In my opinion: a connected shopping journey is key to retail success, says Salesforce Commerce Cloud

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By Jamie Merrick, director of strategic solutions at Salesforce Commerce Cloud

Merrick: retailers must offer a blended in-store and online experience

Last year Amazon launched its first bricks and mortar store in Seattle. Earlier this year, the e-tailer was reportedly looking to set up its first Amazon Go convenience store in London. With in-store sensors linking to shoppers’ mobile apps, customers’ online accounts are automatically charged for the items they leave with. Add to this its recent acquisition of Whole Foods Market and a pattern emerges that Amazon is looking closely at how to blend the online and offline shopping experience to create a more seamless journey for customers.

In today’s digital age, shoppers are experiencing unprecedented change in the way brands communicate with them. The rise of social media heralded one of the major changes in how retailers built relationships with their customers. Next came targeted digital advertising, reaching a new level of personalisation. Now, brands are using smart, connected devices like mobiles, tablets and wearables as platforms for new ways of communicating.

According to a survey from Accenture, 88% of retail businesses and IT executives believe the pace of tech innovation will grow exponentially over the next three years. Already retailers are increasingly using the latest tools to improve connected environments – from in-store and home, to airports and public transport. For example, furniture retailer IKEA recently launched its Virtual Reality Kitchen, which allows customers to try different kitchen layouts before making a decision to buy.

Despite retailers’ focus on virtual touch points in the shopper’s journey, our latest Connected Shopper report revealed that the in-store experience remains very important to today’s consumers, but their expectations around the experience itself have changed.

Personalisation and the new single customer journey

Mobiles account for more than half of all online traffic

While mobiles account for more than half of all online shopping traffic, beating computers and tablets, research shows that 84% of all purchases are still happening in store. This underlines the importance of a seamless customer experience across all channels. Yet, the costly legacy systems that many brands and retailers use do not support the entire customer journey. They often lack the flexibility required to connect the various shopping channels consumers use.

Today, for retailers to compete, it will be absolutely essential to achieve a single customer view; pulling data from every channel and every customer touch point to feed into every experience. Let me give you an example to explain what I mean. Imagine you walk into a store and enter your details into a tablet, which instantly pulls your online purchasing history. The details are synced with your personal mobile app, and, with this data, the store creates a personalised selection of items and shows you where they are in a virtual map. Essentially, retailers need to re-imagine an in-store experience that is connected to other virtual touch points,  in order for it to meet customer expectation.

The future of retail is here today

Savvy retailers already recognise that using the right tools, in the right way, can enable them to engage customers in more meaningful ways. As retailers seek to personalise the customer journey to a greater degree, it’s time to think one step ahead.

It might sound like sci-fi, but the technology is available today to help anticipate the needs of the customer before they act or make a purchase. For example, a unified commerce platform using embedded AI can use the data across your platform to surface personalised recommendations for customers, predict which channel they want to communicate on for their service needs, and provide insights as to how smarter merchandising and product purchase correlations can enhance sales. Through a single set of data, retailers can better manage the entire customer journey, offer competitive services and improve customer loyalties.

According to our research, 45% of consumers say that by 2020 they will switch brands if a company doesn’t actively anticipate their needs. As a retailer in the digital age, the more insight you have, the greater your advantage to win the heart and minds of customers and their future purchases. It is vital that retailers act now to stay ahead of the curve, otherwise they face missed opportunities to strengthen and maintain customer relationships.

Forging emotional connections with customers

The key to making best use of high-level tech like location-based analytics and predictive intelligence is simple: don’t forget the human touch. Technology doesn’t replace the emotion and personality; it should enhance it.

Connecting on an emotional level with customers has played a pretty big role in influencing purchasing behaviour. Just look at the results of the heart-wrenching Christmas adverts from the likes of John Lewis, Sainsbury’s and Marks & Spencer. With the adoption of new technologies, I don’t see this changing. To make that real connection with a customer you have to understand what motivates them and anticipate their behaviour. Emotional relationships are based on empathy and empathy only comes from a deep understanding of your customers’ needs.

Modern analytics can build a digital picture of the customer journey. This insight and understanding can then be used to map individual customer trends across all channels. This means linking the mobile to the in-store, to the online experience so that customers feel you ‘get it’ right across their journey.

This seamless, one to one experience, that allows customers to pick up where they left off each time they engage with a brand, is to my mind, one of the strongest ways to build an emotional connection with customers. It makes them feel valued.

The shoppers of the future

In the rush of today’s connected, always-on world, it’s easy for customers to feel forgotten when in reality, innovation in retail technology has given customers more power than ever before. This is why building an emotional connection and providing a consistent experience – no matter the channel – is more important than ever before.

One thing is clear to me: while we have seen unprecedented change over the last few years, we shouldn’t expect a slowdown in customer innovation. Technology is always evolving, offering us new ways to engage and interact. But so are our expectations as consumers. The challenge for retailers today is not just mapping current expectation against what technology can offer, but thinking ahead.

The evolution of the customer journey has taken many exciting twists and turns and it’s certainly not over yet. In our connected age, shoppers expectations will continue to rise, which is why retailers today must offer a blended online and in-store experience to ensure customers can get the service or product they need at the right place and right time, in the way they want it.

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Contact details:

Stella Hall

Salesforce for Retail

shall@salesforce.com

+44 776 888 0492

(A Retail Times’ sponsored article)