By Vince Belanger,
Partner Strategic Markets, Clarity Insights

At the close of 2018, nearly 50% of global retail and wholesale business and technology purchase influencers reported that improving the customer experience (CX) was a business priority for their companies, according to a  Forrester report. Of those, only half were already working on these initiatives, with an additional quarter of respondents planning on starting within six months.

These statistics are still telling today, as innovation projects span many months and even years. Yet as companies adapt to changing circumstances and the realities of demand for online order fulfillment ramp up, the ability to get omnichannel “right” escalates. What are the tools and skillsets needed to move from preparation to action? And once underway, what should be prioritized to ensure ROI? Smart investments are the difference between lackluster results and standout interactions as well as well-executed programs that drive customer behavior, all the while keeping lines of communication open for transparency and service-led guidance.

  1.  Delivering on the promise of cross-channel CX Many companies – Gap, Best Buy, Home Depot – have championed in-store pick-up (buy online, pick up in store – or BOPIS) to create a value-added service and to convert customers who research purchases online but appreciate options for same-day access and in-store experience. Creating continuity between the online experience and in-store experience requires vision and follow-through. Preparing operations for changes in procedure, marketing teams for promotions that extend awareness, and developing apps that prompt instructions based on where the customer is geographically located or has visited online are the minimum threshold for successful, scalable interactions. When based on a sound infrastructure, an organization can flex as necessary to account for influxes of traffic due to holidays and other global events. When customers opt for digital-only experiences – by necessity or convenience – cross-channel journeys matter just as much. Tailored recommendations and personalized messages can show a progression from initial consideration to purchase and boost frequency of repeat or future purchasing, while indicating to customers that they are valued and eliminating the guesswork – and any unnecessary steps – when they want to get something in their hands fast, from a brand they trust.
  2.  Make analytics work harder for you Companies like Fabletics, a women’s online-only athletic apparel retailer, have embedded data collection into their DNA, requiring customers to complete a survey as part of a profile set-up preceding purchase. Not only does this support increased personalization through tailored outfit recommendations, but it also improves inventory accuracy through predictive modeling. Whether finding new ways to receive customer feedback or identifying a new approach to analyzing data sets, analytics helps build better products and more deeply understand customers: a foundational investment that shouldn’t be skimped.
  3.  Layer in AI from the onset The same Forrester report noted above listed the top five commerce technology investments as omnichannel, personalization, analytics, digital store capabilities, and artificial intelligence. Perhaps surprisingly to some, AI made the list for the first time in 2018. We’re wiser today about the many benefits that AI provides – automated analytics, connectivity to warehouse robotics systems for real-time inventory assessment, enhanced personalization via facial recognition and biometrics, smarter, targeted ad buying, and other algorithmic set-ups to connect the dots between disparate data sets. AI takes existing investments in other platforms and data strategies and ups the ante. Building a 360-degree view of the customer requires updates that no analyst can manually tackle, so a strategy that doesn’t include comprehensive AI is short-sighted at best. The ones using AI to create entirely new offerings and to amplify cross-channel insights are best situated for customer outreach, acquisition and retention, no matter what unforeseen changes may arise.

Retailers everywhere continue to realize that evolution is key to survival and success. Ones that embrace a technology-forward strategy – “think like a software company” logic – are the ones seeing opportunities where roadblocks once stood, giving customers unprecedented access to the things they want and need. Feeling the need to refresh your approach to CX, AI and more? Let’s talk.

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