4 Ways Retailers Can Deliver Great CX in 2021


There’s been a lot of attention on the shift to e-commerce in 2020, but much of that was really a shift to omnichannel commerce driven by customers ordering online for in-store or curbside pickup. Nielsen research reported in December that omnichannel spending increased by 50% in 2020, with “almost half of all consumer goods purchases” made online, coupled with a 26% increase in in-store pickup from September 2019 through September 2020.

These new habits are likely to stick for the long term, and they bring a new set of expectations for customer experience that omnichannel retailers need to meet to stay competitive. The four retail experience elements that are poised to be the biggest differentiators this year are highly engaging brand content, real-time data visibility, two-way real-time communication between employees and customers, and headless commerce to support these changes.

Let’s take a look at each factor and why it matters.

1. Content moves retail sites beyond pages in a catalog

Most retailers’ and direct-to-consumer brands’ products are available on at least one major marketplace site like Amazon, Walmart or Wayfair in addition to their own websites. The marketplace channel helps bring in customers who want to simply grab a product and go. However, it’s difficult to create a strong relationship with customers on these platforms because brands are limited in the type and amount of content that they can share within the product page template.

To get customers to buy directly from them and build deeper affinity, retailers need to offer engaging content on their websites. It’s no longer enough to translate a paper catalog to the web, because that’s not different from the experience customers would have on a marketplace site. But some established sellers still rely on this approach, and they’re getting outflanked by smaller competitors who understand the value of engaging content.

For example, outdoorspeople may be taking fewer excursions right now than they’d like, but they’re still getting out when they can and they’re still shopping for clothing and gear. What’s more appealing — a site that simply lists products, or a site that features an outdoor brand’s activism, sport stories, influencer videos and social networking where customers can share their own brand-related content?

It’s also not enough for retailers to simply add a blog to a catalog-style website, so that content and shopping happen in separate parts of the site. Successful customer engagement requires the experience of community and networking on every page, including information that might not fit into the product templates on marketplace sites, so customers have all the information they need to make buying decisions.

2. Contactless commerce must be online and local

Making BOPIS work better is one of the biggest issues facing retailers right now. In fact, Forrester projects that delivering frictionless omnichannel customer service will be a major retail challenge over the next decade, so this isn’t an issue that’s going away any time soon.

Everyone’s trying to make the contactless experience more engaging while keeping it safe, and there’s no one formula that works for every retailer. However, the retailers that are doing the best are those that have linked their online experience to their store locations with unified data.

Inventory visibility makes the whole experience faster, clearer and less frustrating.

For example, one retail chain that excels at contactless omnichannel allows customers to shop their online store based on the nearest retail store. By sharing their location, customers can see exactly what’s in stock right now at the store closest to them, without having to sort through a huge grid of products to find items that are available nearby. From the moment they arrive on the site, they only see what they can buy and pick up today.

That inventory visibility makes the whole experience faster, clearer and less frustrating. It allows customers to find what they need fast and get it, without the unpleasant experience of going to the store only to find that their purchase is out of stock. To offer this kind of seamless experience, retailers need to invest in a system that provides unified stock-level data that’s continuously updated in real time.

3. One-way communication with customers is no longer enough

The other key to excellent contactless in-store experiences is communication. When a customer makes a purchase for pickup, of course the retailer should follow up with an order confirmation and update emails, text messages or push notifications from their app. This messaging should set expectations — this is how long it will take us to prepare your order, we’ll let you know as soon as it’s ready, and here’s where to go and what to do when you arrive at the store.

However, effective communication must be two-way. If your customers can’t contact you immediately if they have a question about their curbside pickup or would like to change the pickup time, it creates a frustrating experience.

So, retailers need to make sure they have a way to listen, not just send messages. This requires some technology to respond quickly to customer texts, emails and phone calls, but the real key here is having actual people to engage with customers. Without people to pick up the phone or respond to texts, the customer experience can fall apart quickly. Employees play a critical role in customer experience.

4. Headless commerce helps retailers enable these improvements

Headless commerce is something for retailers to consider if they need to differentiate their CX. That’s because the headless commerce model allows you to quickly deploy updates to deliver a seamless experience across touchpoints without impacting the back-end system.

To create the kind of content-driven engagement that brings customers in, like influencer videos and social posts that you’re sharing across multiple platforms, plus multiple two-way customer communication channels, retailers can’t rely on the costly, slow-to-develop enterprise platform model.

Rather than invest in enterprise platforms for every channel — and whatever channels will be popular in a few months — retailers need a lightweight, low-cost, agile platform for each. These “heads” all connect to an omnichannel enterprise platform that allows them to keep up with changes in customer engagement methods without sinking a lot of money into a single platform or app that takes a long time to get up to speed.

Now’s the time to set your CX priorities

As retailers plan their CX improvements for 2021, it’s important to focus on the fundamentals. Tech-heavy solutions like personalization and AI are hot topics in customer experience right now, but without great content, real-time stock data and immediate two-way communication in place, your omnichannel customer experience won’t meet your customers’ new expectations.

This is a good time to make sure you’ve got those fundamentals up to par and the digital maturity and foundation in place to move to headless commerce. Taking these steps will set you up to implement changes fast for a more seamless customer experience in the year ahead, no matter which channels your customers use.

Aaron Eversoll is a market development VP within the consumer products, retail and distribution (CPRD) market unit at Capgemini, North America. Aaron is responsible for driving Capgemini’s Digital Customer Experience initiative within CPRD, focusing on helping clients solve their digital and commerce challenges and enabling clients to deliver an overall enhanced experience to their customers. Aaron is a proud alum of Truman State University.

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