be the differentiating factor for customers to choose the retail brand they would want to be most associated with. As retailers streamline their omni-channel retail business operations and focus on enhancing the customer experience, customer profiling can enable retailers to understand their customers better to be able to offer them a personalized shopping experience.

Top 5 Retail Trends

The retail industry is continuously evolving with increasing complexity and momentum. Fluctuating demographics, domestic downscaling, savvier consumers, multiple information and business channels, and trends require nimble, flexible and intuitive models and processes to manage customer expectations, stay relevant and increase profitability. Retailing is rapidly and perhaps irreversibly becoming an industry that must tailor its offerings to its customers, in order to win them over and foster greater loyalty. Well, the future is here and here are its most important retail trends:

Personalized In-store Experience: A recent Infosys survey reported that 78 percent of consumers are more likely to be a repeat customer if a retailer provides them with targeted, personalized offers. The burgeoning competition and the homogenous products and service market space has resulted in customers cutting ties and ending long-standing loyalty, post even a single unsatisfactory shopping experience. Delivering the right store experience has become and will continue to be vital in order to differentiate one’s brand from the competition and also increase repeat sales and overall productivity. Falling short of customer expectation in this regard leads to negative word-of-mouth, which is often more freely dispersed amongst family, friends and co-workers.

Right Business Intelligence: The retail analytics market is estimated to grow from $ 1.88 billion in 2014 to $4.4 billion by 2019. Business Intelligence technology helps retailers effectively reach consumers, reduce operational time and costs and allocate their resources more efficiently. Most importantly, it lends the marketing and operational ingenuity to make better strategic decisions, accurate targets and devise fail-safes. Gartner recently revealed that “Leading business intelligence (BI) vendors will shift the emphasis of their new product investment from IT-authored production reports to business-user-driven data discovery and analysis tools.” This trend shall gain more impetus through increasing adoption of Cloud Technology, Mobile and Big Data applications for analytics which contribute to the mass implementation of IT in retail.

Chuck the “Hard-Sell”: In the year 2015, brands will employ processes and people that impart likability and approachability to induce a solution-based dialogue and build relationships. The cool clinical expertise approach is swapped with regular staff training to arm all customer-facing employees with the right tools to be more perceptive and engaging. Business is done between people, not companies – customers first learn to trust and be comfortable with the person representing the brand or the company. This is followed by building enough customer inclination to venture understanding brand offerings, consume products and services and become loyalists.

Omni Channel Shopping: Consumers expect a consistent and seamless shopping experience, regardless of the channel they choose to engage, at any given time. Forrester Research expects $ 1.8 trillion in retail sales via online and web-influenced channels in the year 2017. The line between physical and digital touch-points will continue to blur. Today, the customer’s retail journey is non-stop – dynamic, accessible, and constant. According to Teradata, by 2015, a company’s digital strategy will influence at least 80% of a consumer’s discretionary spending. While retail stores remain relevant and the nerve-center for the industry, accurate omni-channel strategies will help retailers increase volume of sales and revenue via other channels.

Emerging Markets: Retail organizations are beginning to understand the brimming potential of markets within Brazil, China and India. To give an example of how these hyper-growth markets are geared to change the world’s retail landscape – By year 2020, 53 percent of the world’s retail consumption will be from Asia alone. Companies from the emerging world are increasingly becoming major players in global markets—the BRICs now account for 75 of the Fortune 500, compared with just 29 in 2005. Retailers will expand operations to these countries, exploring unique opportunities of each market.

The retail industry is being beckoned by booming opportunities across continents, despite cultural disparities and local limitations. Each retail enterprise needs to set their own course and business trajectory which will determine eventual success. From the above trends, it is fairly easy to establish the large role technology continues to play in our lives. Retailers who adopt, build and integrate stable, scalable IT in their business shall remain resourceful and ready to unlock the market potential.