How to become a retail business your customers love

Opinion Paper

"BUT, AS THE MARKETPLACE BECOMES EVEN MORE COMPETITIVE, RETAIL COMPANIES MUST FIND A WAY TO INVEST IN THE RIGHT TECHNOLOGIES TO PROVIDE AN OUTSTANDING CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE."

Consumers rate retail as one of the top sectors for delivering customer experience. Retailers understand the importance of creating a great experience in driving repeat business, but that also means the competition is fiercer than other sectors.

The Optus Future of Business Report 2014 reveals that unless customer experience is outstanding, most consumers are unlikely to remain loyal - and even less likely to recommend your business to other people.

"The top retailers get it. They're among the most advanced in any industry, but other retailers are at various stages in developing their customer experience strategy," says Robbie Kruger, Optus Business Industry Manager, Retail.

Businesses that don't treat customer experience as a high priority need to catch up – and fast.

HOW RETAILERS ARE PERFORMING

The Future of Business Report shows how, overall, the retail industry is ahead of most other sectors when it comes to delivering customer experience. Retail customers are 29 per cent more likely to remain loyal than the average for customers across all industries. They're also 22 per cent more likely to recommend a business to family and friends.

In fact, retailers have a more mature outlook on customer experience than most other industries by nearly every measure. For example, they are 30 per cent more likely than average to have a formal customer experience strategy.

Still, there's plenty of room for improvement.

IMPROVING THE IN-STORE EXPERIENCE

According to our report, only 16 per cent of retail employees are very well equipped with the right technology and tools to deliver an outstanding customer experience. Furthermore, consumers know the tell-tale signs of poorly equipped staff, such as not being able to respond to their enquiries for example stock availability, different variations or inclusions.

Many retailers have understandably focused on developing their digital channels in order to compete with disruptive online competitors. However, traditional retail companies can also play to their strengths by improving the in-store experience.

"Consumers go to bricks-and-mortar stores for the experience - because they want to engage with the product," says Kruger. "But as a retailer, how can you improve that experience to help staff close the sale and increase return business?"

One way might be to remove the queue at the counter. Kruger points to new mobile point-of-sale technology that enables sales staff to serve customers, access product information and inventory levels, and make transactions anywhere in the store.

"This is about enabling staff to provide the same experience as online, so that customers can find what they want and make the transaction there and then," he says. "Just as smartphones have empowered consumers, this new technology empowers sales staff with knowledge, by giving them instant access to product information, available product colours and types, and stock levels."

CREATING A PERSONALISED EXPERIENCE

The next step is to create a personalised experience. In fact, this is the fastest growing consumer expectation in this sector - doubling over the next two years, according to the Future of Business Report.

"The big retailers already have a good understanding of their customers and they've started using that understanding to deliver personalised offers, rewards and service," Kruger says.

Personalisation requires:

  • Systems to capture customer information, such as a loyalty program.

  • Analytics to gain valuable insights on each customer from that data.

  • Channels such as e-newsletters to deliver customised offers and services.

Leading retailers are going further. "They provide free Wi-Fi and can identify when you're in store, so they can offer relevant, targeted messages to entice you to buy," he says.

IMPROVING THE ONLINE EXPERIENCE

The Future of Business Report reveals that retailers are more likely than the average business to be investing in digital tools, such as e-commerce and mobile apps. However, the digital experience varies significantly between retailers.

An online store with detailed, up-to-date product information should be just the starting point. "Can customers do a product look-up, a product comparison or web chat with a real person?" Kruger asks.

"At Optus, web chat has helped improve customer engagement. If a customer has a question, they can receive an immediate answer."

Again, leading retailers are going further. "They can identify customers by their phone number or Facebook login, and then provide useful information, or recommendations based on your purchasing history. And then when the customer makes the transaction, they can either have it delivered or pick it up at the nearest shop."

CREATING A CONSISTENT EXPERIENCE

The key is to provide a consistent level of service across all channels. In fact, consumer expectations of consistent service are set to rise by 30 per cent over the next two years, according to the report. One-third of customers will expect to be able to start a transaction using one method and continue it using another. For example, a customer might browse on their phone, call to discuss a purchase then finish their transaction on a laptop.

This will require deep integration of customer service channels. "The only difference between online and bricks-and-mortar should be that with a website you do the research yourself, whereas in store you engage with a person who has the knowledge," Kruger says.

Integration is a high priority for many retailers. While only 17 per cent currently have fully integrated channels, 53 per cent expect to be fully integrated within two years. Those that don't are in danger of being left behind.

HOW TECHNOLOGY CAN LIFT THE RETAIL EXPERIENCE

Like other businesses, budget constraints are retailers' biggest challenge in integrating channels and delivering a great customer experience.

"That's a problem for retailers with legacy point-of-sale and supplychain systems that don't allow them to provide the in-store service, delivery turnaround and other capabilities that consumers now expect," Kruger says.

"But, as the marketplace becomes even more competitive, retail companies must find a way to invest in the right technologies to provide an outstanding customer experience."

The good news is businesses no longer need to make large upfront capital investments in on-premise systems. These systems can often be replaced by cloud, hosted or managed services for a simple monthly fee. Legacy systems can become a thing of the past, because cloud services are automatically and regularly upgraded.

"There are even cloud services to help businesses capture customer information and derive consumer insights," he says. "Mobile point-of-sale solutions can also be purchased as a service for a monthly fee."

These new technologies offer an opportunity for companies of all sizes to provide a personalised in-store and online experience - to become a retail business your customers love.

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