How the retail experience is evolving in a contactless world

The goalposts have moved for digital customer experience and retailers the world over need to excel online now or risk losing out.

Covid-19 has triggered a colossal shift in consumer behaviour and shopping habits after millions of non-essential businesses were forced to close for months with little warning. In the weeks since, online shopping has switched from a convenience to a necessity.

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For instance, online sales as a proportion of all retailing reached a record high of 22.3% in March 2020 says the UK’s Office for National Statistics (ONS). By May, ONS reckons the proportion spent online soared to the highest on record at 33.4%. A significant rise over just two months. Even now that many shops have reopened, the reliance on ecommerce shopping is expected to stabilise, and remain a consistent and significant part of consumer shopping in the months and years to come.

The reason? Some shoppers will want to avoid stores which attract large groups of people. The fear of contracting and spreading COVID-19 is a powerful motivator for ordering online. Research from EY’s Future Consumer Index: Rise of the UK ‘Anxious Consumer’ unpacks this and points out that 80% of UK consumers feel uncomfortable about using in-store changing rooms, for example, and that similarly high levels of anxiety are also felt about attending entertainment venues, going out for food and drink, travelling on public transport (all 78%) and going to a mall (63%).

For retail brands, this has serious implications. Retailers without digital shopping channels and strong customer support may struggle to meet customer needs. And, just as importantly, digital customer experience (CX) needs to be at the top of its game. In a time when brands are eagerly competing for much-needed e-sales, you either give buyers an engaging, satisfying experience or you get outshone.

Why it’s now or never for excellent digital CX

The pandemic has accelerated an already existing need for traditional retailers to embrace e-commerce as part of their overall strategy. As part of this, they must invest in improving their digital customer experience to meet evolving customer behaviour, needs, and expectations. Outstanding CX is a vital element of any successful ecommerce strategy, helping brands retain their market share—even under threat from new rivals.

After all, businesses which prioritised brick-and-mortar sales before the pandemic aren’t just competing with other stores on their street or in their corner of the mall anymore. Now, they must stand out from countless new competitors from all over the web.

A global recession might not seem like the ideal time to invest in improving your website, customer support, and communication channels. But the US Advertising Research

Foundation urges brands to continue advertising as much as possible, warning that businesses choosing to “go dark” take as many as five years to recover their market share.

Investing in your digital CX can help to secure loyalty and increase revenue. Here’s why:

  • A 5% boost to customer retention can achieve a 25 to 100% profit increase
  • 64% of customers believe customer experience is more important than price when deciding to make a purchase with a brand
  • 77% of customers would recommend a brand to a friend after having a single positive experience

Adjusting business models to deliver an outstanding digital customer experience is vital not only to survive in a post-COVID-19 world but to flourish.

So, how do you do it?

Seamless connectivity: the tech you need to create competitive CX now and into the future

It’s no secret that life right now is far from how we know it—or how we’d like it—to be. But rather than viewing digital channels as a ‘need to have right now,’ retail brands should look at them as what they really are: core elements in the marketing mix.

This commitment should be evident in the CX, too. The key is to leave shoppers so satisfied, that online purchases feel like the best way to buy, not just an unavoidable necessity.

Connected, contactless delivery

Contactless delivery will increasingly become an essential service as some customers continue to avoid person-to-person contact. Offering this isn’t just convenient: it demonstrates your company’s dedication to the safety of your customers as well as your employees.

However, the logistics require consideration and integration. Your system should allow for drivers to record a successful delivery into your inventory management system without requiring a customer signature. Unified platforms which connect multiple tools (for order picking, delivery, inventory management, etc.) make this level of connectivity simple.

Omnichannel customer support

Omnichannel service is one of the most important steps in building a competitive digital customer experience. But it’s not enough to just have email, phone, and social media support–each of these channels needs to work as well as the rest, with no weak links.

After all, customers don’t think in channels. They expect the same level of service regardless of how or where they reach out, and, realistically, they aren’t taking into consideration which channels they’ve used to get in touch. Their sole focus is on resolving their questions. 87% of consumers agree that brands should work harder to provide a consistent experience across their touchpoints. Achieving a connected service can lead brands to enjoy 91% higher customer retention than competitors.

Customer service agents obviously play a pivotal role in this as well: Reps must have instant access to customer history during interactions. More than 70% of customers hate having to repeat themselves when dealing with a brand, and 30% feel that a company knowing about their previous interactions helps them to feel valued. As we’re going through this global pandemic, we can also expect customer tensions to be a little heightened—the more retailers can do to reassure customers and respond to questions quickly, the better.

There are technology platforms available that enable retailers to do this and to automate related tasks for streamlined, efficient service. Effective customer service software can, typically, unify this required customer experience across phone, email, chat, and messaging apps to ensure no customer gets left behind, while empowering agents with customer data for a better working experience too.

For those brands that are increasing their focus on online retail, or going online-only, acclimating to changing consumer behaviour isn’t easy. But embracing the latest technologies and understanding why customer needs have changed is essential for survival and success long-term.

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