Customer Experience

Innovation in the Retail Industry: The Future of Customer Experience

April 22, 2021
12:00 am

There’s no getting away from it: digital innovation is changing the face of retail. 

According to Forrester, digital interactions will grow another 40 percent this year alone. Businesses looking to stay relevant need to embrace digital transformation and offer a retail experience that meets the expectations of increasingly demanding modern consumers.

The rise of the connected customer

Traditional email and phone are still very much part of the picture, but customers increasingly use other digital means to communicate with companies. 

The modern consumer has access to multiple devices and channels at their fingertips 24/7 (fun fact: there’s now even more connected devices than there are people in the world). And these consumers make use of these different channels in their shopping experience — for instance, 73 percent of retail customers use multiple channels to shop. 

This massive proliferation of online access points has given rise to an entirely new phenomenon — the connected customer.

Want to hear what experts say about the connected customer? Check out the webinar we hosted in collaboration with Retail Customer Experience (RCE) to find out about retail trends and integrating digital and in-person customer experiences.

Great expectations

The connected customer wants a seamless experience. They want to get what they need, no waiting around, totally friction free. These new expectations can be broadly based on three categories:

  • Context. Customers expect to be treated as unique individuals. In other words, they want a personalized experience tailored to their own preferences. This often relies on using data to get the right message in front of the right customers at the right time. 
  • Convenience. Customers expect to be able to interact with companies easily. That means when, where, and how it suits them. They want easy access to all of the information they need, too, be that product information or how to resolve issues.   
  • Control. Customers expect to be in charge of how they interact with companies, without having to jump through hoops to make sense of a returns policy or be unable to pay in the way they wish.

Shifting to an omnichannel, phygital approach

The omnichannel customer wants it all — context, convenience, control. All the benefits of digital: a huge selection, customer reviews, and a wealth of product information, combined with the benefits of the physical shopping experience: personalized service, trying and testing products, and the whole in-store retail experience. This has led to the merging of digital and physical worlds to create a new phygital approach that breaks down traditional boundaries between channels. 

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For example, omnichannel retailing — combining brick-and-mortar stores, smartphones, tablet computers, personal computers, direct mail, television, radio, catalog, and the like — provides a way for brands to rise to the challenge of the connected customer’s expectations. And, with a 90 percent higher customer retention rate for those implementing omnichannel tactics versus those who don’t, the reward is plain to see. 

That’s why extending a consistent shopping experience has become critical to the modern retail experience. Without it, brands stand to lose out — for example, 2 in 5 consumers have abandoned a purchase due to a lack of cross-channel buying options, like buying online and picking up in-store. (By the way, the 2020 pandemic has encouraged many businesses to offer these options, and those options should be here to stay).

See how you can create an omnichannel approach and lead the way in retail customer experience with Acquire’s conversational CX platform.

3 retail trends to keep an eye on (with examples)

If you’d searched for ‘innovative ideas in retail industry’ only a few decades ago, you’d have got results like discount codes. Now, digital transformation has brought a whole new dimension to the shopping experience. Modern retail trends demonstrate the shift away from product and price and towards the retail experience — it’s why 86 percent of buyers will pay more for great customer experience. 

Innovation in the retail industry has led to some fascinating developments. Here are some retail trends in particular that stand out, plus some examples where you can see them in action.

1. Personalization

We know, you’ve heard it a hundred times before! But, it really is the trend that keeps on giving. Personalization is a core part of a true omnichannel experience as it’s all about creating a unique experience that persists no matter what the channel — think about the “context” we mentioned earlier.  

Big data and powerful analytics have been central to personalization — technological advancements such as a unified customer view being a case in point. Companies know more than ever about customers, and are using this to personalize everything from the ads consumers see, to the products they’re recommended. And it works — 80 percent of consumers are more likely to make a purchase when brands offer personalized experiences.

Now, driven by the impact of the pandemic, personalization is harking back to its roots: person-to-person interaction. And we’re not talking on-site, since video chat software has managed to bring people together despite physical distances.


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Online clothing retailer ASOS makes a big deal out of offering customers a range of personalized discounts and deals for products they’re interested in. Using social media data, they can access information that allows them to tailor these offerings on an individual level, even for those who are not already an existing customer.


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The athletic apparel retailer offers a digital concierge that allows customers to shop face-to-face with a team member no matter where they are. Complimentary 30-minute video chat appointments, delivered via Zoom, can be booked on their website. There’s a range of different services available depending on the need including product recommendations, help with fit and size, as well as finding the perfect gift for a loved one.

2. Augmented Reality and Virtual Reality

Augmented reality (AR) is a great example of how the digital and physical worlds can be married to the benefit of customer experience. Consumers seem to be very much on board, with 51 percent saying they would be willing to use AR technology to assess products. 

This technology is one of the most innovative ideas in retail industry circles as it gives customers access to a whole new way to try before they buy. Shoppers can superimpose an item into its surroundings, and then play around with size and color and more until they get the perfect fit. VR takes this one step further allowing customers to have rich, immersive experiences without needing to physically be there in person.


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The IKEA app has revolutionized how customers go about choosing products. Thanks to its AR functionality, users can virtually position scaled models of furniture in their home to see what looks good in situ, not just in a showroom. It has now even been enhanced to include the option to visually search for similar products from the IKEA range simply by pointing a camera at an object.


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In 2017, Audi launched a virtual reality experience in global showrooms to offer a point of difference. Consumers are able to configure their dream car down the smallest detail, as well as explore the car’s exterior and interior. The idea is to provide users with an experience that helps them make a more informed decision. Racing fans can even immerse themselves virtually in the Le Mans 24 Hours race to soak up the atmosphere.

3. Phygital stores

It’s true that digital transformation and digital innovation are revolutionizing the retail experience, and taking it more and more online. But there’s no getting away from the fact that physical stores are still the cornerstone of many brands. 

That’s why the phygital approach has helped give rise to a whole new style of store. Consumers had foreshadowed this retail trend, with 90 percent already using smartphones in store for price checking, product information, and reading reviews. Now retailers have taken this to a new level, building functionality into their stores to enrich the shopping experience. 

See how Canadian car dealership Dilawri used Acquire’s video chat technology to recreate the in-person experience online and mitigate an expected loss of sales from the pandemic.

Amazon Go

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Using a combination of computer vision, deep learning, and sensor fusion technology, Amazon has automated the payment and checkout process allowing customers to enter the store, pick-up items, and leave without so much as standing in line. Payment is then automatically made through the Amazon Go app creating a completely frictionless shopping experience.


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In Tokyo’s fashionable Shinjuku district, cosmetics retailer Lush has created a store that offers a thoroughly modern shopping experience grounded in digital innovation. Shoppers are invited to select products, such as bath bombs, that appeal to them and then scan the product with the Lush Lens (part of the #LushLabs app) to reveal more information including its name, ingredients, properties and benefits, as well as visuals showing the bomb in action. There’s even interactive shop walls that sense customers’ movements to depict a mood.

No time to rest on laurels

If there’s one thing you can be sure about when it comes to retail it’s that there’s always a technological innovation waiting around the corner to move the goalposts. Successful retailers keep their ear to the ground and make sure they stay one step ahead of the game in keeping the modern connected consumer happy.


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