The first Hubday of 2018 on French soil opened with a state of the union in regards to retail. And even with increasingly tech-led innovations and online players shaping its future and evolving its definition, the good news is that physical retail is still in excellent health, especially for those businesses that are aligning themselves with the latest customer trends.
Those trends, set have the biggest influence over how consumers shop and how retailers meet shoppers’ needs are transparency; everything omnichannel; Rethinking retail outlets; data makes the difference; and business goes social.
And, according to Mike Small, Chief Client Officer for Sitel Group US, they all have one thing in common. “They ensure a continuity of customer journey, remove friction and allow customers to live the shopping life they wish to have.”
1 Transparency: a clear path to loyalty
In the era of fake news, clarity and honesty have never been more important to consumers, especially as they now have the digital tools to fact check a retailer’s claims in a matter of seconds.
“Transparency has become a decisive asset for a brand: it creates a bond of trust with customers and engages them,” says Mike Small. “In retail, several brands already rely on transparency to differentiate themselves from their competitors and acquire new ambassadors.”
Hub Institute research shows that 91% of shoppers are more likely to use and to recommend a brand that is genuinely transparent. The findings reflect a host of recent studies on the subject. For example, according to Response Media, 92% of US consumers will pay more for a transparent fresh food product, and 83% will pay more for a beauty or grooming product.
As to how brands communicate this transparency, labels like American Apparel are taking a lead in terms of online communication. It offers its garments in two forms – made in Asia or made in the US alongside different prices and information regarding the fabrication process. With all the information at hand, consumers can shop with confidence and trust.
But this is just the start. “With the arrival of the GDRP [General Data Protection Regulation] in Europe, the need for transparency vis-à-vis customers will intensify and become the norm especially when the use of personal data is concerned,” points out Mike Small.
2 Everything omnichannel
“In 2018, being truly omnichannel is still the grail for any retailer,” says Mike Small. The dividing line between physical and digital retail has gone, leaving retailers with a challenge: to ensure a genuine continuity of customer journey anytime, anywhere and across any permutation of channels.
From Amazon buying Whole Foods and launching Prime Grocery deliveries, to Alibaba partnering with Auchan and the Ruentex Group to combine on-and-offline expertise in bringing phygitalisation to the Chinese retail market; companies that were pure online players are now well and truly in the physical retail space. In doing so they’re building awareness, creating new forms of customer interaction, and strengthening the bonds between their online and offline offerings.
Faced with this, bricks-and-mortar retailers need to equip themselves with the right tools to counter this new competition; and to meet the changing expectations of customers by redefining the role of the traditional in-store salesperson so that he or she can use digital tools and brand understanding to anticipate and immediately respond to customer requests.
“Sitel can help retailers achieve this goal with advisers trained to handle omnichannel issues and the knowledge to use every tool necessary to streamline the customer journey,” says Mike Small. “Our teams undergo regular training via digital and e-learning methods throughout the year, which enables them to constantly improve their responsiveness to changing consumer demands and purchasing habits.”
3 Rethinking retail outlets: stores should be more than just stores
The growing popularity of e-commerce and this growing trend for digital retailers moving into the bricks-and-mortar space means that physical retailers have to reinvent their stores to make them an exciting, engaging space for discovery and experiences that will delight all customer types and keep them loyal.
“Retailers now have to adapt to two types of customers: those that know exactly what they want and who go to the store to make a quick purchase; and those that want to take a dip in the brand’s universe, and to live an experience,” explains Mike Small.
Nespresso is a prime example. Customers can visit its stores to soak up the atmosphere, discover its latest coffee machines and take part in a tasting session, or they can simply fill their basket with their usual coffee capsules and head to the check out.
But whichever route a customer takes towards purchase, the path and the payment method need to be painless, friction-free and efficient. Look at Apple stores where the assistants can advise and complete the sale via specially adapted iPhones meaning that customers never have to stand in line.
It’s why retailers should consider any potential tool or process that can cut in-store waiting or queueing time, from biometric payment, to Google Wallet, RFID tags or comparatively simple self-service checkouts.
Taking this idea to its logical conclusion is the new Amazon-Go store in Seattle, Washington which has no on-floor sales assistants and no check outs. Customers use the Amazon GO app for entry, and for payment and then are free to fill up their bags with shopping and “Just Walk Out”. The technology integrated into the store has automatically seen and tracked each item moved into or out of a customer’s bag and then bills the account. The result is, according to Amazon “an effortless; magical experience.”
In Europe, leading sports and activity retailer Decathlon is exploring similar concepts.
“The shelves of its store in Englos [northern France] are full, but the shop holds no stock, explains Caroline Weckx, Head of the Retail and E-Commerce Business Unit at Sitel Group in France. “Instead, customers browse the isles and can try on or test anything on sale. They then make a purchase via a mobile app and the items are delivered within 24 hours. A genuine cross-channel experience.”
Every major marque that is moving into creating showrooms – spaces that are as much about brand experience as they are about available stock and cash register receipts, is looking at different forms of technology in different ways to bring delight, entertainment and a sense of theater to the shopping experience.
For example, Swarovski is testing VR headsets in its boutiques that allow customers to view products as they would appear when on display in the home of their dreams.
French Home Improvement chain Leroy Merlin has campuses in-store where customers can come to learn how to use products and get their projects off the ground. “These touches can turn shopping into an activity in itself,” explains Caroline Weckx. “It’s also why some brands offer complementary activities in parallel with this experience, such as drinking a coffee or participating in a yoga class, or a co-working space. The place of sale becomes a place of life.”
Delivering such a heightened brand experience also means that sales advisers need to take on a new, connected, ambassadorial role where they project brand values while simultaneously being able to anticipate increasingly omnichannel customer needs.
4 Data makes the difference
But ensuring a store can excite and connect with today’s consumers is as much to do with data as it is with digital displays. A TimeTrade study found that 70% of consumers would like it if in-store staff knew the contents of their online shopping cart. And, according to IDC’s 2017 report on the state of the retail industry, 96% of consumers said that they don’t feel the relationship they have with brands is personalized enough.
Retailers have never had so much potential data flowing into their businesses via their physical and digital stores, but it’s how that data is collected and categorized that will make the difference. “The impact of good data exploitation is huge,” states Mike Small. “It will let retailers recognize their customers in store, online, and on the phone without those customers having to repeat their details or retell their story with the brand.
The convergence of in-store data – length of visit, areas of the store visited, average spend and delivery address, for example – with information gathered from websites and cookies will help the new breed of connected sales assistants to know how to help clients and will feed into marketing campaigns and ecommerce functions to help nudge people from browsing to buying.
It will also ensure that companies become consumer- rather than product-centric
But to reach this level of data-based customer understanding could be out of reach for all but the biggest brands, without expert help from companies like Sitel Group that can not only collect and refine data but put it to work across contact centers and in sales advisor training programs to close all loops and ensure a complete view of the customer across all channels.
5 Business goes social
2018 is set to be the year that business goes social with the development of Facebook’s Messenger into a payments and business to consumer communication platform in the West and the continued evolution of WeChat in the East.
These social messaging systems are also optimum customer channels for sales and support and can operate live or asynchronously but with a full, documented history of each interaction to date.
“This channel is easy to manage and is very reassuring for the customer,” says Mike Small. “It is always open, offers a new way of interacting with customers and now that the major platforms support payments they’re also becoming innovative sales channels.”
For proof, look at how successful Domino’s has been in letting customers order pizza via Facebook Messenger or at how effective Messenger is as a customer relations channel for organizations like SNCF (the French national railway) that now notifies passengers of the itinerary and any changes to a journey via a chatbot on the social messaging platform.