By Sridhar Hariharasubramanian
Customers today expect a lot more from the whole shopping experience than they used to.
While they still want quality products, they’re also looking for a seamless and consistent experience that starts long before purchase and ends long after. Customers also use multiple channels to complete their shopping journey and stay connected to the brands they like – from websites and social media channels to eCommerce aggregator sites to transactional SMSes and emails – all from the comfort and safety of their homes.
For many customers, the physical in-store experience is as important as online retail to satisfy their needs. Retailers thus need to find a way to make the consumer experience across online and offline channels both convenient and enjoyable.
Delivering connected phygital experiences
Whether customers are shopping in-store or online, they expect a connected experience across touchpoints. They also want the freedom to start their purchase journey at one point and complete it at another. The challenge for companies is that their customer data is often spread across departments and systems that don’t talk to each other. These data silos create a fragmented view of the customer, making it difficult for teams to deliver the connected experiences that customers demand.
This creates the need for unifying customer data from across sources, both online and offline, into a single, shared 360-degree customer view. With this, no matter where or how customers interact, brands have all the data needed to offer them a smooth phygital experience. Platforms powered by the cloud can help by combining backend data (such as inventory, pricing, etc) and front-end data (customer information, loyalty programs, etc) from various departments and delivering a personalised online shopping experience. This enables teams to have a single, unified view of customer interactions, orders, and inventory and they can seamlessly pick up the conversation with the customer from where it was last left off.
For instance, when a customer on a web store adds a few items to their cart and leaves without buying, the data is captured in a single source of truth and made available across teams. If the same customer visits one of the brand’s physical stores sometime later, the sales rep can instantly pull up their data and view the unbought items in the customer’s online cart. The rep can then point the customer to those same products in-store, or recommend similar products they might like. This makes the whole customer journey from online to offline both frictionless and personalised.
Engaging through preferred platforms
Customers today interact with brands on multiple channels. This creates new opportunities forretailers because customers expect to be engaged differently – at different times, in different formats – on each of these channels. How customers interact through these channels also changes rapidly, driven in part by ever-evolving algorithms.
To know which channels to focus on, brands should continuously test and measure the impact of their campaigns – not just to see which channels perform the best, but also to optimize the marketing messaging and formats, and timing. Understanding which marketing channels work best for one’s business can help towards dedicating resources to the right places and maximising returns.
Hyper-personalise customer experience with AI
Personalisation is no more just about getting the customer’s name right in your emails or on service calls. Customers expect personalisation at every step of their journey. They also want their purchase history to inform product recommendations. For retailers, it’s no longer about having the widest range of products, but about having the right products based on what the customer wants. The retail experience should make it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for – be it through a ‘people also viewed’ tab or a ‘customers who like this also liked this page.
Brands are also leveraging AI to deliver highly tailored product recommendations based on shopper behavior. With predictive sorting, businesses can connect customers faster to the products they seek. AI can also help in improving searches by automatically adding popular search terms to the dictionary, and recommending appropriate synonyms to display relevant results every time. With AI-based APIs, brands can deliver the same level of personalisation across all possible touchpoints. Personalization can simplify shoppers’ decisions, and compel them to shop more with a particular brand.
Make in-store shopping more fun
As consumer behaviors continue to evolve, retailers need to rethink how their physical stores can add value to the overall customer experience. Many are already adopting creative store concepts like experiential shopping by transforming their physical stores to offer additional experiences beyond simply browsing or buying products.
Customers today demand personalised and connected experiences. They are knowledgeable and technology-aware, and they have limited patience for brands that can’t keep up. Delivering outstanding experiences is no longer a luxury, it is an expectation. And brands that do it well will be rewarded with customer loyalty and repeat business.
The author is senior director solution engineering, Salesforce