Retail events follow the seasons of our lives from summer vacation to back to school, major holidays, birthdays, and more. The year 2020 has sparked unexpected, radical changes into the way that consumers approach their daily life and highlighted the demand for a customer-centric retail experience.
There has even been an evolution of new retail shopping trends such as Cyber Monday, which made its debut in 2005 to reach consumers who would rather shop online than participate in the Black Friday rush. Just seven years later in 2012, Giving Tuesday made its debut as part of a consumer-led movement to bring more attention to giving back during the season of “thanks.”
As a retailer, you’re impacted by constant change in the industry. Over the last decade, the world has seen dramatic changes to customer demands which have led to a proliferation of new, digital capabilities that shape how people engage with brands. Traditional customer interactions are now spread across constantly changing micro-moments.
With so much uncertainty happening in the world and in the retail industry, change is the new constant and should be part of a retailer’s core values. The global pandemic has created additional pressures for retailers to adapt and evolve. There’s no going back to the past, as the only way to move through the world is forward.
The Big Picture: Retail’s “Next Normal”
The biggest challenge that retailers face — and have always faced — has been about adapting to the end-to-end customer experience. With COVID-19 and the recent patterns of natural disasters around the world, micro-moments have become more complex. You’re likely facing questions such as:
- Is your store prepared for an online-only Black Friday event and how do you best engage shoppers who, in prior years, had family traditions of camping outside your store?
- What happens if there is a COVID-19 surge in a particular region — how can you protect customer safety in your stores and in your site-to-store delivery operations?
- What happens if there is an unexpected natural disaster or a health and safety issue in an area where you are thinking of running one of your largest trade promotions?
- How do you rethink the end-to-end omnichannel customer experience, while building brand loyalty?
- How do you innovate with all the stakeholders in your value chain to optimize costs so you can reallocate investments on growth?
As it turns out, consumers need the support of the retail industry. Earlier this year, a special edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer found that 78% of consumers say that they expect brands to protect employees and the local community. As a retailer, you are well-positioned to deliver the optimism that consumers need.
Maven Wave anticipates that retailers will play an important role in what the World Economic Forum calls The Great Reset, in which stakeholders are stepping into a “unique window of opportunity to shape recovery.” In the United States, especially, consumers have an expectation for brands to step up to protect the public’s wellbeing.
Our team already sees retail leaders and many of our clients taking steps to align their business goals with their customer’s values and shifting their business to set the micro-moments of the customer experience as an organization’s “North Star.” Winning in retail means:
- helping shoppers and employees feel safe,
- includes personalizing customer experiences to counterbalance the shift from 3.3% to 2.4% in disposable income and the 28% year-over-year growth of new omnichannel models such as buy online, pick up in-store (BOPIS,)1
- and supporting a seamless experience to support the 33% uplift to e-commerce shopping and 17% of consumers shifting away from their primary store.1
At Maven Wave, we believe that retailers need to value open, sustainable ways in business operations that assume change is constant and frequent and make their customers experience their “North Star.” We call this, the journey to becoming an Agile Retailer. We believe it is imperative that retailers collaborate with consumers, be open with what they value, and invest in the communities that support them. It is through this approach that retailers will differentiate, innovate, and grow.
Below are four key actions that retailers can take to become more agile in their business practices and more connected with their customer’s changing demands.
Becoming an Agile Retailer
Organize Around the Customer Experience & Embrace Personalization
Remember those loyalty programs you’ve been building over the past decade, along with the data you’ve been gathering about your customers? Now is the time to put that information into use for actionable customer experience benefits. Basic data about your consumers’ shopping habits and geographic location can help you tailor your marketing initiatives, align with your customers’ demands, and make your operations leaner.
Now is the time to ensure that your personalization experiences remain integrated across various cloud-based systems, from marketing to resource planning to customer relationship management, support, satisfaction, and more. Speaking to the “whole human” is mission-critical to meeting people where they are.
Be ready to identify and quickly adapt to points of friction. Uncertainty is known to cause hiccups. Ensure that you share helpful reminders with customers who themselves may be struggling to balance all of the added responsibilities in their lives. And remember to make technology innovations that are centered around the customer experience and align with their habits and behaviors.
Ensure a Consistent Omni Channel Experience
Customer journeys are only going to become more complex as the world begins to heal from COVID-19. In addition to personalizing experiences, retailers need a clear line of sight into how to connect the dots into a comprehensive experience for their customers. Your priority should be to develop a wholly integrated view of the customer and their experience through the different channels you provide.
For example, buying online and picking up the item in-store needs to deliver the same core brand experience as buying online and receiving the item in the mail. If you incorporate a third party into the mix, i.e. merchant platform or delivery service, you need to make sure that the quality of the customer experience (from product availability to promotions, to customer service) is consistent and paramount. Simple miscues, like leaving a delivery on the porch or not having up-to-date inventory on a merchant platform, can easily lower customer satisfaction and cause a customer to switch to a new retailer.
As previously noted, customer experiences should be the “North Star” for retail. For this reason, Chief Customer Experience Officers need to be integrated with all organizational decisions. Every initiative should lead to changes in behavior, technology innovations, organizational processes, and customer satisfaction. Best practices include:
- Focusing on internal marketing, core values, and employee engagement around the customer experience
- Being the steward for positive changes in behavior, technology innovations, organizational processes, and customer satisfaction
One of our retail clients requires every business meeting to begin with a “customer experience story.” Another invites key customer representatives to a monthly all-hands meeting to provide their view of the retailer’s customer experience. Yet another continues to invest and advise industry-specific technology startups as a means to drive new innovation and thought leadership into their business. These practices are allowing these retailers to become more agile with their approach and re-centering values around the customer experience.
Lastly, also consider that your customers are experiencing an influx of industry-wide technology innovations – all of which have a slightly different experience. Think about innovations like the changes to the drive-thru and the various versions of BOPIS when you are supporting your customer’s experience with your brand.
Consumers have enough frustration to navigate through in their daily lives. Companies can add value by finding ways to make their customers’ lives easier in getting what they want and need. As life changes for everyone, consumers are going to continue to need more and different options and choices. With added stressors (i.e. homeschooling, shelter in place, lack of access to healthcare, safety concerns), consumers may not have time to make their most thoughtful decisions. Brands can help by giving shoppers options for managing their shopping decisions.
A strong example of this model is how a large retailer, based in Minnesota, managed through the pandemic. The company offers a one-touch solution to build buying lists on their website, make purchases on their app, and pick up in-store, on the curb, or have it delivered — all free to the consumer and with minimal customer interaction points.
Prioritize the Health & Safety of Customers and Employees
The events of 2020 proved that retailers need to include human health and safety as part of their business operations. The key areas for retailers to focus on are:
- Customer safety across all human interaction points, including pickup and delivery
- Making employee health & safety a priority, including workforce optimization programs
- Open and collaborative feedback loops to allow customers and employees to make recommendations on how to improve and sustain health and safety
Right now, retailers are facing situational questions for which there are not yet clear answers. For instance, you may be running into the following challenges:
- Will free samples be available in stores again, in the future?
- Will clothes go back on the rack from dressing rooms?
- Will temperature checks and in-store foot traffic limits remain constant?
- How can delivery options like Instacart and Uber Eats expand, potentially, beyond food service?
Even the future of the physical store in question. Major retailers are creating ‘dark stores’ to be used for warehousing, inventory and even for pickup only sites. Other retailers are temporarily closing some store locations to shift resources to other stores or different customer experience channels. These changes allow for retailers to invest in the health and safety of their customers and their employees. Simple changes like having team members visibly sanitizing shopping carts or providing employees paid time to go through safety training events build loyalty and optimize the customer experience.
We have seen that some retailers are starting to invest in new technologies like the Virtual Store, where a consumer can use virtual reality technology to try on apparel and then have it delivered to their doorstep.
Many companies, like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Maven Wave have implemented work from home policies and may be working remotely for the foreseeable future. As retailers begin to shift their resources, they should also immediately implement work optimization programs. Remote working teams that manage functions like eCommerce channels, distribution, and product inventory need to be tightly integrated to ensure employee engagement and productivity. Cloud-based technologies provide a foundation for this critical need.
As retailers shift to making the customer experience their “North Star,” getting customer feedback on safety also allows for deeper engagement. These interactions help support the relationship between retailers and customers. It also reinforces customer core values around the expectation that the retailer plays a role in human safety.
Final Thoughts: Get Going!
Becoming an Agile retailer is a journey. It takes time, organizational investments, and top-down support to be successful. One of the cornerstones of being an Agile Retailer is to prioritize valuable opportunities, to double down your focus on the top priority, and to see if the opportunity fails (or succeeds) as fast as possible. With the emergence of the holiday season only weeks away, we would encourage you to pick a priority that aligns with your “North Star” and focus on seeing if it has value. Set a goal in early January to perform a retrospective of this priority with the objective of taking what worked forward and leaving what did not work behind.
We would love to hear more about your priorities and how you are aligning towards your “North Star.” It is through industry collaboration that we will work together to evolve retail and provide the best experience we can for our customers and our employees!
1 “Adapting to the next normal in retail: The customer … – McKinsey.” 14 May. 2020,https://www.mckinsey.com/industries/retail/our-insights/adapting-to-the-next-normal-in-retail-the-customer-experience-imperative.
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