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Three Ways through Retailers Can Step Their Game Up in 2017

By Fiona Swerdlow, VP, Research Director, Forrester Research

Fiona Swerdlow, VP, Research Director, Forrester Research

This year has been no picnic for retailers. With Thanksgiving weekend upon us, many retailers are in the throes of the holidays and are doing all they can to achieve a strong finish to a bumpy, even bewildering year. Retailers now must deliver rich, personalized customer experiences to win the customer loyalty battle for two key reasons:

"Retailers now must deliver rich, personalized customer experiences to win the customer loyalty battle"

• Consumers are still cautious:

Almost 10 years after the last financial crisis, the national unemployment rate is low, gas prices are down, and real income is up–but continued tempered spending shows that consumers aren’t taking anything for granted. Economic and political turmoil globally is not helping, nor is uncertainty about the implications of Brexit and the U.S. elections.

• But they are also empowered:

Owning multiple connected devices is increasingly the norm in the U.S., so it is not surprising that 42 percent of U.S. online adults are researching products via online customer reviews weekly if not daily–double the activity just two years earlier. In an era of “anywhere, anytime” commerce, consumers are actively using their smartphones not just on the go, but even in the store itself. In addition, while they may be fiscally skittish, we have found that consumers today are willing to try new things faster than in the past.

So how will retailers stand out with voracious competitors like Amazon at their heels? In 2017, retailers must meld in-person and digital touchpoints, competing for customers’ loyalty by:

• Obsessing about their customers:

As John Lewis’s Chairman Sir Charlie Mayfield challenged fellow retailers, which language do you speak: Channel or customer? On top of a slew of foundational research on Forrester’s Customer Obsessed Operating Model, retailers should assess themselves on their customer obsession maturity now to take decisive action in the year ahead.

• Upping their customer experience game online:

“Anywhere, anytime” commerce means that customers must be able to interact with brands across multiple, connected touchpoints–but shrinking desktop experiences through responsive web design as a fix-all will fail. Each touchpoint still must be right for the specific context–and personalized to each customer. For example, your most loyal customers expect you to have an app that meets their needs at the right moment, for the rest of your customers, pursuestrategy that borrows mobile moments (even micro moments) from partners where those customers already spend most of their time. One of retailers’ greatest hurdles in all of this: The data that needed to personalize the customer’s experience still lives in multiple silos throughout the company, and tying those together is hard.

• And focusing equally on in-store experiences:

Logistics are shaping up as a retail battleground in 2017, and–if well executed–the store is a key weapon with services such as click and collect and in-store returns. Digital store technologies are starting to take off also– but Forrester has also found that some customer-facing tests have actually been confusing, not helpful, to customers. For the most immediate payoff, retailers must focus first on digital store solutions enhance store operations.

• Investing in a digitally fluent organization:

Retailers must be ready to reorganize (even multiple times) to infuse digital talent and experience to their brand–and they may also need to partner with solution providers for that expertise. Twenty-one years after the start of web commerce as we know it, digital talent is still in short supply. But today it’s not just about a crack eCommerce team–it’s about how well the entire enterprise–top to bottom–“speaks” digital. Brands can take a cue from organizations such as Walgreens and Kohl’s and groom and promote digitally-rooted execs to take on broader roles to permeate every part of the company.

To learn more about what Forrester expects next year, download our free 2017 predictions guide that covers the top 15 dynamics that will shape the future in the age of the customer.

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