How to navigate the complexities of retail to deliver a seamless and personalised customer experience, now and in the future.
Ask any millennial or Generation Z consumer how they’re making their purchasing decisions and you’ll probably hear this: “I ‘Google’ what I’m looking for first.”
A burgeoning number of consumers around the world are leveraging their smart devices (smartphones and tablets) to quantify their purchasing decisions. They’re browsing the Internet, looking for information, advice, and testimonials on products and services from other consumers before they set foot in a store.
Moreover, they prefer to spend their money with businesses that offer up-to-date websites. The reality is that the Internet, social media, and society’s increasing interconnectedness is driving consumers toward businesses that identify them as individuals, rather than simply generic shoppers. If you’re not maintaining a holistic online presence and identifying your customers’ individual wants and needs, the chances of these consumers spending their hard-earned cash with you are slim to none.
“The balance of power has clearly shifted from retailers to consumers. Customers have the ability to search and compare products and prices online. This transparency makes the retailer’s job more difficult as they can no longer solely differentiate on product or price.” – Boston Retail Partners
According to Boston Retail Partners (BRP), a US-based retail management consulting firm, engaging with your customers and managing their experience must be a top priority. Retailers can achieve this by investing in digital technologies that will unify their communications and commerce platforms.
Ridding yourself of standalone legacy communication and commerce platforms, those analogue-driven systems you’ve been relying on for the past decade, can help capture more sales. How? Well, through the adoption of a unified communications and commerce platform, you can identify individual customers, engage with those customers, analyse their wants and needs, and retain them in the future.
DID YOU KNOW?
Sephora, a leading French chain of cosmetics stores, provides a unified in-store and e-commerce loyalty platform called Beauty Insider. This tiered customer loyalty program boasts more than 10 million users and offers them rewards based on their annual spend. Customers can redeem their points for product samples, encouraging future merchandise sales. Personalised product recommendations are also provided based on a customer’s past shopping history.
Let’s unpack four steps you can take to grow your sales and remain relevant to consumers in the digital age.
1. Identify your Customer
You’ll need to acquire customer information so that you can start a dialogue with them. You can achieve this in several ways, from an online sign-up for newsletters, to capturing their information at the till when they are paying. You could also introduce a loyalty programme, which would mean customers sign up and providing contact information.
Once you have your customers’ information, you can communicate directly with them based on their age, gender, religion, and so on. The more specific you are with questions when recording their information up front, the easier it will be for you to segment customers into smaller brackets. Identifying your customer when they walk through your retail outlet’s door enables you to deliver products or services that are directly suited to their specific needs.
2. Engage with your Customer
The days of differentiating yourself from your competitors based on price are over. It doesn’t matter if your products are the cheapest; consumers want to enjoy their shopping experience and are willing to part with a little more money in order to get what they want. According to BRP, your customers’ ability to search and compare products and prices online shifts the balance of shopping power onto the consumer’s side of the proverbial pitch.
By engaging with your customers via social media and an interactive website, you’ll be able to gain deeper insights into what they are looking for, what’s trending amongst particular age groups, what men are looking for, what women are looking for, and much more. It’s important that you decide on the metrics that matter most in your business and seek answers to those metrics by communicating with your customers.
3. Analyse your Customer
By engaging with your customer, you’ll have access to a wide range of data that can be processed for even deeper insights into shopper patterns. Through an analytics dashboard, you can see, in visual terms, when customers are browsing your website, what they are saying about your business on social media, and even what they are saying about your competitors.
You can use this analytics data to offer customers exactly what they want, without having to over commit to slow-moving stock or large volumes of products that are only being demanded by a handful of customers. Analysing your data is an important step in ensuring you make better stock purchasing decisions and can allow you to make future-focused decisions based on facts rather than your “gut-feel”.
4. Retain your Customer
Following the three steps mentioned above will help you grow your customer base, but more importantly, it will allow you to retain customers too. How? If you have customer contact details, and you have deep insights into the products and services they want most, you can market directly to those customers via the Internet. Sending weekly newsletters, or fortnightly emails on new products, or inviting them to join your customer loyalty programme can guarantee future sales.
Leading South African retailers are already leveraging customer loyalty programmes to provide products and services to specific sets of customers, and you can too. It comes down to implementing a scalable Information and Communications Technology (ICT) platform that’s easy to use and always on. BRP says that consumers search for products and services anytime, from anywhere. Basically, you need to be open for business 24/7, and a unified communications platform can assist.
When it comes to ICT related matters, it can be challenging to decide on where to start your infrastructure overhaul. Fortunately, there are several leading ICT service providers that can assist you on your retail revolution. If you don’t move your business into the digital age, customers aren’t going to know you exist, even if your shop is right around the corner from where they live, work, and play.
If you want to ensure your business’s future success, you need to assess your current ICT infrastructure as a matter of priority.
Replace all standalone business systems with interconnected devices to ensure you’re moving towards a unified communications and commerce platform.
Implement systems and processes within your business that ensure someone is actively monitoring your website and social media to engage with customers.
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