Director of Sales, EMEA PCMS
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How will customers' expectations evolve?

2nd May 2017
Director of Sales, EMEA PCMS
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Online and mobile sales are fast gathering pace, while physical stores continue to play a significant role in the customer journey. But how can retailers future-proof their omnichannel strategies when shopper behaviour never stands still? Steve Powell, Director of Sales – EMEA at PCMS, discusses.

Retailers are already bringing the online experience in-store through connected devices to provide a more unified, convenient and enjoyable experience. But with the current economic climate casting uncertainty on the future, never has it been more important for senior personnel to take a serious look at their five-year plans, to ensure their customer engagement strategy is future-proof.

The customer is king

In retailers’ current efforts to get ahead of the competition, many have been quick to embrace the latest technology innovations, in a bid to attract and impress multichannel shoppers.

But what’s impressive today will not necessarily maintain customer interest in five years’ time. Indeed, much of what is deemed ground-breaking now will become commonplace, meaning retailers that are already struggling to meet omnichannel demand could find they are left behind. So, rather than playing catch-up, retailers should focus their attention on what matters to the customer in terms of their wider value proposition, if they want to stay relevant and profitable.

Customer service comes first

To understand what the customer values most, PCMS recently surveyed consumers on what makes them loyal to a retailer. We found that quality of service has the biggest influence on customer retention; 49% said helpful customer service was the decisive factor in whether they buy from the same retailer in the future, and an additional 35% rated quick customer service as their reason to make a return visit.

However, worryingly, many feel current in-store service is not up to scratch. Almost half (47%) find the speed and quality of their current retail experience ‘variable’. With so much at stake, retailers’ future plans need to incorporate a clear customer service strategy; one that ensures their business not only listens to feedback, but puts it at the heart of their development strategy, to provide the most seamless experience possible.

The currency of convenience

Over the next five years, another key challenge for retailers will be ensuring they can deliver greater convenience to shoppers, alongside enhancing customer service. And that means enabling consumers to move effortlessly between touchpoints on their journey to purchase.  

As the number of channels grows, so too does the demand for more joined-up solutions, and this isn’t an issue that will simply fizzle out – if anything, it’ll increase. A quarter of consumers already want greater channel consistency to align their experiences in-store, online and on mobile.

Additionally, over half (55%) would like to see cross-channel transaction capabilities, such as mixed basket transactions – the ability to complete payments for items in their online cart at the same time as making an in-store purchase. A select few retailers are making the first steps to incorporating mixed basket capabilities, and as consumer demand for this service grows, we will see this area becoming increasingly competitive.  

Expect the unexpected – and be ready to react

If the past six months have showed us anything, it is that sometimes the market will swing in ways that are unpredictable and unplanned for. For this reason, retailers need to be prepared for future fluctuations, and ensure they have the agility to keep meeting customer expectations, however they change.

As I said at the start of this article, many organisations are looking to technology to solve this challenge. While this is the correct response, many could find that their current investments may not hit the nail on the head, for one major reason: they are making ‘inside out’ decisions, rather than looking at how customer behaviour is developing, and finding the right tools to meet changing trends.

The best technology investments are rooted in the knowledge that the retail landscape will never stop evolving, and therefore a great deal of flexibility and scale is required to deliver long-term value. The aim is not to find a different solution for every customer journey, but to find the in-house and back-end tech that can enable front-line staff to treat each shopper as an individual. This way, they can develop clear omnichannel processes today which can also meet the demands of the customer tomorrow.

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