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Five themes that will define the future customer buying journey


The last 18 months have been a catalyst for innovation and change, which in turn are triggering new trends to come - some of which will present major opportunities for those who anticipate them and build customer experiences fit for the future.

1st Sep 2021

Despite all the challenges, the last 18 months have been a catalyst for innovation and change. The events of today are triggering ripple effects that signal major shifts in trends to come. These shifts present major opportunities across the buying journey for brands who can anticipate and proactively build customer experiences fit for the future.

Here are my five themes that will define the future customer buying journey over the next five years:

1. In-store metamorphosis not apocalypse

With physical retail in flux, unsurprisingly retail operations have shifted even further towards online; impacting how customers behave across the brick-and-mortar landscape.

Forced health and safety measures have inadvertently set new expectations of convenience and given the physical store new purpose — retailers attention will continue to focus on contactless technologies, most notably the notion of “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS), contactless payments and contactless returns.

While many of these solutions were hastily implemented in response to immediate need, they’ve resulted in new levels of convenience for consumers, saving time and streamlining the purchasing experience. Ongoing refinement and improvement of these solutions will reinforce these habits.

2. Predictive personalisation

As more brands move operations online, their business model changes, and their digital capabilities become a new competitive arena. As such, customer data and personalisation become a potential goldmine as a fundamental step in digital relationship-building.

Personalisation started as a way to focus ad spending on specific target groups, but the focus is shifting more towards how businesses interact with individuals.

As the field continuous to evolve, companies will increasingly try to add prediction elements to the personalisation mix by essentially combining implicit behavioural and explicit data collection methods, both in-store and online.

Cross-channel approaches to data analysis and personalisation will be key for the connected consumer experience going forward. In such a rapidly evolving landscape, we are likely to see a lot of experimentation from companies that try to differentiate themselves online. However, as governments take an active role in data privacy, it becomes evident that personal data will be valued differently depending on the context we’re in. This means we could see a variety of scenarios play out.

3. Closing the digital-physical experience gap

Despite ongoing consumer migration to online channels, physical locations will continue to play an important role in the shopping journey. But brands need to rethink the role of the store and apply what were previously considered online-only methodologies to the physical world to create a truly connected customer experience.

For example, the resurgence of QR codes to augment the physical store is enabling consumers to interact with the store’s interior through their personal device, creating safer and more engaging experiences. A great example was Louis Vuitton’s escape-from-the-pandemic outdoor theme park studded with QR codes that reveal AR experiences showcasing its Spring/Summer 2021 Men’s collection.

Bringing experiences to customers’ homes is another avenue that will explode. Try-before-you-buy technologies such as IKEA’s updated “Place” app have advanced in their sophistication and appeal, allowing people to design entire rooms using LiDAR sensors in an iPhone.

Ultimately, success in this domain is a matter of creating personalised and unique experiences that make smart use of available data.

4. Emotional experiences to unlock loyalty 

Ecommerce is a functional but not always favourable alternative to in-store shopping. In physical stores, consumers can effortlessly browse the aisles, and move from one store to another, discovering new brands and products as they go. They can see, feel and try products. They can ask for help and get guidance — the in-store experience is a social experience that often builds a strong and emotional bond with a brand. The next phase of ecommerce is about fostering these more emotional types of experiences.

Long-lasting value is not in transactions, but in the overall experience the consumer has when interacting with the brand via the online store — whether it’s about trying out and getting to know products, engaging with a community of fans, influencers and ambassadors around a product, (co)creating completely unique products, or taking part in events like live-shopping. It’s these things that will create a stronger connection to the brand, build true loyalty and increased customer lifetime value.

Enabling new types of ecommerce experience that tap into channels where consumers spend their time, whether it’s gaming, concerts or social media, will be key. Transactions are a biproduct of the richer experience consumers get in these moments. Brands must incorporate these channels into their ecommerce strategy to extend both their online and in-store shopping experiences.

5. Recreating the digital human touch

Product trial and consultation are key reasons why customers visit physical stores but are hard to recreate online. These digital interactions are already taking on a variety of forms across channels and signal greater shifts to come for the future buying journey.

Given its success in China, we can expect to see live stream shopping to take off in the Western Hemisphere. With Instagram, Amazon and Shopify going all-in on live shopping updates and tapping major brands to set up shop on their platforms, all signs point to live shopping becoming a primary method of fostering consumer engagement in the next few years. Brands must invest in these experiences if they want to stay relevant across channels.

Consumer comfort with the use of video conferencing tools means that sales associates can increasingly use them to provide co-browsing experiences. AI chatbots will also get a big promotion in the form of “digital people” that can conduct consultations and evolve based on their interactions with users.

Brands using virtual consultation in all its forms will be successful in making lasting impressions and offer consumers the human touch that they will always crave.

The future customer buying journey lives by a new mantra: not every interaction needs to be a transaction. Brands must focus on offering engaging, memorable and shareable experiences that create the same sense of escapism (and magic) that you get in the physical store, but also new types of experiences that build a stronger, more emotional bond with the brand that creates long-lasting value over time. Brands that rise to the opportunity will successfully deliver customer experiences fit for the future.


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