Shoppers today have higher expectations than ever before. They’re used to the ease of frictionless payments. They want to buy online and pick up in the store. They can get same-day shipping on almost anything. And if these expectations aren’t met, they’ll take their business elsewhere.
What should retailers be doing to make sure they’re meeting shoppers’ increasingly high expectations? Here are five questions they should be asking themselves right now to get ahead of the competition and to build a loyal customer base.
Omnichannel is more than the buzzword du jour in retail today—it’s what consumers have come to expect. A truly consistent omnichannel experience means that in all channels (in-store, online, on mobile) the experience is seamless and hassle-free. Buying online but returning at a store? No problem (innovations like Amazon Lockers make it even easier). Starting the purchase experience on your desktop at home but finishing it on your phone on the bus? Not an issue. Picking up your purchase at a different store than your usual location? Mission accomplished. And as retailers become more laser-focused on omnichannel selling, it’s important to look across their technology landscape and find ways to shift IT talent to focus on customer-facing systems rather than maintaining internal operational systems. Many in the retail industry are moving those systems to the cloud.
The online suggestion of “You might be interested in this” is ubiquitous in the modern shopping experience, and behind that personalization is a massive amount of customer data. A recent retail trends report from KPMG calls this “deep retail” — harnessing data to create personalized services, products, and experiences. This level of personalization comes with tremendous responsibility to protect customers’ privacy and personal data. But when done ethically and carefully, “deep retail” makes it easier than ever for customers to find what they’re looking for (and what they didn’t know they needed until that moment). In fact, tailored experiences are becoming the expectation rather than the exception. Several examples are Amazon’s “frequently bought with” suggestions and services like Modsy that allow you to take the guesswork out of designing a room (and the furniture you need to buy for it).
Even with the ubiquity and ease of online shopping, consumers still often prefer to browse through literal shelves, especially for apparel and accessories. The draw to physical stores is still strong, but the experience is shifting. Experiential retail can bring new life to purchases that were once stale and uninspiring. KPMG calls it “retailtainment,” this idea of making memories and creating experiences rather than just offering up products. Warby Parker is one example: The process of getting new glasses, once an overwhelming and sterile experience, is transformed. Customers choose stylish new frames in a meticulously designed space staffed by friendly, knowledgeable workers. When shoppers have many options at their fingertips, a memorable experience leaves a lasting impression and lays the foundation for loyalty.
Frontline workers are your customers’ first impression and gatekeepers of the brand experience. They play a key role in a consistent, positive experience. But retention is a challenge, and that translates into inconsistency and the potential for a bad experience. While some turnover is inevitable due to seasonality and the nature of frontline jobs, retailers can improve retention in several ways. Investing in learning opportunities is key, and can help open doors for career growth within the company. For example, 75 percent of Walmart store managers started as hourly associates, which shows the power of the training opportunities that they provide to their associates. Engaging employees with personalized learning programs can make a huge difference, both for the company and the employee. Another way to boost retention is making scheduling as simple as possible, and working toward regular, stable shifts so employees can plan around them. And in some cases, this is becoming a requirement, like the City of Chicago’s “fair workweek” ordinance requiring many businesses to give their employees two weeks’ notice of their schedules.
Target buying Shipt, IKEA buying TaskRabbit, and Kohl’s leasing space in its stores to Aldi and Planet Fitness are a few examples of retailers thinking beyond the traditional retail experience. More and more, they’re looking to create a platform and become a service provider. Target’s acquisition of Shipt allows it to deliver same-day shipping. IKEA and TaskRabbit combined, so assembling that dresser can be left to a hired helper rather than causing a domestic dispute over what piece comes next. And the Kohl’s agreements with Aldi and Planet Fitness stretch the possibilities of these partnerships, creating spaces where wellness, infotainment, and shopping combine. In the end, these collaborations create more connections for the consumer, and give the retailer more power through the platform model.