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Guest Blogger

by Sarah Assous, CMO, Zoovu

Since the lockdown began, the way we live, work & play has changed dramatically: countries across the globe have asked their citizens to stay home to protect themselves and their communities from the first widespread global pandemic since 1918. Global restrictions around businesses closures and restricted movement are forging a monumental shift in consumer behavior.

All businesses regardless of industry, must rise to the challenge of a total reliance on digital commerce by providing support and assistance to their customers as they navigate searching for the products they need, online. March may have been the worst month for in-store sales in quarter of a century, but ecommerce has continued to soar, from pet food to power tools, exercise equipment and groceries.  How brands and retailers engage and guide customers now, may determine success or failure during these challenging times.

The impact of COVID-19 on customer experience

The exponential reliance on digital commerce means that many customer support teams have been overwhelmed with requests for help or questions from confused and stressed customers, but are attempting to operate through traditional means such as email, phone, and chat, which cannot keep up with the increased need for assistance.

So how can retailers adapt their customer engagement strategies to continue to support their customers and have a positive impact on their bottom line? Many retailers are turning to new technologies to solve the fundamental issues customers experience when shopping online, such as how to find the right product.

John Lewis, whose famous slogan ‘never knowingly undersold’ prides itself on offering superior customer service and going above and beyond to assist customers, is shifting its expertise online. Customers will be able to book virtual one-to-one video appointments with personal shoppers to help guide purchasing decisions across nursery, homeware and fashion departments. Expert advisors will be able to answer customers’ personal queries and tailor recommendations to individual needs. John Lewis stylists will be sharing useful tips and inspirational content, alongside useful Q&A’s on Instagram.

Many retailers, however, are turning to technology to enable them to still provide the same level of guidance that consumers expect – without putting a strain on human resources. Replicating the best elements of the in-store experience online is possible using digital assistants. Powered by conversational search technology, they provide much needed guidance and assistance to customers, optimising every step of the journey to guarantee every customer can find exactly what they are searching for, alleviating anxiety and feelings of being overloaded by choice.

A winning case study

Sports equipment band, Mizuno, is just one of many brands utilising digital assistants to drive customer engagement during this time.

Choosing a new pair of running shoes is one of the most considered purchases for any runner…but the process of finding the right shoe can be daunting and frustrating. For years, runners relied on going into a specialist store, having a gait analysis on a running machine and being pressured into purchasing the shoe recommended by the in-store assistant. Mizuno found a way to replicate the expertise of a sales rep – and make it available across their digital channels. Their Running Shoe Finder allows website users to engage in a conversation and offers a personalized shoe recommendation – they have even found a way to re-create gait analysis at home, offering the ultimate experience at home.

This approach to online customer experience is especially important in potentially more complex product offerings, where narrowing down options and offering guidance is often the deciding factor between purchase completion and cart abandonment.

For some companies, COVID-19 has accelerated their digital transformation as a critical element of their business continuity strategies. Right now, brands and retailers need to offer help and assistance to consumers. As businesses look to better guide customers today, in what can feel like an overwhelming time, long-term customer loyalty will be won, in the future.

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