It is imperative to understand your customers’ expectations when interacting with your brand. According to Forrester’s Deanna Laufer, there is one clear message: “In 2016 [customer experience] will be among the top ten critical success factors determining who will win and who will fail in the age of the customer.” This means “shifting to a customer-obsessed operating model that puts customers at the center of all strategic decision-making”(1). Retailers who develop truly customer-centric approaches will be leaps and bounds ahead of those who do not.
As we start the new year there is no better time to revisit how well you deliver the experience your customers demand. In order to do so, it is critical to understand what is important to them. Here are the top ten things customers want from their experience with retailers.
An easy, consistent and seamless experience, regardless of the device or channel.
The path to purchase is no longer linear. It crosses many different channels and devices. For example, customers may learn about a product or service from a friend and search for information on a tablet, compare prices across retailers on a smartphone while in a store, and purchase the item at home on their laptop. Since customers are using many different channels and devices as they move throughout the buyer’s journey, it is critical to (1) understand the shopping activities and preferred device on each channel and activity so you can optimize each one for the type of information and activities the customer is performing, and (2) ensure the information you provide is accurate and consistent across all channels.
Interactions on one channel (or device) that carry over to their next interaction channel.
Customers expect and demand consistency and highly personalized experiences across all channels as they view all interactions with a company as a single relationship, no matter how many channels are used. But that doesn’t necessarily mean they are looking for the “same” experience on different channels (2). From a central database of information, you can have a single view of the customer and all of her/his activities across channels and devices. This will eliminate the need to re-request information, and you’ll know exactly where the customer is in the purchase process and can proactively move the customer to the next step in the purchase process.
Personalized experiences that account for preferences and constraints.
In order to become more relevant to shoppers, retailers need a complete view of their customers’ activities and interests, or a “single source of customer truth” that is created with information pulled from across the entire organization (7). With a more complete view of customers, retailers can provide relevant product recommendations, ratings and reviews, exclusive deals and even serve more relevant ads. Consumers ignore, and are even irritated by, emails, alerts and banner ads promoting items that don’t interest them (3). However, according to recent research from the CMO Council and Microsoft, “only 14 percent of marketers are able to personalize across the entire journey, leveraging customer data that is blended with predictive analytics to enable a brand to deliver an ideal path for the customer (7).”
Ability to order online and pick up in store.
Shoppers are using this method more frequently. In addition to satisfying the need for instant gratification, with click and collect, or buy online pick up in store (BOPIS), customers don’t have to walk through the store to look for the items they want, wait in line to check out or pay for shipping. However, according to Cognizant’s Steven Skinner, there are significant challenges with this new service ranging from store associates who select the wrong color to delivering the item purchased to the store on time (4).
More knowledgeable store associates.
As consumers are self-educating prior to purchase, they are ready to buy when they enter the store, and in many cases know more about the products they want to purchase than store associates. Once shoppers enter the store it is critical to have properly trained associates equipped with the right technology (tablets, smartphones, digital displays) who can quickly access information on products, inventory, complementary items, etc., so they can quickly respond to customer queries and help close the sale by completing a transaction on the spot (4).
Associates who can match prices.
As part of the self-education process shoppers are acutely aware of prices. Once in a store, they will check the price of the item they are interested in and use their smartphone to check the price at different retailers. Frequently they make a purchase decision based on the retailer who offers the lowest price. When equipped with the proper devices and information, store associates who can, in a controlled and reasonable way, match prices on the spot can prevent shoppers from purchasing from competitors (4).
Customized loyalty programs.
With a wealth of information available regarding shoppers’ interests and behaviors, it is imperative that loyalty programs offer more than simple percentage discounts. For a more personalized program retailers should consider offering point rewards per dollar spent, automatic discounts, status levels to obtain additional benefits and special offers based on past purchase history in order to be meaningful to customers. One of the greatest benefits of a strong loyalty program is that it can prevent customers from defecting to competitors, even if they offer lower prices(4).
Privacy and data security.
With so many data breaches being reported in the press, shoppers are understandably concerned about the information they share with retailers. In fact, just over a quarter of shoppers consider the security of their personal information one of the top three factors in their decision to make a purchase. In addition, should a data breach occur, they expect retailers to proactively provide information on what happened and steps taken to address the situation as well as personal notifications regarding the types of data that were or may have been compromised (4).
Ability to make returns online or in-store.
80% of customers cite the ability to return items both online and in-store, regardless of where or how the initial purchase was made, as the most important cross-channel capability a retailer can offer. And if the shopper opts to return an item in-store that she purchased online, she expects that store associates will know how to process the return (5).
Acknowledgement that they aren’t ready to buy now.
According to a 2015 Synchrony Financial consumer study for product categories frequently advertised, including electronics and furniture, consumers spend an average of 68 days researching and determining if they even want to make a purchase. Yet almost all communications from retailers focus on completing the transaction. With the increasing use of ad blockers and rising email unsubscribe rates, consumers will grow more difficult to reach if communications only focus on completing the sale rather than providing them with the information they need to make the best-informed purchase decision possible (6).
Only by understanding and continuing to evaluate what your customers value as part of their retail experiences can you evolve to a customer-obsessed operating model. And now that customers are firmly in control of the purchase process, a customer-centric approach is no longer a nice-to-have but a necessity.
(2) Kentico, Omni-Channel Marketing for Customer-Driven Interaction, November 13, 2015.
(3) “Closing the Gap Between People’s Expectations & Retail Realities,” Retail TouchPoints Survey E-Book, Sponsored by Magnetic.
(4) Annual RIS/Cognizant 2015 Shopper Experience Study: One True Channel Focusing on the Shopper’s Experience with You, August 2015.
(5)Forrester Thought Leadership Paper, “Real-time Data Drives the Future of Retail: Stores Must Embrace Digital Technologies to Win in the Age of the Customer,” January 2016 (pp. 1, 3).
(6) Retail Touchpoints, “2016 Outlook Guide: What Are the Greatest Challenges Facing Retailers in 2016?” January 12, 2016 (p. 10).
(7) CMO Council and Microsoft, "Making Personalization Possible: Amplifying the Customer’s Voice for a Lasting Experience, February 9, 2016.