Etail is not the enemy

How the High Street can leverage technology to boost the bottom line this festive season

November marks one month into the “Golden Quarter” shopping phenomenon. It’s hard to believe that Black Friday and Cyber Monday is a mere three weeks away. This time of the year sees many of us execute the ritual of changing our spending habits from essentials to hunting for bargains, ‘perfect gifts’ and more extravagant purchases. With the cycle of promotions seemingly starting earlier each year, us Brits have come to expect retailers to deliver good tidings and cheery returns for more than just twelve days.

Although several large British retailers have publicly stated that they will not be participating in any Black Friday promotions this year - preferring to invest in year-round lower prices – spend this Black Friday and Cyber Monday is estimated to be £7 billion. In fact, this shopping trend annually accounts for as much as 30 percent of sales, albeit that headlines of yet another British High Street closure this week will have many traditional outlets worry if 2019 will be a merry celebration or more a hangover for their bottom line.

Many retailers believe that e-tail is to blame for the decline in footfall and plummet in consumer confidence, but is Amazon about to eat everyone’s Christmas dinner? And how can traditional outlets compete?

Swapping trolleys for home delivery?

E-tail is not the enemy. There is more to the story of physical versus digital than meets the eye.

Britain is now the biggest online shopping nation in the developed world, with almost two thirds of adults using the internet to buy goods or services, according to IMRG, a body which represents the UK’s online retailers. Although it must be said that online sales only account for 25% of overall retail sales, which proves our persistent desire for an in-person shopping experience.

Multidimensional consumer behaviour is driving the changing the retail landscape at an unparalleled rate and it has a lot to do with the super computers (smartphones) in our pockets.

Our smartphones appear to have become symbiotic to our existence. From checking our spelling, the weather, the fastest route to commute or ordering anything in a few clicks without having to leave our sofa, our omni-present connectivity expands into our physical shopping habits - driven by our desire to access information on products and services and to compare prices creating new demands and pressures for offline and online retailers alike.

Advances in technology has resulted in a society with low patience of slow and old fashioned ‘analog-like’ service models. We’ve become accustomed to having on-demand services, from streaming movies through Netflix, booking and Uber or ordering food from Deliveroo without any further human assistance.

So how can retailers ensure they survive in this world where customers demand and expect seamless convenience?

Breaking down siloes to connect shopper behaviour online and in-store

The winners this Christmas will be those retailers who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in order to create convenient and memorable customer experiences.

Recognising the unique advantages of a physical location, traditional retailers can use technology to leverage the different benefits of traditional, in-person shopping in ways that digital sites can only dream about, enabling retailers to offer consumers a truly omni-channel shopping experience.

Not too long ago, retailers had no way to link what a shopper bought or looked at online to their behaviour in-store. Today however, retailers that have invested in AI-driven technology can analyse meaningful data such as location, shopping history and context and are seeing rising sales as a result.

Click, click = instore ka-ching!

By blending digital services with in-store operations retailers can benefit from the growing popularity of cross-platform ‘Click and Collect’ options. Click & Collect is an attractive option for customers who desire more flexibility from their delivery options, whilst still appealing to the convenience of online shopping. Consumers can shop when they want online, on any device, from anywhere, able to compare prices, with the in-store ease of collection. The merging of digital and physical not only drives consumers to a physical store, but also drives impulse buys with figures from JDA’s Customer Pulse Report revealing 1 in 4 shoppers making additional purchases in-store when picking up Click & Collect orders. And with delivery backlogs a concern during the lead up to the festive period, this alternative option can help ensure customer expectations are met.

Aligning back-end operations with front-end customer service

Time has become a pricey commodity. No-one likes waiting. Customers of all ages now expect speedier service, partly because successful brands, both start-ups and established players, have shown it’s possible to speed up service without sacrificing quality, but Millennials (which have now surpassed Baby Boomers as the world’s largest living generations and biggest spenders) are speed freaks.

If an app or website takes too long to load, they'll abandon it and use another. Their diet of on-demand services has made them superb multi-taskers who expect convenience and they don’t mind paying more for it.

Convenience creates loyalty, whether a shopper is transacting online or instore, or when need support before or after a sale. Convenience should be key focus throughout a customer journey, but especially so when consumers need support. Untimely responses to customer queries are one of the hallmarks of poor customer service and precious time wasted. Customer response-rates, product shipments, service offers, and return policies all need to be as smooth as possible. Digital support channels can offer convenient, 24/7, instant real-time support with little customer effort. Which is why many retailers are using AI-driven digital customer service technology at every step of the supply chain, to offer the seamless, streamlined experience that consumers now demand.

However, although digital support channels have become the preferred choice for customer support, it’s shocking how many retailers still struggle to implement a robust platform that can facilitate automated, multi-channel communication. Retailers will need to adapt to keep customers engaged with instant access to the information through integrated Natural Language Search FAQs, live chat and intelligent chatbots across the contact centre and social platforms too.

The future of the UK retail industry

There is no way of knowing precisely how 2019 will play out for the UK’s retail sector as we face the uncertain consequences of the decision of an election and yet again, Brexit.

However, the key takeaway for brands and retailers is the need to embrace change. Physical retail is not dead. Boring retail is. Consumers are confident, and they are planning to spend.

To exploit return, brands and retailers must be prepared to think differently and pro-actively support new consumer standards around when, where and how their key audiences plan to shop this holiday season. The winners this Christmas will be those retailers who are able to transport the digital world into their stores in order to create convenient and memorable customer experiences. If technology is embraced and integrated in a way that empowers employees, serves customers and improves the bottom line, retailers can look forward to a profitable Christmas.

Further reading:

The gift that keeps on giving, the page turner that is Multi-Channel Online Customer Service For Dummies.

Or Murder on the dance high street shop floor, a whitepaper that uncovers new channels and technologies to connect to customers, whilst also augmenting the store experience.

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