Amid difficult economic conditions and ongoing supply chain setbacks, retail organizations are in a tough spot — and customer standards for engagement and experience with a retailer aren’t getting lower. Rising expectations and decreasing budgets are not-so-surprisingly honing the focus on a few factors: the role of omnichannel data, the potential for greater efficiency via AI, and delivering on delivery.
The goal, of course, is to keep customers not only satisfied but actually excited to shop with you — and enthusiastic about coming back. As a marketer, I’m inclined to think of the retail sales cycle as more like an infinity symbol than a funnel. Deliver products, services and experiences, that make consumers so happy with your brand that they leave a positive review, tell their friends, and come back to purchase again.
NRF 2024: Retail’s Big Show was a crazy boost of energy and inspiration with informative sessions, some amazing conversations with retail marketers and a taste of some exciting technology in the space. It also left me trying to put myself in the mind of the retail industry players and the questions that I think are top of mind for 2024.
As is true across any industry, the most important consideration of retail is the end user. What defines the experience your customer has with your brand online or in person? There are endless avenues for improving the customer experience, from customized video content across your website to help spark ideas for a full room design or an augmented reality interface to show your audience exactly what that shade of lipstick looks like on them. It could also be technology that goes unnoticed as it quietly makes their shopping experience easier, like the streamlining of data sharing with those on the floor with those in the backroom, providing everyone with a clear and real-time view of inventory.
From my point of view, it all comes down to data. And based on what I saw across the floor at NRF, it all comes down to omnichannel data and democratized access to that data. This requires retailers to pair up with technology partners who are continuously innovating to stay ahead of customer needs and constantly improving the interaction with your brand.
There is rarely a conference in any industry these days that doesn’t feature AI as the star. It is the hot topic for sessions, the newest offering in booths across technology companies, and the topic of many conversations.
There is no simple answer when it comes to the impact of AI on retail, but it clearly has a role to play for now. It could free up in-store employees with more time to interact with customers, or it could power a live chat tool on your website, helping to ensure the customer finds exactly what they need, when they need it. As is always the case with rapidly evolving technology, effective use of AI will require a baseline level of training and understanding for anyone in your organization who will interact with it.
One thing was evident — as powerful as AI might be, it can’t replace people. You will always need people within your organization who understand its use and can leverage it for your specific needs.
When it comes to getting what you want from a retailer, timing is second only to quality. The customer experience doesn’t end with purchase and retailers are scrambling to recreate an Amazon-level experience for delivery.
For some retailers, this means more options and personalization for the timing and location of delivery, aiming to avoid issues like porch pirates. For larger retail companies, it might mean improving their supply chain logistics or partnering with an organization that can help them streamline this experience and ensure it aligns with their level of customer service and customization.
The flipside of delivery is returns — that process needs to be just as seamless. Bonus points if you are partnered with an organization that can also resell, when possible, leaving minimum impact on your bottom line. Anyone else notice those self-service kiosks at your local UPS store for Amazon returns?
Knowledge is only as good as what you do with it, and it’s our job as integrated marketing and PR experts to stay ahead of how these changes in the industry will impact the work our clients do.
When I consider the trends above, there are very clear parallels to the guidance I would give to those in the B2B retail space.
Need a hand tackling challenges for B2B retail brands? Get in touch.