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Why traditional retailers must engineer their customer experience for digital natives

10th Mar 2015
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It’s hardly news to say that consumers are increasingly choosing to shop online. There has been a steady growth in the number of online shoppers for the last 15 years as access to the internet has become progressively ubiquitous. This trend has been reinforced by the rise of mobile devices in the market, such as tablets and smartphones, which allow people to shop online from wherever they are and at any given point in time.

A new generation of digital natives who have no experience of doing anything without a form of a digital element (whether that’s shopping, consuming content like music, films and TV, connecting with friends, or studying), will ensure that this trend will not only continue but accelerate.  

What’s more, bricks-and-mortar retailers who came of age and found success in a predictable, ‘slow and steady’ era are finding it difficult to adapt to this new and unprecedented digital age. Many have struggled to compete with ‘pure-play’ internet retailers that offer greater convenience and more competitive prices. 

They have also found it difficult to offer a consistent experience across various channels such as physical stores, online stores, numerous social media networks and contact centres. For today’s entitled and informed digital consumer, who moves effortlessly around and across these channels, this inconsistency is unsatisfactory and does not spike their interest.    

However, there is hope. Recent independent research commissioned by Wipro Digital, which surveyed consumers about their shopping experience before and after the Christmas period, found that most people do still shop in-store and haven’t switched to online shopping 100%. Not surprisingly, the research found that consumers actually go to stores for an experience they can’t find or get online. For example, one third of the surveyed people said that they shopped in-store for the physical experience and to test the product first hand. The same percentage of people also said that product availability was the main reason why they visited physical stores.    

At the same time, while the trend of online shopping is increasing, it also has some drawbacks in the eyes of these consumers. They often worry about receiving their purchases in time – especially around big holidays like Christmas. By and large, they also expect free shipping – almost half of the respondents hoped they wouldn’t have to pay for shipping costs at Christmas time.  

So how can traditional retailers evolve to take advantage of these habits and preferences, and offer consumers a ‘360° experience’ across all channels in a way that suits them and is more appealing than shopping online?

Customer journey

Focusing on understanding every step of the customer journey is critically important. This means providing a consistent and relevant experience every time the consumer interacts with the brand, irrespective of the channel or platform. For the consumer, there is nothing worse than a 'disconnected' shopping experience, whether it means having to explain a query from the start each time they call a contact centre or not being offered the same price for a product they found online when they go in-store.

In order for traditional retailers to fully implement customer journey engineering, they must get rid of siloed thinking and organisational structures that prevent seamless customer experiences. While the chief marketing executive is still ultimately responsible for brand experience, companies must be able to assemble multi-disciplinary teams with wider expertise that include elements like mobile, social media, store design, media and user experience. These teams need to be empowered to collaborate, design and iterate customer journey experiments in a quick and agile environment.  Engineering customer journeys in this way can result in launching new products and services in months if not weeks and capture consumers before they make their purchase online.

Assembling this broad team armed with the relevant insights should mean that every customer touch point is considered when engineering the customer journey. For example, It could ensure that customers receive context relevant offers based on their needs or locations and synchronise these offers while both in-store or online. In doing so, they will be able to create a customer-centric retail experience which is interactive and consistent across all channels.   

While we may be in the age of the digital native, consumers haven’t yet completely abandoned physical stores in favour of online. To maintain this, traditional retailers need to redefine the role of the store to differentiate themselves from pure-play online retailers. From enhancing the in-store experience with interaction and empowering staff to become ambassadors instead of merchandisers, to using mobile technology in order to aid navigation and enable faster payment in-store, bricks-and-mortar retailers can attract and retain shoppers with sensory experiences which online retailers cannot offer. With these new ways of working that enable exceptional experiences, bricks-and-mortar retailers will not only survive but also thrive in this new digital age. 

Avinash Rao is global head at Wipro Digital

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