When the Covid-19 pandemic began, many businesses across a variety of industries were heavily affected by the quarantine, and the retail industry was no exception. At the peak of the shutdown in April, over 70 percent of consumers said they would be spending less in 2020 than in 2019, with 67 percent of consumers citing staying at home to be the reason why.
Though the economy has started to re-open and businesses once again host in-store customers, the digital transformation in retail has made a lasting impact and holds the key to shaping the future of retail.
While originally, the move to digital was out of necessity to reach consumers during the quarantine, the idea behind digital transformation in retail today is based on the needs and requirements of customers and optimizing the customer experience (CX). The customer experience is now being shaped more and more by technology and digital services as retailers implement digital transformation plans designed to create a richer experience for consumers.
“Customers today have less time and less tolerance for slow, unresponsive customer service and are much more influenced by the customer experience than advertising,” said Sara Hughes, SVP Enterprise Customer Experience & Channel Marketing from Kandy, a cloud-based, real-time communications platform. “A focus on automation and other technology can help brands improve CX by improving customer service response times and engagement levels.”
Technology is a critical piece of the pie to spark higher engagement and improve customer experience. There is a myriad of new, innovative technologies that retailers can take advantage of to maximize customer satisfaction in the CX.
Firstly, as the retail market is becoming more and more competitive with each passing day, nothing has been more crucial than the use of data analytics in CX. While there is still some hesitance to use data analytics, as to some consumers, it comes off as a little creepy to be getting tracked and personalized experiences. However, the retailers who smartly employ data analysis to increase personalization without violating customer boundaries will turn potentially creepy marketing tactics into “cool” ones.
“Data analytics is nowadays implemented at all stages of the retail process, keeping track of all emerging products, forecasting sales, and predicting future demand,” said Hughes. “Data analytics can also be used to optimize placements of offers and products via the heat-mapping of customers, or by quickly and efficiently identifying customers who are interested in specific products based on their past purchases.”
Customer identification and demand prediction are just some of the benefits retailers can leverage when using data analytics. With tools such as trend forecasting, retailers can have a better understanding of the current trends of their businesses and find out what needs to be promoted to increase the revenue and when.
Going hand in hand with data analytics is the use of artificial intelligence (AI) in retail, and while AI does also help optimize data accumulation, the technology also offers an array of benefits unique to itself. To start, AI offers consumers virtual trial rooms, using digital mirrors to let shoppers “try” on clothing while online shopping.
AI also revolutionizes chatbots; as machine learning, AI can give consumers answers that feel more like they’re talking to a human and not a robot. However, Hughes also explained that the benefits of AI in CX go beyond online shopping.
“AI can help make customer service effective and better by analyzing customers’ data and behavior, but offline, stores can also leverage the potential of AI in a number of ways,” said Hughes. “What if you visit a store and you come across a friendly robot instead of a salesman. Customers can ask as many questions as they want from the robot instead of talking to a salesman. It ensures the least contact with a human being, ensuring no risk of spread of the infection post-COVID-19 outbreak.”
According to a 2021 CCW Market Study, retail businesses that used some form of AI or data analytics saw a 68 percent increase in revenue and a 69 percent decrease in OPEX.
Finally, an essential part of the digital CX experience is the ability to offer an omnichannel experience to customers. This means being able to engage customers seamlessly across all of a business’s touchpoints.
The same 2021 CCW Market Study found that 51 percent of consumers said their last retail experience wasn’t seamless or coordinated, and 79 percent of consumers said they’d rather engage with companies on their preferred channel.
Today, some retail businesses are turning to Communications Platforms as a Service (CPaaS), a cloud-based platform that lets them add real-time communications features to their own applications without needing to build backend infrastructure and interface. Common applications for CPaaS’s include video-enabled help desks, appointment reminders, and authentication services. They also offer multi-latency, which allows for multiple customers to use the service at the same time, each within a separate, secure environment, which is crucial for an omnichannel CX.
“The growth of the CPaaS market aligns with emerging trends in customer-facing communications,” said Hughes. “These real-time platforms enable embedded communications for enterprises as part of their broader digital transformation and enhanced customer engagement strategy and allow enterprises to deliver immersive and superior embedded communication experiences.”
As the world continues to slowly open back and consumers once again begin to travel to stores when shopping, the digital aspect of retail isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Digital CX during the pandemic showed that customers are responding to relevant, convenient, and meaningful experiences offered through technology, and in turn, spend money with brands that deliver.
“It is important to ensure every engagement with your customers is exceptional and seamless regardless of the channel they choose or pivot to,” said Hughes. “Moving to a cloud-based UC and Contact Center while leveraging automation & AI with CPaaS solutions can increase your ability to make positive changes to your customer satisfaction and better service your customers the way they expect and demand.”
Edited by Luke Bellos