DIY Market Is Ripe for Virtual Engagement Tools

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Retail was completely upended in 2020 with slowing demand, shutdown of brick-and-mortar and problems in the supply chain. As in-person experiences were brought to a halt, consumers turned to online shopping for essentials — from food to appliances and furniture – to get through the pandemic. Amid the disruption, the need for customer support did not drop along with sales — in fact, it increased.

According to "The New CX Mandate" survey report from Freshworks, customer service leaders experienced an 83% increase in support volumes across all digital channels including email, live chat/messaging, social media and websites. Furthermore, 40% of those customer service executives noted collaboration tools as the most critically important in helping them maintain service levels through the crisis.

The shutdowns and remote working conditions amid the pandemic left many consumers to fend for themselves, rely on e-commerce for purchasing essentials and engage with customer service digitally for help. But even as companies look to a post-pandemic world, these trends are expected to continue. In fact, the CGS “2021 Supply Chain Trends survey of retail, brands and consumer products executives confirmed that the top three digital trends for growth in 2021 would be e-commerce, online marketplaces and social media shopping.

Digital transformation has not just begun, it has been prioritized in most industries. The shift in focus may be most visible to retail consumers using e-commerce tools such as scheduling pickup of goods at a store or using frictionless payments at an outlet. Today’s consumers have adapted to digital, but they may not realize the breadth of capabilities for better engagement with the product brand or retailer, using their own existing smartphone or tablet.

Brands and retailers have an immense opportunity to leverage technology to strengthen connections with their customers, beyond the initial shopping experience. While digital options have increased in purchasing or delivery, they can be scarce for consumers looking for help post-purchase.    

CGS survey data found that while consumers were purchasing from online sites, for safety reasons many were reluctant to visit stores for returns and repairs amid the pandemic. Instead, 70% of consumers relied on fixing or assembling items on their own. In times of more complicated fixes, 42% of consumers stated that they would be interested in using technology such as augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), in which an expert visually guides them through steps via a smartphone or tablet allowing for a “see what I see” approach to repairing an item.

At a time in which the retail industry is going through an incredible transformation, customer engagement, experience and satisfaction will be key to retention and growth.

The survey also found 43% of consumers were never offered the option of service and support via AR when attempting a household installation or repair. While men were more eager than women to use AR technology for appliance repairs, 37% of women were interested in having remote guidance in assembling a new product. 

From research and customer experience, the benefits of digital tools and emerging tech such as AR are clear for the consumer and the company alike. Often used in purchasing goods, these tools can also provide pre- and post-sale support, reducing product returns and repairs for no fault found.

Even as the global market sees signs of recovery, research shows that digital shopping is not about to subside. Online sales of furniture and housewares jumped 41% in 2020 to $36.1 billion, according to Coresight Research, and sales in 2021 are expected continue to grow to $37.3 billion.

At a time in which the retail industry is going through an incredible transformation, customer engagement, experience and satisfaction will be key to retention and growth. The Verint Engagement Capacity Gap Study found that 88% of executives are concerned about managing the growth in volume of customer interactions. Furthermore, 82% of survey respondents believe the challenges of managing customer engagement and experience will grow in 2021, so it makes sense that 78% are invested moderately to highly in artificial intelligence to support CE and CX.  

An Accenture April 2021 report further solidified the dramatic rise in current and future reliance on e-commerce. The report showed the proportion of online purchases for products, including essentials, home décor and fashion, by previously infrequent e-commerce users — defined as those who used online channels for less than 25% of purchases prior to the pandemic — increased 343% since the outbreak.

As we start to come out of this pandemic, consumer demand for goods not only skyrocketed in the past year, but it also most certainly and permanently shifted to the digital world. The industry must meet their customers’ needs by offering services — from shopping to support — on their terms. Offering self-help tools and technology such as AR and VR can only enhance CX and the company’s bottom line.  

Steven Petruk is president of the global outsourcing division at CGS.

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