By John Bajorek & Raj B. Shroff
There is an ever-present buzz swirling around the idea of omni-channel marketing in today’s retail landscape. Brands are being told they must have an omni-channel plan that stretches across mobile apps, websites and brick-and-mortar stores in order to stay competitive among an increasingly savvy and curious consumer base.
We say that’s BS!
When it comes to creating an experience that today’s consumers expect, it goes beyond just integrating digital technologies online or in-store. While there’s a bevy of great tools out there, these will only go so far in helping companies create a truly great customer experience.
In our latest research, we compared the usage, appeal and influence on purchase of retail technologies like buy online pickup in store (BOPIS), peer ratings and reviews and personalized communication. We found that consumers are increasingly utilizing these technologies and are increasingly interested in them, but we also learned that their presence means very little if the overall shopping experience is lacking.
While these digital tools can help retailers connect with shoppers and keep them coming back, they’re in no way essential to a successful customer experience, especially if they aren’t integrated the right way. We learned that it’s more important for brands to anticipate the needs and desires of their customers and act accordingly. A properly executed BOPIS strategy works well for big box retailers like Home Depot, for example, but has less significance in a boutique store like Urban Outfitters.
Many companies are putting technology out there, but they’re simply not doing it right. There needs to be a renewed focus on understanding the core customer base and the brand message before even considering integrating tools that may or may not be a good fit.
Today’s retail strategies should be less about blindly utilizing omni-channel tactics and more about making the overall experience the top priority.
The Customer Experience Problem
According to the consumers we interviewed, brands are falling behind when it comes to giving them what they want. Their expectations are higher than ever and they want to be wowed regardless of where or how they’re doing their shopping. By putting too much stock into the idea of creating an omni-channel experience, brands are missing the bigger picture.
Creating a strong brand, having a clear point of view and crafting an experience based on that view is key to solving the customer experience problem. For Starbucks, mobile is a great solve since their customers are on the go and demand quick service. That doesn’t mean, however, that every corner coffee shop would benefit from offering a similar experience. Many small retailers need their customers to linger.
While companies have an incredible amount of new technology at their disposal and often want to do it all in terms of connecting with customers, it isn’t always necessary. Picking and choosing the right tools for the brand is the most important step.
Another essential part of today’s customer experience is the inclusion of a human touch. Among our findings, the fact stands that customer service, from another person, still really matters, regardless of how much technology is being utilized. This human touch will grow and progress along with the technology being used in stores and online. For example; thanks to artificial intelligence, we’re soon going to see associates that will talk with you and take you to a specific category or make sure you had a good holiday versus the perfunctory task of ringing you up.
How It’s Being Done Right
When it comes to offering an excellent experience, some of the most unexpected players are having the most success. While these companies utilize certain tactics to enhance the engagement, the tools they use support the brand they’ve built and the type of experience their customers desire.
Dyson’s UK stores, for example, are simple, clean and innovative showrooms. They allow customers to touch and play at retail and buy online while in the store. Sephora has nailed the modern in-store customer experience by offering a Fragrance IQ kiosk and digital Beauty Workshop, as well as space for classes, free samples and the opportunity to experiment with products. Plus, the company’s ultra-savvy retail associates add a human touch that makes the shopping experience memorable.
On the other end of the spectrum, Urban Outfitters has taken technology out of the equation altogether with its Space 24 Twenty concept. It’s a communal space for retail, local pop-up marketplaces, live music, events and even dining, which caters directly to the company’s youthful customer base. No hi-tech wizardry needed.
There are other brands utilizing everything from BOPIS to peer ratings and reviews the right way, while also finding ways to give customers a unique brand experience. By trying new things that creates synergies across the buying ecosystem, they’re making it easier for customers to shop where and how they want.
How Today’s Technology Measures Up
We measured a number of digital technologies in our Digital Retail Integration – Wiring the Customer Experience study in 2013, including BOPIS, peer ratings and reviews and personalized communication. While a few brands are making strides by expertly weaving those technologies into their overall customer experience in a way that enhances their individual brand, many more brands are still lagging behind. There’s some experimentation and talk about stores of the future that cater to consumers, yet full integration still seems a long way off.
In fact, more and more consumers are turning to online-only brands because they aren’t receiving the type of experience they’ve come to expect. According to BloomReach’s State of Amazon study, the web giant’s share of all retail sales is up 11 percent year on year while the share for search engines and other retailers is down. Further, when shoppers know what they want to buy, 59 percent will start their search on Amazon and only 16 percent will shop with a retailer that has the same product. If these numbers continue to trend in this direction, we could be looking at the “Amazon Century” ahead.
John Bajorek is Sr. Vice President, Brand, Strategy & Design, and Raj B. Shroff is Vice President, Brand, Strategy & Design, at WD Partners, a customer experience expert for global brands with offices worldwide.