“Visionary” was the name of the game at this month’s National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show. We had the opportunity to join more than 40,000 people from around the world to get an update on current retail happenings and explore what's on the horizon. Let’s take a look at some of the highlights:
Brick-and-mortars are evolving
Yes, the digital space is growing at a record pace, but brick-and-mortar locations are not dead. While it’s true some brands have closed their doors recently, the brands that have stepped up and evolved the in-store experience are actually seeing sales growth. Instead of being a drag on a customer’s omnichannel experience, physical stores are evolving to be a profitable cog in that equation.
Technology is at the forefront of reinventing the purpose of brick-and-mortars. In-store associates can now be armed with more relevant information about the customer standing in front of them. One tech company expanding on this idea is Theatro. Their technology allows in-store associates to access inventory management systems with simple voice commands—providing assistance with price checks, item location, and integrated product mapping. Store associates can even find internal experts outside of the store to help with a customer question or issue—all while doing it hands-free.
Customers crave a personalized experience
“Remember Me” was a big theme that carried throughout the innovation tools on display at NRF. Brands are using AI for more accurate product recommendations—providing the necessary tech to engage customers and to ultimately transform a deeper understanding of their needs into additional basket capture.
For example, one of the UK’s largest integrated digital retailers TheVeryGroup.co.uk provides a personalized online experience for customers by not just showing items based on previous actions, but varying the homepage based on the weather. These little details have a big impact on customers who are expecting brands to connect on a more personal level.
Remove friction + drive convenience
Many of the NRF keynotes focused on the need to reduce customer effort throughout the shopping experience. The future is here, and more brands are providing a POS-free experience where customers can select items and walk out the store without having to stop for a transaction.
Numerous technologies are touting ways to remove steps from the customer journey while understanding the obstacles and abatements to that process. For example, AI and the cloud are using data to better understand inventory replenishment, customer queuing, and merchandise display performance.
Removing friction can now be tied to greater loyalty and, in many instances, a direct ROI. But brands must implement these changes strategically. Don’t confuse removing friction with reducing costs—many times these initiatives require significant technology investments.
Expectations at every touchpoint are higher than ever
It’s not just the convenience of a frictionless checkout experience that’s important to customers—it’s every touchpoint throughout the journey. For example, The Nike NYC House of Innovation allows customers to reserve products online and then simply pick them up at a locker. The customer can try on shoes or apparel and finish the experience using mobile checkout. They never have to stand in line or even speak with an associate. Sometimes the best service can be no service at all.
There’s no question that technology has changed the consumer-brand relationship—and those changes need to be reflected in the way brands act on customer feedback. By implementing a customer experience management (CEM) strategy that encompasses all touchpoints—in-store, digital, ratings + reviews, and more—brands can understand the full scope of customer interactions and better deliver on expectations.
It all begins with employees
Solidifying customer loyalty isn’t just about implementing the latest and greatest technology—it’s about having a team of associates who believe in the brand. As employees are being asked to take on more and be more adaptable to the changing needs of customers, their job satisfaction is imperative.
Driving employee engagement and improving the employee experience (EX) comes from asking the right questions, listening to what they have to say, and providing action. If brands are not doing that and their employees don’t feel valued, all the technology in the world won’t save their business. Engaged employees create loyal customers.
Chart the path for your brand
To help you launch efforts that enhance your customer and employee experiences, streamline operational efficiencies, and change business outcomes, we’ve laid out 5 common pitfalls to avoid + 3 trends to adopt now. Check it out by downloading the guide: Navigate the digital transformation without compromising on CX.
Brian Dennis | Senior VP, Customer Engagement-Retail