Competition in modern retail is all about customer experience, and during the pandemic e-commerce and digital retail has accelerated rapidly, creating new customer expectations around digital experiences. According to the ONS, online retail sales grew by 46% in 2020 compared to the previous year – the largest increase since 2008.
At the same time, retail footfall in the UK has started to rebound post lockdown as in-person shopping experiences have returned for customers.
Customer demands for convenient and enjoyable retail
Demand has long existed for in-store digital innovation. Indeed, retailers were experimenting with disruptive technology, channels and customer experiences before the pandemic. COVID-19, however, has provided an increased demand for seamless online and offline experiences, as customers have been forced online and away from physical stores.
Customers will therefore naturally compare offline experiences with online platforms, and expect a certain level of convenience and service – as well as enjoyment. Questions during COVID-19 have surrounded how retailers can make online shopping more fun, or at least as fun as the in-person shopping experience.
As in-person shopping returns, the trend of in-store innovation alongside digital retail and e-commerce is likely here to stay. According to a research report by Management Events, the implementation of new generation technology in physical stores is a leading priority for 75% of retail leaders, as executives realise the potential of digital technology to improve retail customer experiences is limitless. So, how can retailers achieve seamless customer experience across channels?
Leading by example with in-store digital innovation
As a pioneer in digital retailing, Amazon understands the importance of a human touch across online and offline customer experiences within this new retail context. This explains its latest physical store initiative: Amazon Salon, a London-based high-tech salon that allows customers to test products through new technologies in-store before purchasing. The store combines access to physical products with a digital, virtual experience, enhancing the shopping experience and solving frictions throughout the purchasing journey for customers.
More importantly though, Amazon Salon highlights how other retailers can remain competitive by using digital technologies as part of their in-store experience. As footfall increases while demand for online retail sustains post-COVID-19, retailers may want to take Amazon’s lead and shift to a seamless omnichannel strategy – leveraging a physical in-store experience with market ready digital retail technologies and online offerings.
This approach could help retailers retain existing in-store customers while capturing new online-only customers, by providing accessible and holistic customer experience excellence across online and offline sales channels.
Accelerating personalisation through digital retail technologies
As digital retailers like Amazon are aware, excellent customer experience is facilitated by personalised engagement, which can only be scaled by leveraging digital technologies in a meaningful way, from data and AI to QR codes and augmented reality (AR).
While this personalisation is common across e-commerce and digital retail platforms, in-store experiences are lagging behind. This presents an opportunity for retailers to scale technological innovation to personalise the shopping experience for customers without losing the human touch. For example, COVID-19 has accelerated customer frictions around fitting rooms and testing purchases before buying, as well as other frictions around managing in-store traffic control, social distancing and check out delays.
The future of retail is omnichannel and content-rich e-commerce
One method of achieving a seamless customer experience is by building an omnichannel strategy that embraces human touch points while satisfying customer demands for connected retail experiences. For example, Amazon Salon demonstrates how leading retailers are expanding omnichannel strategies during COVID-19, to ensure long-term customer growth across retail verticals.
A retail company’s digital strategy may include everything from mobile applications to video and AR to chatbots and a fully integrated e-commerce platform. Ensuring that these touch points work together is a priority for businesses seeking to create a better customer experience.
Another method towards achieving a fully personalised retail experience for customers is to remodel the omnichannel strategy from an online shopping platform facilitating customer experience to a content-rich storytelling experience, integrating visual and voice activation technologies for e-commerce. Retailers can utilise visual merchandising across e-commerce platforms as part of an omnichannel strategy, creating a visually appealing purchasing journey to improve customer engagement, the brand experience and ultimately sales.
Customer behaviour and expectations will continue to change post-COVID-19, and retailers that successfully deliver an integrated online and offline experience, through omnichannel and content-rich e-commerce, will be ones that are able to anticipate and meet new customer wants and needs.
By Annabella Yang, VP of digital retail at Mobiquity