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Disrupting the Retail Customer Experience

By Hilary Hahn, VP, Customer Experience Innovation, Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated

Hilary Hahn, VP, Customer Experience Innovation, Sykes Enterprises, Incorporated

My resistance was for good reason; instinctively I knew that once I acquiesced to the app, it would be too easy to search and find any retail item I was inclined to possess, at any hour, at a competitive price, and then with a click, BUY IT NOW, without any regard to financial consequence. Effortlessly, this experience continues to generate delight as packages arrive at my doorstep. While many still derive in-store purchasing inspiration, eBay and Amazon have forever altered the buying universe. So, how will department stores and standalone retail brands, compete for customer loyalty in their online and brick and mortar experiences? For success optimization, these are 6 important go-to-market retail strategies:

1.    Brick and Mortar is Having a renaissance

New York City has become a beacon for emerging and established retailers to re-imagine a B&M experience. Companies that own malls are scooping up charming store fronts in neighborhoods like SOHO, in attempts to reactivate shoppers by keeping them on a particular street, with a mall-not-a-mall incubator concept; this attracts startup digital retailers looking for a distribution location along with an image-maker boutique all-in-one. Another approach has been to house a consortium of retailers in one vast space, that includes a place to hang out, dine, drink, buy candles, and peruse the latest designer trends. In a time when millennials prefer experiences and events vs. owning material possessions, this is an effective way to inspire retail purchases to transpire. It is also noteworthy is that Caspar and other direct-to-consumer retailers are opening physical stores, and somewhat astonishing that the digital “King”, Amazon, is now one of the largest in the brick-and-mortar game.

“AI is not scary if you narrow the focus, have lots of focus-specific data, and design the retail experience around the customer first”

2.    Disrupting B&M Retail with Digital

Leveraging the Airbnb model, a U.K. company called ‘Appear Here’ publishes listings for ‘PopUps’; these are short-term retail spaces around the globe – and in effect, places stickers on store fronts throughout cities to rent-by-the-day. This is ideal for retailers looking to test if a longer term B&M lease issustainable–and it also allows new digital retailers to offer their growing clientele, the opportunity to shop in a temporary pop-up store at heightened seasonal buying times. The pop-ups retail industry is estimated at $50 Billion!

3.    Game-changing Retail E-commerce

While Amazon has a new champion-challenger with the teaming up of Walmart+Microsoft which will be exciting to observe, consumers are also responsible for opening the gateway for disruptive retailers to emerge. Online shoppers have ever-escalating expectations: competitive pricing, convenience, large selection, quick delivery, 24/7 access, free shipping, and in some cases, they can receive merchandise and only pay when they decide to keep or ‘rent’ the products. Retail E-commerce companies (defined by platforms with the ability for consumers to buy and sell products) include disruptor brands like Houzz, Blue Apron, Rent-The-Runway, and Warby Parker to name a few in the U.S. who have founded game-changers that are redefining modern retail, some with valuations over $1Billion.

4.    End-to-end Retail Marketing and Sales

Brands seamlessly influence consumer search with optimized digital marketing strategies. While it is not magic what appears top-of-page, the average consumer is unaware how much data scientists know about consumer buying preferences from their online habits, and how they use this to acquire new customers. This influence in many cases runs end-to-end with brands providing content that fairly compares competitive products, and directs the consumer to click-to-contact the brands for help. Waiting to receive customer contact is a team of sales agents with highly successful rates for closing the sale. While it sounds somewhat manipulative, if done right, it is actually a good customer experience, quickly matching consumers via skill-based-routing to agents who add value by helping them make informed buying decisions and solve their purchasing needs.

5.    Asynchronous Messaging is the New Experience

Retailers must manage a seamless omni-channel customer experience. On-line policy should allow for in-store returns, and vice versa. Giving in-store consumers access to on-line brand searches, (from store device vs. mobile), helps solidify the sale if the item is stocked elsewhere. Support interactions need to occur where the customer is, regardless of device or channels. Asynchronous chat, for example in Facebook Messenger, is quickly becoming a channel of choice. Consumers can be connected by Messenger app, even without a Facebook account, and the ‘’conversation‘’ history is retained indefinitely between devices, brand, and customer. B2C messaging is encrypted, which opened the door so that 249 million adults have purchased in WeChat! If you don’t have a strategy to deploy messaging sales and support, you will quickly fall behind.

6.    Don’t be Scared of Artificial Intelligence (AI)

AI is fueling the best retail experiences. It is the backbone for support and sales agents to tailor the best responses expediently, that solve issues or complete sales. AI is being harnessed for automation to power Bots to handle repetitive tasks to minimize customer wait time. It will vastly improve self-service experiences. It will humanize robots that will assist you by injecting emotional content into conversations. Data is the new currency. AI is not scary if you narrow the focus, have lots of focus-specific data, and design the retail experience around the customer first.