Retail Reflections

Why The New Two Tiers Of Retail Ushers In An Exciting Era Of Customer Experience

Why The New Two Tiers Of Retail Ushers In An Exciting Era Of Customer Experience

The arrival of Covid-19 suddenly imposed shifts in consumers’ expectations, perspectives and behaviours, and this will usher in a new age of customer experience and challenge conventional thinking like never before. Here’s why.

The coronavirus is both a health and economic global issue that is unprecedented and very challenging for everyone, that we know. But what we don’t know yet is how our consumer driven society will really look in the months and years to come. However, we’re already beginning to see glimpses of what to expect, starting to emerge.

With the first steps in easing the restrictions on people’s movements and activities likely to occur soon now a vaccine is being rolled out, it’s vital to have a strategy now that is supported by behavioural insights into consumers’ needs, how to improve customer service and deliver positive customer experiences in our changed reality.

Online adoption Is good news for stores

For years, customer service and customer experience have been foremost in many a conversation which focused on retail or any consumer driven sector for that matter. Indeed, and with good reason, an entire industry has been created, it’s sole purpose to capture and interpret customer feeling and sentiment. And this is only set to intensify as we enter a pandemic induced new era of customer experience, one which is emerging as a by-product of the new shopper behaviour we are witnessing.

Now, it might sound counter intuitive to suggest that the surge in ecommerce is in reality, good news for stores, so let me explain.

For years, the share of the total retail basket which online enjoyed was increasing, but only gradually. By February 2020, non-grocery had reached approximately 20%. Then, with the Covid-19 pandemic, by November 2020 it had reached a staggering 40%. What many thought would take the remainder of the decade, if at all, had happened within months.

And much of that new online spend is unlikely to disappear any time soon. So surely this is devastating for physical stores?

For years, here in the UK, it was an undeniable fact that most retailers simply had too much space. What the pandemic has done is to condense years of retail evolution into a short space of time. Ultimately this is good news for both retail and consumers alike. For the former it is good news because the status quo was simply unsustainable – better to take the pain in a shorter period of time rather than in an extended denouement.

For consumers, it means that the quality (as opposed to quantity) of retail on the high street will demonstrably improve as a result. Because average will no longer survive. And this brings us to perhaps the most exciting aspect of the post-pandemic world we have to look forward to.

For years, we have been educated and conditioned to think, not of channels customers shop in, but of one consistent brand interaction whether it be online, offline, desktop, mobile, QR code and so forth. But what is emerging is a two-tier retail model, one where online and offline will fufill very different roles.

For ease and convenience, we will continue to shop online for known products, repeat purchases, commodity items and where we’re unsure where the product could be purchased in-store.

However, if we are purchasing a luxury item, or something we need to feel and touch, seek advice or require a very personal experience then we will shop in-store. And we will come to view each for their own strengths and merits.

That’s quite a departure from all that we’ve come to know to be true and has far reaching implications for the very nature of what actually constitutes great in-store customer experience. And ultimately what that will mean is the in-store becoming an extension of the digital experience, rather than the other way around.

It’s not what goes wrong, it’s how you deal with it that counts

But above all, we will expect brands to make the effort to understand perhaps the most important retail metric of all, how we are feeling. Managing customer expectations and responding in the right way have never been so critical. And one company whose business is at the forefront of this and which helps brands with sentiment analysis and insights is Feefo.

Keith Povey, Director of Marketing at Feefo said, “There is no doubt that we are entering a time where legacy paradigms are being left behind and new ones emerge and retail is right at the forefront of that”.

There’s no doubt that we’ve well and truly entered the ‘listening age’, and tools such as Feefo’s Performance Profiling, can help by using artificial intelligence to analyse your review content and highlight recurring themes.

“We are seeing retailers pivot to, evolve and expedite digital strategies and the only way to be successful in that – whether high street or high end – is with customer-centricity at the heart. Mechanisms need to listen, understand and act on a one-to-one basis and also have the same depth of understanding and capability at a scale of thousands or millions of customers at a time”.

This will drive new retail metrics, as retailers realise that they need to invest more than ever before in understanding how one influences the other and vice versa. More than just reviews and five stars, retailers will really need to engage with and listen to their customers as never before.

One way or another, it’s great news for the stores that are best set up for listening to their customers.

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