Customer experience (CX) is hardly a new battleground, but retailers and brands alike must constantly refine how they approach it.
Knowing who you are, what makes you different, and how to create meaningful, frictionless experiences are key to surviving — and thriving — in a crowded marketplace.
Here are a few emerging CX trends in retail and how you can keep up with them:
1. Seamless omnichannel approaches
Few retailers have such an exclusive product or service that they can mandate which channels they use. As buying seasons blur and customers’ urgency to buy and acquire takes greater precedence, creating a unified CX across all channels becomes crucial.
With 87% of shoppers prioritizing shipping speed in their purchasing decisions, customers increasingly expect to buy items online for in-store pickup or access same-day delivery services. Last-minute shoppers also seek the same ease of buying and acquiring goods as shoppers who buy in advance.
Retailers will enjoy greater revenue growth as they offer more (and faster) delivery options — as long as the offerings are beneficial from the customer’s point of view.
2. Distinctive experiences
To have any chance of competing with Amazon’s “we offer everything” experience, a retailer’s own approach must offer customers something special. Gaining customers’ attention with unexpected experiences that support a brand’s key differentiators will be essential to customer loyalty.
Ask yourself what makes your CX unique, better or simply different. Then, use that information to redefine how your company should appear in customers’ eyes.
For example, footwear company Inez lets customers try on a pair of shoes in two different sizes (a half size up or down or a different width, for example) while only paying for one. That means Inez’s online shoppers keep the perks of an in-store experience by figuring out which shoes fit them best in real time.
Survivors and thrivers in retail will know exactly who they are, how they’re different, and how they will compete — and win.
3. More individualization
Personalized experiences are so yesterday. The new standard is individualized experiences that make each customer’s journey feel as if it was crafted just for them both logically and emotionally. Brands should arm themselves with great data, insights from that data, and emerging technology.
In turn, they can create individual experiences that blend in the right emotional pulls to make customers feel special and appreciated. Individualization speaks to customers: It encourages retention, repeat purchases, good reviews and positive social sentiments.
The logical side of individualization — such as giving the right product recommendations or knowing customers across channels — is only one part of this. The kinds of individual experiences that drive increased and repeat purchases are more emotional and include human touch, aspirational marketing, relevant thank-you messages, survey follow-ups and issue resolutions.
4. Streamlined processes
Unnecessary steps and processes aren’t just irritating for customers — they’re now intolerable. To give customers the effortless, enjoyable experiences they want, retailers can shift focus toward efficiency and the employees providing those experiences.
Start by implementing lean processes: think making surveys faster to complete by eliminating nonessential questions. Then, do the same exercise for employees and ensure they don’t have to take extra steps when interacting with customers.
Improving efficiencies means losing fewer orders to customer frustration, a lower customer effort score, and improved customer satisfaction. It also cuts down employee frustration, which helps your team provide better experiences as a whole.
5. Strong brand cultures
Discovering your CX advantage starts with strengthening your brand’s culture. Because culture is a major aspect of your brand’s personality that impacts both customers and employees, you want the human element to shine through — even in self-service experiences.
In a highly competitive labor market, a strong culture improves employee engagement and morale. In turn, this bolsters retentionand boosts your chances of attracting the right recruits.
A strong culture also supports your competitive differentiators. The more engaged employees are, the more equipped they’ll be to create positive experiences for customers.
Focusing on what makes you unique will help your brand, culture, and employees develop a personality that leaves a lasting impression. Work with your culture’s strengths to guide employees and design experiences that ensure you stand out against competitors.
Customers — and the employees who make high-quality experiences happen — are at the heart of every business. Embrace those people, invest in understanding their daily lives, and commit to making those lives better. After all, CX is simply a collection of moments and interactions experienced by human beings.
Rhonda Basler leads the customer engagement and marketing team at Hallmark Business Connections, Hallmark’s B2B subsidiary. Her passion is innovating human-centered and results-oriented approaches to customer experience, employee engagement, and omnichannel marketing, creating great ROI through human connection. Before joining Hallmark Business Connections, Rhonda worked with agencies and companies ranging from small businesses to the Fortune 500, achieving measurable marketing and CX results by applying the latest marketing innovations and strategic insights. Follow her on Twitter at @rkbasler.