When we’re thinking about the future of omnichannel retailing, the multi-billion dollar question is: what exactly are customers looking for?
The answer? Well, it keeps changing as consumer expectations evolve. At least that’s what we learned at a webinar we hosted titled “Customer Experience in an Omnichannel World”.
The webinar was moderated by Mayur Anadkat, former VP of Marketing at Acquire, who has nearly 20 years of experience in customer service and customer experience. He was joined by Wendy Liebmann, CEO and Chief Shopper at WSL Strategic Retail, and a voice of authority on understanding how shoppers live their lives, and what that means for retailers.
Check out the full recording to hear more insights on the future of omnichannel retail.
What is the future of omnichannel retailing?
The future of omnichannel retail is about phygital experiences, convenience, personalization, and efficiency. Shoppers are increasingly well-informed about their options and care about values and the societal impact of businesses. So, companies will need to take an omnichannel approach that’s also based on meeting the evolving expectations of the modern consumer.
Let's dive deeper into three insights about the future of retail and omnichannel strategy.
1. Retail is phygital and we aren’t going back
Consumer expectations have been, and continue to be, on the rise — with disruption from larger retailers and the pandemic both playing their part. In particular, the pandemic has exposed how some retailers struggle to connect all the dots and create omnichannel experiences.
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That has led consumers to start switching and brought “consumer power” to the fore, according to Mayur.
The “democratization of retail” didn’t just happen
As consumer options have exploded, we’ve seen the democratization of retail take shape as consumers gain more control over their experience. This isn’t a new phenomenon, however — “shoppers have been becoming demanding around it for a long time”, according to Wendy. Amazon has played a pivotal role in this — setting the bar on how quickly products arrive and establishing buyer expectations.
So, how else have brands like Amazon impacted customers?
It used to be all about getting a great price. That’s no longer the case, though. “Now, as shoppers, we all know where to get the best price if we want it because it’s as close as our fingertips,” says Wendy.
So instead, the future of omnichannel retailing will be based on convenience. Or, “if I want it, I can click,” as Wendy so succinctly puts it.
Consumers want digital experiences to feel personal
Consumers are used to having an in-person experience, and rather than lose that completely in the digital realm, it’s better to create blended experiences over the video, screen share, and the like.
Not least because, as Wendy says, “time has become the valued commodity”. Everything comes down to making sure shoppers use time in a way that is appropriate for them.
Some Acquire clients who are physical retailers have undertaken digital transformation to keep up with the future of omnichannel for retail. Furniture retailer The Dufresne Group, for example, has leveraged Acquire technology for both pre-sales and service.
Customers want choice, consistency, agility, and personalization
When it comes to delivering what customers want, choice is high on the agenda. In fact, customers have always wanted choices, it’s just that those choices are now more about reaching brands on digital channels.
Consistency is important, too, as consumers react badly to companies not speaking through one brand voice and creating a service that is determined by the particular channel. Ultimately, that doesn’t match with consumers' desire for agility.
Lastly, personalization has been and will continue to be, a key theme. Whether through an algorithm or an employee, consumers want product recommendations just for them.
2. Seamless experiences will impact revenue
Shoppers are both shopping online and in physical stores more than they did before. And the companies that get it are enabling customers to do what they want, putting consumers at the center.
Wendy believes that physical retailers' previous focus on operational efficiency simply won’t hold, because of “all the ways that people can now shop.” If you try to force consumers to do what they don’t want to do, they’ll bounce to the many other options they have available. The pandemic has taught shoppers to buy efficiently.
This begs the question: why aren’t all companies making the effort to take the omnichannel approach?
First up, it can be costly. And even if you do get it, trying to figure out exactly how to put it in place can be tricky. But companies that don’t get the need for change have to recognize “there is no going back on this,” according to Wendy.
3. Customers will keep changing
Taking the stress out of the shopping experience is going to be an all-important strategy in the future of omnichannel retailing. And that will happen along two different dimensions. Shoppers will ask themselves: is this a smart use of money? And is this a smart use of time?
A laser focus on convenience
Shoppers will see shopping in the context of their life. It’s all tied into a broader movement towards health and wellness. This will continue to grow as shoppers put more emphasis on doing what they want to do in their downtime.
Values-based shopping on the rise
Younger shoppers in particular have a strong set of values about society, community, and the companies they do business with. Consumers are therefore becoming more conscious of global impact and the role of trust.
Caring: the new KPI in the future of omnichannel retailing
Wendy has even found a new KPI to look at: caring. It encompasses everything from understanding and remembering the shopper, to the services provided. It’s different from trust. It comes down to “How do you see me and how do you engage with me so I walk away and say, ‘It hasn’t been such a bad day after all,’” Wendy said.
In terms of metrics, return on investment has had its day — it’s time for return on engagement, shifting the focus to what you get from the time and resources used to engage your customers across multiple channels, rather than just monetary investment.
When it comes to preparing for what’s next down the line, as Wendy says, “if you follow the shopper, you’ll see the future.”