If retailers expect to survive in the coming decade, it’s imperative they know and respect their customers. Loyal customers are priceless in the Amazon age. Competition is brutal, and consistent attention to consumers’ needs, wants and preferences makes all the difference. In order to thrive today and into the future, retailers need to follow a few rules (and adopt technologies that will automate the relationship-building process).
These rules are aligned with key findings and insights from Experience 2030: The Future of Customer Experience, a comprehensive global research study involving more than 4,000 consumers, executives, marketers, and technology professionals. SAS partnered with Futurum Research on this study to understand what defines customer experience today and how it’s evolving through the year 2030.
Rule #1: Know me and respect my time, privacy and payment preference
Where we are today: Customers want as much (or as little) information about products as they need to make a buying decision and move on. They expect retailers to use data to know them better, keep customer data private, and to not stalk them digitally. And when they make a buying decision and are ready to pay, the retailer should know the form of payment they prefer.
By 2030: I want a world-class experience when I visit my preferred stores. At the local shoe store, for instance, they will know I prefer basketball shoes. Their knowledge of me and my buying history plus their in-store augmented reality app will allow them to help me design a custom pair of high tops. I remain loyal to them because they’ve always personalized my experience, and they take extra steps to keep my personal data secure.
Technology in play as the decade unfolds: Location analytics, augmented reality, analytics and artificial intelligence (AI).
Rule #2: Make me want to come back
Where we are today: Create customer experiences in your store that are surprising, dynamic and satisfying so they’ll want to come back and discover what has changed since they last visited the store. If the customer is a wine aficionado, offer quarterly wine-tasting parties. If they are a do-it-yourselfer, offer videos on how to best take on a bathroom retiling project. If they are a Taylor Swift fan, offer them exclusive-access tickets to her next concert.
By 2030: Because a retailer knows me, I expect a frictionless experience. Suppose I’m having a dinner party on Saturday night. My grocer can analyze my shopping history and social media data to recommend a personalized menu with associated recipes and related food and beverage recommendations. The grocer can pull all the merchandise I select and schedule a convenient time for home delivery.
Technology in play as the decade unfolds: Analytics, AI and chatbots.
Rule #3: Bring your products to me
Where we are today: Make it easy for customers to experience your brand, service and merchandise. That means if they shop in your local store, customers expect their desired merchandise to be there consistently. If they are members of your subscription service, they expect their monthly box to contain merchandise tailored to them. And, if they don’t like the contents you send, make it seamless for them to return it.
By 2030: If I need new clothes for an upcoming event, my preferred retailer makes recommendations for merchandise that matches my size, style and price preferences while I browse online. If I want to buy a suit, I’ll be able to see how it looks on me by using augmented reality before I go to the store to try it on. Smart mirrors in the fitting rooms will prompt the salesperson to bring me a different size if the jacket doesn’t fit quite right.
And because the retailer knows my shopping history, it can make recommendations for accessories that coordinate with this suit and perhaps with other suits that I previously bought. Because the sales associate has my full profile downloaded on a smart device, I’m able to quickly pay for my merchandise and leave the store without ever standing in line at a cashier’s station.
Technology in play as the decade unfolds: AI, customer intelligence, computer vision and conversational commerce, demand planning analytics.
Rule #4: Be a good neighbor and an active citizen
Where we are today: Retailers are expected to participate in the communities they serve whether that’s through active community involvement by a local store or by supporting broader issues that are important to its customers. Retailers looking for more loyal customers must make it easy for like-minded people to come together (in person or virtually) to share their time and thoughts to help make the business more relevant. Operate your business in a socially conscious, sustainable fashion and customers will reward you with loyalty. And, when disasters strike - natural or otherwise - a retailer is uniquely positioned to provide emergency goods and services when consumers need them the most.
By 2030: The retailers I value support me and the causes I hold dear because they know me and respect my needs. If they build a new store, they consider sustainable building materials and an architectural style that respects the standards of the community. I can take my recyclables to their on-site recycling center, and I know I can tap into the online and neighborhood-based community they’ve built for guidance on everything from organic gardening to filing my taxes. They support neighborhood schools with donations of service and funds, and I trust them to continue to evolve with me and the rest of the neighborhood through the years.
Technology in play as the decade unfolds: AI, internet of things (IoT) and analytics.
Experience 2030: The Future of Customer Experience research reveals retailers have some work to do if they want to continue to be relevant to consumers. Consumers are ready to shop with the help of advanced technologies, but many retailers are behind the curve as it concerns consumer-facing technological innovation. It’s time to push aside doubt and captivate consumers in a way that makes them engaged, satisfied customers. If you don’t, your competitors surely will.
Dan Mitchell is the Global Director of Retail and CPG at SAS. Follow him on Twitter @DMitchell_ and LinkedIn.
Follow SAS on Twitter @SASRetail and @SASsoftware.
Download Experience 2030: The Future of Customer Experience report to learn more.