With consumer behaviour and customer experience expectations rapidly changing, the retail sector must strive to keep up. It is crucial for businesses to embrace digitalisation and new technologies to remain competitive in today’s market, or it could mark the end for a business. With retailers like Coast nearing collapse, it is vital for brands to work towards – and stay – at the top of their game, to survive against market fluctuations and competitors.
Brands that fail to offer good customer experiences could, as a result, face struggles in the challenging retail landscape, which is taking no prisoners. One victim is longstanding womenswear retail chain Bonmarché – shares in the company recently dropped 18% after a warning that profits would fall short due to weak consumer demand. It is becoming clear brands now need to innovate to survive. Incorporating simple but impactful technological changes could be the answer, as these can make a big difference to a business’ operations – and its profits.
Improving the customer experience
Digital transformation doesn’t always require huge business model changes and drastic process shake-ups. However, as it becomes clearer that customer experience is the key to driving sales, businesses should not overlook the benefits of making small changes that can greatly enhance the experiences of their customers. This is especially crucial, given that a majority of adults (56%) would choose digital resources over their significant others for recommendations on products and services. This puts the value of ‘word of mouth’ into a wider online experience perspective.
Artificial intelligence (AI) can help retailers analyse customer behaviour and journey data and assist in identifying their individual needs – so they can then be met. By starting to predict what customers want, and need, AI – in tandem with machine-learning – can elevate the whole shopping experience to another level. As it stands, only 7% of retailers currently use AI to enhance their services, and this should increase as retailers see the benefits that AI-driven technology can provide.
One successful example is Thread, an online start-up that has used AI to assist men in selecting clothes – and subsequently raised £16.7 million from investors. This demonstrates that retailers should look to new, AI-driven technologies to stay competitive. Interactions and conversations between humans and brands become more productive for both parties with AI-enabled technologies. This is because these technologies combine artificial intelligence and data to provide analytics – learning from and responding to a slew of data points in a way that no human ever could.
With these analytical insights available, high street retailers can provide the empathetic, responsive service that customers appreciate and increasingly demand. It’s a win-win: consumers get a customised service, and retailers benefit from their improved customer satisfaction, which builds brand loyalty and ultimately helps boost market position.
Digital transformation journey
Despite what retailers might think, AI doesn’t always have to mean going as far as installing a team of robot workers to keep up with the digital landscape. However, robot-driven technologies can certainly help. When it comes to the specific technology elements that retailers can implement to start reaping the benefits that digital transformation can offer, dynamic call numbers are just one example of how simple elements can offer huge growth benefits. Simply put, these are unique phone numbers, assigned to each visitor, that are automatically displayed on a brand’s website or in a digital advertising campaign. This simple feature gives businesses the ability to track a specific customer’s journey, and provides extended data insights into that customer, helping to deliver a tailored customer experience.
Using a dashboard to analyse customer insights and enabling call tracking are also simple functionalities that businesses can utilise to drive growth. For example, enabling customers to text customer service departments, instead of having to call them (and most likely be put on hold or stuck in a long queue) can help speed the process up – both for customer service teams and for customers themselves. One example of a recent success is Ted Baker’s new chatbot, which is facilitating shopper communication and helping boost engagement thus maximise sales and customer loyalty. These customer-centric technologies are showing to be at the heart of recent retailer successes and are especially effective when targeting key audience demographics.
Adopting a customer first mindset
By putting customers at the heart of a business’ operations, retailers are able to use data insights to not only enhance customer experiences, but spend money better in the long run and increase customer loyalty. For example, Allclear, an insurance specialist, freed up £20k of their marketing spend based simply on customer insights within three weeks – a prime example of how small tech tweaks truly can make all the difference.
In the extremely competitive marketplace of today, business should be looking to use every tool they have to reduce risk of failure, while increasing their chance of success. This doesn’t necessarily mean spending huge amounts of money – it simply means embracing the right technologies effectively to enhance customer experience in order to reap maximum business benefits.
Anne de Kerckhove, CEO of Freespee
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Anne de Kerckhove is the CEO of Freespee. She also sits on the board of 888.com. Anne is a senior expert in Digital Transformation, Media, Entertainment and E-Commerce. She is an active Business Angel investor in Europe and Africa and is also an Advisor and Mentor to Startups & Entrepreneurs.