The shifting consumer mindset for a seamless shopping experience across all channels is challenging retailers to deliver an individual approach throughout the customer journey.
In today's market, where shopper loyalty is hard won but easily lost, that's critical—especially among millennials. True, millennials are savvy online shoppers, but research by Accenture found many prefer visiting stores to shopping online and 68 percent demand an integrated experience regardless of channel (i.e., they expect to move seamlessly from PC to smartphone to the brick-and-mortar store in their search for the best products and services).
And, while Amazon has certainly raised the bar in terms of customer expectations in areas like fulfillment, retailers can compete if they engage shoppers throughout their purchase journey and not just at the point-of-sale.
The Importance of the Journey
Indeed, a survey by Salesforce found the vast majority of shoppers—87 percent—research products online before making the purchase in-store.
"Consumer purchasing journeys have changed dramatically in the last few years. And it's not just at the pre-purchase research stage. It's become a far more complex—but potentially more enriching—experience," says Gavin Mee, area VP for enterprise at UKI Salesforce. "Consumers don't just want an individualized experience; they expect it [Research by the Institute of Customer Service found 30 percent of millennials expect to receive a personalized service]. That's throughout their entire encounter with a retailer, whether shopping from their sofa, on the go, or in-store. This has created a shift; consumers are now far more in control of the relationship they have with retailers because engagement opportunities are no longer one-way."
Mee suggests retailers adopt a proactive approach to customer engagement and particularly if there are customer service issues to resolve.
Britain-based customer engagement specialist Rant & Rave agrees."Whilst real-time customer feedback is important so negative experiences can be rectified at the earliest possible opportunity, proactive communication to customers is also crucial," says Kevin Shirley, Rant & Rave's head of retail.
"Keeping customers informed throughout the transaction, via the channel of their preference, from browsing and purchase, through to delivery and post-purchase feedback—and preempting any questions before they feel the need to ask, helps customers to trust a brand and feel valued."
Creating relevant, positive experiences to address the shifting consumer mindset is a challenge for retailers, but many now realize offering a great customer experience can be a huge competitive differentiator.
Keep the Positive Experience Throughout
Bad customer experiences can lead to customer churn, a damaged reputation, and costly commercial implications. Research has also shown that 95 percent of customers will share bad experiences with others. Getting the customer experience right the first time around is therefore hugely important for retailers.
"We are in the 'age of emotion' where customers are able to publicly express their views about their interactions with a company at any point, so it's essential retailers understand the customers' emotional drivers beyond the point of transaction," says Shirley.
The post-click experience is a critical part of the mix too. MetaPack research among consumers in the top six eCommerce markets in Europe by revenue and the US found that 43 percent wouldn't return to a retailer within a month following a bad delivery experience, and 38 percent would be unlikely to shop with that retailer ever again.
Kees de Vos, CMO at London-based software company MetaPack, says: "Consumers are looking for a positive all-round experience and, if they don't get it, they are likely to turn their attentions elsewhere."
De Vos also acknowledges the influence of the Amazon approach on consumer expectations and says there is a real hunger for loyalty programs that reward shoppers.
In MetaPack's survey, 77 percent of respondents said that they would like to see the eCommerce sites they use regularly offering loyalty programs that rewarded them with free or quick delivery, for example.
"Millennials are looking for a personalized 'in the moment' experience and services geared entirely around their evolving needs," says de Vos. In the survey, 64 percent of respondents said they wanted online retailers to provide a one-hour delivery service in metropolitan locations. Further, 55 percent wanted the freedom to change their delivery after placing an order online—now that's a changing mindset, indeed.