Often, we seem to take the success of our industries for granted. The British retail industry, for example, is a huge success story, employing more than 10% of the UK workforce. It accounts for over 5% of the value generated by the UK economy each year and contributes around £17.5 billion annually in taxes.
But a recent article in Retail Week magazine (‘Strong Retail. Strong Britain.’) reminds us that we cannot take that success for granted and that even thriving sectors, such as retail, can do with a helping hand now and again. The article, which includes leading retailers such as Jacqueline Gold (Ann Summers, Knickerbox), Andy Harding (House of Fraser), Angela Spindler (N Brown Group) and Alex Baldock (Shop Direct) talking on video, sets out a detailed manifesto that they think the Government should adopt in order to support the retail industry.
Improvements in Employment, Education and Digital Skills, a Digital Infrastructure, Internet Growth and Business Rates Reform all loom large on their wish-list, as you might expect, and they are all ideas that seem to make sense as a good starting point. But it’s not just the Government that can help the retail industry maintain its pre-eminent position. Retailers also need to help themselves by looking at how they can improve the customer experience and greatly reduce the customer effort required to research products and make a purchase.
A positive customer experience has a positive Return-On-Investment. There is a strong correlation between providing superior customer experience and loyalty factors such as willingness to try out new products, forgiving service errors, making repeat purchases and recommendations to others.
7 has a ‘mini-manifesto’ for retailers to address the fact that customers are a lot more informed and ‘savvy’ these days. Also, the way that customers engage with retailers has changed dramatically over the last decade or so. Customers now expect to use a wide variety of communication channels and to switch from one to another seamlessly when researching or making purchases. It’s no good for retailers to rely on a ‘one-size fits all’ approach.
Research has shown that 90% of customers cross devices while shopping, managing finance or planning travel online and 74% of consumers use at least three channels for customer service related issues [Ovum, Customer Service in a Multi-channel World, 2012]. So to drive up conversions and revenue, and prevent customers abandoning their shopping baskets, it makes sense for companies to make full use of Internet, mobile, chat, social and phone channels to intelligently reach out to customers in a variety of ways.
Let’s look at how customers shop these days. A customer ‘buying experience’ might start with a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend, some online research on a comparison website or an email promotional offer in their inbox. They then might view or try out the product in a local store, asking the sales assistant for information. Finally they might use ‘click to chat’ on the website before making a decision and ordering the product via their tablet device or smartphone late one night in the comfort of their own home.
With so many ‘touch points’, the challenge is to gather all this data together and prevent it being stored in data silos where it is isolated and cannot interact with other systems in the organisation. An ideal scenario would be to seamlessly collect customer data across all these channels, mine the Big Data it produces and then use predictive analytics to predict trends and behaviour patterns and personalise the customer journey. It’s also essential to maintain the context of the customer’s journey as they traverse channels and devices to avoid annoying customers with irrelevant or redundant communications.
A personalised customer journey means always staying ahead of the curve and giving customers what they want before they even realise that they want it. Like Google Instant, which predicts what you are searching for while you are still typing, it means communicating with customers about their interests and preferences and then sending promotional offers, features and buying suggestions based on customers’ previous enquiry, demographic profile and browsing or purchasing history.
It helps retailers gain a complete view of every customer, connect every customer interaction and maintain context across every channel, help customers at every stage of the journey and then deliver the right answers to them at the time when they need them. Following this ‘mini-manifesto’ should ensure that retailers continue to flourish. The lesson here is surely that we should never become complacent about the retail industry’s success and we should all be aware of the opportunities that omnichannel retailing that utilises big data and predictive analytics can offer to improve the customer’s experience and satisfaction.