The omni-channel and seamless shopping experience is the Holy Grail many retailers continue to seek to achieve. Companies are told that the customer expects the same level of brand engagement whether in-store, on a phone, a computer, tablet or mobile and by delivering this, the customer will remain a loyal shopper, spend more, returning again and again.
However, there is no one size fits all and every retailer must understand that just as customers come in all shapes and sizes, so do shopping habits and experiences. Some customers like to buy several variations or sizes of one particular item, returning at a later date to take back unwanted goods. Others prefer to do their research online before going in-store to complete a transaction, whereas there are some who like to physically inspect a product before buying online for convenience of delivery.
What is universal, however, is today's shoppers' increasing impatience with the check-out process. We have all seen customers leave a purchase behind if there is a long queue or delay in being able to complete the transaction. The same applies to online shopping. How many times have we left a purchase because we could not remember our username or password to get into our online shopping accounts? Realising consumers' increasing desire for making a purchase as quickly and very straight forward as possible, the term 'sub-second' response time is now a standard performance requirement expected of e-commerce solutions and many retailers globally have been investing in their website infrastructure to improve its speed and performance, especially the run-up to Cyber Monday, the Christmas period and the January sales.
To further improve and speed-up the check-out experience in store, mobile and contactless payments are increasingly being used - PayPal, for example, is even working with select retailers and market traders to allow its customers to use an RFID enabled wristband or PayPal card to pay at the till. As a new study from Barclays has revealed that 64 per cent of people in the UK still prefer to shop in physical stores, incorporating new digital technologies in-store to meet consumer demands is becoming ever more crucial.
While there is no doubt that retailers need to optimise their continued physical presence, they must still continue to invest in and build on more recent channels of engagement, including their mobile offering. As Google begins mobile first indexing, which means it will place increasing importance on the mobile version of any website, looking at its ranking signals first, investment in mobile sites will continue to be a top priority. However, it's not the only online presence that retailers need to consider. Retailers must look at all online interactions and build a picture of each individual customer from the wealth of personal data generated from product reviews, enquiries, actual sales transactions and social media engagements. Shoppers are increasingly willing to give additional information to retailers to help them curate offers in a more efficient and personalised way, provided the consumer gets something in return and the brand is transparent about how they use this data.
However, there is still a huge amount of variety depending on the retail sector, the individual customer, what part of the retail or brand engagement journey they are at - whether they are a prospect, a long-standing loyal customer or somewhere in between - and which region or country we are talking about. Some retailers already recognise these differences and have incorporated this diversity into the online experience.
And it is not just the online experience that retailers need to adapt depending on geography, but in-store too. The US retail and indeed service industry is renowned for its friendly, direct and sales-focused nature, with staff in a shop often offering you help or trying to up-sell as soon as the customer has stepped inside the building. Other cultures - for example, the UK or Germany - might find this too direct and even off-putting as a retail experience.
Ultimately, the most successful retailers are using a mixture of customer and territory data - in a transparent manner - to determine the extent of customer engagement. The winners understand there is fine balance to tread between engagement leading to transaction and loyalty versus customer fatigue and sales abandonment. It is a complex picture, but with an understanding of order, product, inventory, pricing and the customer, underpinned by an omni-channel infrastructure and experience, there is also a huge opportunity for retailers.