Now, I know what I’m about to say might bring out the Grinch in some of you, so I apologize in advance...there’s only 36 days to Christmas.
Recent research gives a good indication of what consumers are expecting from retailers; the results point to a consistent, omni-channel customer experience.
The importance of omni-channel
90% of customers expect the customer experience to be consistent across all channels and devices used to interact with brands, marking a 17% increase from last year.
Half of holiday shoppers use their mobile devices to research gifts before purchasing them in-store, and six in ten do some showrooming (evaluating products in store before purchasing online). Regardless of which camp they fall in to, an overhwhelming majority expect an omni-channel experience.
47% of holiday shoppers have been frustrated that in-store impressions are different from online, with 40% reporting a disconnect between the information available on and off line. If a customer is frustrated, they are far more likely to abandon their shopping cart, whether physical or digital!
Consistency is key
The top two reasons shoppers say they are loyal to their favorite brands are:
- consistent, predictable services;
- consistent experience across all devices they use to interact with the brand.
“A consistent, superior experience across all interaction channels has become something that customers not only expect, but they demand it; and the brands that can best meet this demand will build customer relationships that continue long after the holiday season.”
The holiday season provides a great opportunity for brands to build loyalty, by providing exemplary customer experience. Consumers are clear on what they expect – if you fail to reach their expectations, they will find a brand that does.
Willing to pay a price premium
66% of consumers are willing to pay a premium for a positive customer experience. However, willingness does differ between age groups, and gender (12% of males and 9% of females):
Product research channels
The top three resources used to research products are:
- in-store - 63%
- online search - 46%
- retailer website - 32%
- 20% of consumers say they still use catalogs to research products.
Holiday shoppers rely on desktop computers for both research (83%) and purchasing (79%). In-store browsing is the top resource for 70% of those aged over 55, in comparison to 57% of 18-29s.
The use of digital devices to research products varies between the age categories:
When it comes to purchasing, 79% use desktops, 20% use tablet devices and 12% use smartphones.
So, how can you improve your omni-channel customer experience?
1. Integrate your physical and online presence
Personalized technology can help create customer experiences that will far surpass less tech-savvy brands.
For example, Neiman Marcus tested an iPhone app that had two parallel interfaces for customers and sales staff. It provided consumers with alerts of upcoming events, new product arrivals, QR code scanning and information about which associates were in store that day.
In-store senors alerted staff when customers entered the store and provided them with a purchase history (and their Facebook profile picture for easy recognition), so they could deliver faultless service.
2. In-store technology
In-store technology that enables consumers to interact with products will create unique shopping experiences, which encourage customers to shop while fostering brand loyalty. For example, in Burberry stores, certain products trigger video screens, audio-visual experiences and digital mirrors.
Technology can also expedite the transaction process, something which holiday shoppers would be particularly grateful for. In the UK, for example, catalog merchant Argos has replaced its catalogs in store with iPads, with easy navigation, fast-track collection and free wi-fi.
3. Utilize customer product reviews
The rise in mobile use for product research provides retailers with the opportunity to harness product reviews in store.
For example, an app that scans an item’s barcode, and pulls up all the customer reviews related to that product. Retailers could use the app to then provide added incentives to purchase, such as discounts or free gifts.
4. Encourage sharing
Leverage social media channels to encourage shoppers to share physical experiences with one another.
For example, Topshop linked up with Pinterest for a Christmas gift guide campaign, that encouraged shoppers to share photos of their inspirational gift ideas when in store. Physical ‘most pinned item’ tags were then hung on popular picks in-store.
Personalized emails, recommendations and promotions allow retailers to maximize every opportunity to communicate with customers.
At this time of year, consumers are likely to be bombarded with marketing messages - retailers need to make sure they deliver information on the products they are interested in, and not the ones that the retailer wants to push.
So, what's the key to omni-channel? It is realizing that it's not about channels, but about the consumer. It's not about messages, but about utility and experiences. It's about helping consumers make informed choices, and uncover an enjoyable experience for themselves - during the holiday season and throughout the year.