Are You Winning the Customer Loyalty Battle?

Retailers are looking ahead to 2017 and what they must do to win in the age of the customer. Forrester has predicted that the line between digital and physical retailing will vanish in 2017 – a line, in fact, that is already largely invisible to customers. So what should retailers do to win the customer loyalty battle in a fiercely competitive landscape? In short, they must be customer obsessed.

First, understand how your customers are empowered now. In the past, retailers and suppliers controlled all the information around product, price, placement, and promotions; today, of course, consumers have access to all of that, too. Consumers are hungry for information, use multiple devices throughout the course of a given day, blend digital and in-store experiences without thinking twice, and are laser-focused on having the best personal experiences. What’s really interesting: Consumers today are likely to adopt new technologies and digital experiences more rapidly than in years past. When Apple released the iPod in 2001, just 3% of U.S. consumers said they were interested in buying an MP3 player, but by the time Apple released the iPad in 2010, fully 14% were ready to buy a tablet device.

But to deliver on ever-rising customer expectations, retailers also must invest in a digitally-fluent organization. Retailers must be ready to reorganize -— perhaps even multiple times -— to infuse digital talent and experience to their brand. One conundrum for retailers is that experienced digital talent is still in short supply. Nor can retailers simply rely on having a crack e-commerce team — the entire enterprise needs to “speak” digital, top to bottom. Brands can take a cue from organizations such as Walgreens and Kohl’s and groom and promote digitally-rooted execs to take on broader roles to permeate every part of the company.
Ultimately, retailers must step up their customer experience game both online and in-store. Customers interact with brands across multiple touchpoints at all times, and the hard part is making sure each touchpoint delivers what the customer needs in that place and time for the “right” experience. In-store digital technologies are starting to take off, but we’ve found that some customer-facing tests have actually been confusing, not helpful, to customers. Pilot and test solutions that serve specific customer and store associate needs. For the most immediate payoff, it may make sense to focus first on digital store solutions that enhance store operations, such as providing associates with product information to better serve customers.

So what’s the mantra for 2017? Obsess about your customers and their needs to figure out how all of your touchpoints must work together to win, serve and retain them over time.

Fiona Swerdlow is VP, research director at Forrester.