Managing Director, UK Valtech
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Six ways to rebuild customer engagement in-store

14th Jul 2021
Managing Director, UK Valtech
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While 2020-21 will forever be seen as a devastating period for physical retailers, this time of upheaval continues to be a significant catalyst for innovation and change across the sector. Habits have been broken, new ways of buying and selling have been discovered. Brands, in turn, have repositioned themselves to adapt to these new operating realities and shifts in consumer behaviour. Retailers are updating their business models, trying to recreate the magic of their in-store experiences online and rethinking their in-store strategy to meet new consumer needs.

The events of today are triggering ripple effects that signal major shifts to come in the future. Many trends that began before the pandemic are being accelerated, and trends that no one could have predicted are taking off. These shifts have created major opportunities across the buying journey for brands who are able to anticipate and proactively build customer experiences fit for the future.

The best way to predict the future is to create it. Brands must invest now to proactively shape their futures, creating dynamic highly personalised customer experiences in this unfolding landscape. With 74% of shoppers saying that they missed shopping in-store during Covid, physical experiences remain a vital part of the retail customer experience. So how exactly can brands rebuild their customer engagement in stores after Covid-19?

1. Milk your data and get personal.

Data is the foundation for building customer experiences. It’s the key ingredient to personalised shopping experiences and ensuring products offered, both online and in-store, are as relevant to the consumer as possible; suited to their needs, preferences, purchase history, etc. It empowers brands with insight on what sells more in what location, and what shoppers who buy one product typically buy next.

Brands need a clear strategy underpinning how they gather and use data — both structured and unstructured. Those that own their customer data without overly depending on others will be at an advantage.

Data is also the foundation for building trust between brands and consumers. By taking a lead on data transparency, brands will earn trust, paving the way for long-term customer loyalty. While traditionally, data has informed ecommerce, post-Covid ever more brands are taking digital data and using it to inform and improve in-store experiences. Jewellery brand Pandora for example is successfully using data to optimise the eCommerce customer experiences, using ML to drive recommendations and action. It is also using data insights from eCommerce to drive business efficiencies in terms of new product development and managing store stock levels etc.

Broad technologies like SmartShop and in-store crossover experiences such as click and collect can also help to generate more data, tying together customers’ online profiles with their in-store presence

2. Embrace mixed reality crossovers.

While AR, VR and MR have been overhyped for ages, these technologies are now finally starting to go mainstream. They will be the platform on which the next generation of experiences will play out. So far, the devices to support these experiences have been clunky and not able to reach the masses. Very soon VR will broaden from something mainly used within gaming and entertainment into the retail space and will power a new wave of experiential shopping. While only 1% of retailers currently use AR, 71% of consumers say they that AR experiences have encouraged them to shop more often. Brands like IKEA are paving the way for more consumers to discover the benefits of using AR as part of visualising products, relying on this technology to create in-store and catalogue-based crossover experiences.

3. Experiment until you resonate.

As we are trying to bridge the digital-physical gaps and build more seamless experiences, IoT and various kinds of hardware naturally become essential. New ways of looking at store architecture, sensors, beacons, screens, scanners and other types of hardware, paired with interior design, are all key components in order to deliver immersive and frictionless shopping experiences. Other technologies around gesture control, voice control, computer vision and image recognition, gaze control and tactile feedback will all be fundamental in powering new experiences. In short, this means experimenting with the ways customers interact with digital and physical objects beyond smartphones and touch screens. Brands have much work to do in terms of understanding what technology and type of interaction makes most sense in these new contexts, but much of these learnings will come from in-store experimentation.

4. Channel the fun.

To be able to break through the noise and reach consumers where they are, investments in platforms beyond the online stores and apps will be needed. Many of the future shopping experiences, as well as transactions, will come from social media, games and other channels. While there’s already huge potential for brands to sell within mobile and even console games, there’s also the opportunity to gamify shopping experiences in store. In the case of Johnson & Johnson, the brand creating a play space inside its flagship store, encouraging children and parents to play a game revolving around J&J products. These types of fun, interactive elements are proving a great way to engage customers and to provide memorable experiences that shoppers can’t get online.

5. Get familiar with composable architectures.

Time for a bit of a technical one. When building omnichannel experiences, brands need to invest in a modern MACH (Microservices; API-first; Cloud native; Headless) approach. What this essentially means is that every component in their in-store and online experiences are “composable”, meaning they can be easily plugged in, removed, scaled or replaced. Getting this MACH architecture right means that customer experiences can adapt as new technologies evolve and businesses can achieve a cohesive retail experience without disruption to historical systems.

6. Invest in tech/team compatibility.

True customer experience innovation will only be realised if the new technologies and solutions introduced are compatible with the skillset and toolbox of employees. From developers and tech people needed to understand new tech stacks and platforms, to store personnel that need to be familiar and comfortable with live shopping, virtual consultations and engagement in social media and other (social) platforms.

A great example of a brand using these principles to great effect is MAC Cosmetics. The cosmetics industry has traditionally relied heavily on physical store experiences and in-store purchases. MAC wanted to create a new experience for their customers that would not only change the way they interacted with the brand, but that would change the way they tried on and purchased makeup for the foreseeable future. It’s innovative concept store in Queens, NYC acts as a retail lab testing innovations with live consumers and then sharing successful experiences with the rest of the store fleet.

This new experience brings exceptional levels of personalisation. Everything from adding personal touches to the final packaging of purchased products to completely bespoke palettes created from the customer’s favourite colours have been considered in this push to give the user a completely unique cosmetics buying experience.

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