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by Janelle Estes, Chief Insights Officer, UserTesting

A year on from the first national lockdown and it’s clear the pandemic has radically changed the landscape for retail and its customers. The high street was already in decline before Covid hit, but with many retailers forced to close their stores overnight and online shopping suddenly essential, this trend has accelerated – along with what customers now expect.

For evidence of the impact, Topshop is now owned by online retailer ASOS, Debenhams went into administration, and M&S has announced it will be selling other brands online in order to boost sales. Primark, a firm favourite in ‘normal’ times, may yet regret not having any kind of online sales.

While physical shopping has taken a battering and online retail has been booming, it’s crucial that retailers now respond to the changes that the pandemic has prompted. We may yet see a resurgence in bricks-and-mortar retail as lockdown restrictions are lifted and people want to ‘experience’ shopping again. It’s also possible that smaller, independent stores will thrive as people stay local more. A hybrid approach to retail looks key to survival.

HYBRID APPROACH

The past year has dramatically accelerated the pace at which businesses have had to integrate physical and digital channels. Retailers that offer click-and-collect or buy online and pick-up in store options are an example of this, along with no-contact delivery options from food delivery apps. Consumers are accustomed to this new level of service that some retailers provide and those benefits are all being offered to consumers seamlessly. Customers now expect a great digital customer experience that is integrated flawlessly with the physical experience.

Brands must respond with clever, dynamic strategies that meet consumers’ evolving needs in a post-pandemic landscape. It’s no longer possible for companies to only do what is expected of them – they need to go the extra mile. Customers want ease and efficiency during this stressful time and businesses must adapt to the changing situations, or face extinction.

HEARING THE VOICE OF THE CUSTOMER

In an increasingly competitive digital marketplace, every business must focus on relearning their customers. UserTesting facilitates this through a platform that enables companies to see, hear and talk to their customers remotely, as they engage with products, apps and messaging. The ability to understand changing needs and behaviours will help retailers create better, more helpful experiences – all through the power of human insight.

The ways that customers buy and consume content is also quickly changing and affects how they engage with brands. To stand out, retailers need to talk to their customers and listen to their thoughts through testing and feedback, to make sure they know their customers and retain them during this challenging time. Showing complete understanding of the wants and needs of consumers will help high street retailers recover and thrive again.

In the luxury goods sector, the consumer journey was previously very simple: shoppers would become aware of brands, research and purchase them, and then, hopefully, become a loyal customer. Post-pandemic, this linear approach no longer suffices. Consumer loyalty is wavering more than ever before based on the experiences provided by brands and the consistency of those experiences across the different brand touchpoints.

Channels for advertising have changed too, with print publishing becoming less impactful and social media becoming increasingly influential. In an omnichannel world, the luxury sector will only survive if it considers every single customer touchpoint, whether that be social media advertising, online shopping or in-store experiences. The luxury sector now has the challenge of how to replicate the special experience of shopping in-store to the online experience. This can be achieved by integrating the voice of the customer into the creation of the online buying experience.

Using digital to engage with customers everywhere will benefit brands hugely, as will understanding the hopes and expectations of ‘luxury consumers’. The best offerings brands have for in-store shopping need to be transferred online, such as the opportunity for virtual personal shopping. Offering strong CX cannot be ignored just because of a lack of physical interaction.

Great CX is something businesses should create as part of their long-term relationship with their customers. It’s not a single moment to simply help get a customer in the door. One bad experience and a customer can be lost forever. It is about all of the interactions that a customer has with a company over the life of the relationship. It can be the biggest or smallest moments that dictate if a customer will return. Organisations are now competing with every exceptional online experience that their customer has ever had, which is not necessarily provided by their traditional competitors.

Hybrid online and offline experiences are redefining the customer journey. For example, checking in-store availability on an app before heading out shopping. These forms of customer experience are growing, so superior customer experiences must be a priority.

CUSTOMER EMPATHY

Great CX must start with a company’s culture – and be led from the top. The pandemic created an environment that required every business to demonstrate empathy and authenticity. If business leaders can create a culture that values honest, real-time feedback, and encourages employees to engage with everything from daily operations to product design, then the customer will feel that, too.

Empathy and emotion are the starting point to understanding customers’ motivations, needs, desires, and behaviours and will drive a company’s ability to deliver products and experiences that foster brand loyalty and propel the company ahead of competitors. The technology foundation is only as strong as the strategy behind it. Therefore, great CX is built on a solid strategy, with 100% buy-in and support from the executive team. A great technology foundation enables teams to capture behaviour, analytics and sentiment, as well as the ability to see the world through the eyes of their customers.

About the Author

Janelle has been developing customer experience strategies and customer-centric best practices for over 15 years, positively impacting key business metrics in the process. As Chief Insights Officer, Janelle leads all of UserTesting’s thought leadership, industry research and market strategy direction.

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