Retailers need to excite and inspire in both the virtual and physical world

Keeping certain principles in mind will help retail brands succeed in our changing landscape, writes Mindshare's chief executive.

It has always been difficult to keep up with the ever-changing needs of the consumer, but now more than ever retailers need to compete on experience, or lose out to the likes of Amazon. In our recent Future of Retail CX report we identified the five key trends marketers need to embrace to stay competitive.

Hail to the mobile

If you only get one thing right in 2018, make it mobile. We have become an "on the go" nation, and as faster connections and new use cases for mobile evolve, it is set to play an even more central role in our lives.

65% of consumers see themselves using mobiles more in the future to improve the in-store experience, and mobile holds the key for brands to create a seamless experience on- and offline. It will act as the glue that binds multiple brand touchpoints for the shopper, providing a hub for data collection, payment, store and location-based experiences, convenient purchasing and much more.

Rather than a single channel, requiring separate investment, mobile needs to be regarded as an essential part of the entire customer experience proposition that is integrated into multiple areas of the business.

Bring back the store magic

Department store pioneer Harry Selfridge was a man who truly understood the power of merchandising and seduced customers with extravagant visual displays in-store. People buy with their eyes and today’s consumers want an in-store experience that excites and inspires.

The store offering has become a real point of differentiation from retailers in this increasingly saturated and price-driven retail market, with 83% highlighting that stores are important in allowing you to see, touch and feel an item in person.

Retailers have a genuine opportunity here to create immersive and memorable experiences that people want to share. Over half (51%) of consumers agree they are more likely to buy from brands whose stores are interesting or different, rising to 63% for under 34s. It is important for retailers to continue trying new formats and technologies that encourage customers to spend time in their store.

What makes your brand different?

In a world of increasing commoditisation, algorithmic recommendations and new disruptors to market, retailers should not lose focus on strong branding and the need to create emotional connections with shoppers.  

A unique brand proposition is more important than ever – price is no longer enough.  

Brands will be looking to strengthen their overall proposition with consumers, finding fresh ways to deliver brand experiences by using new technology, creating unique store experiences, connecting brand touchpoints more seamlessly and developing brand partnerships and alliances.

60% of consumers surveyed said that retail brands will have to keep up with new technology in order to improve their customer experience (up from 53% in 2015), so there is work to be done.

Re-booting your data

With GDPR looming and the number of data sources ever increasing, 2018 will be the year that retailers rethink their approaches to using data and step up their efforts to personalise the customer experience.

65% of consumers surveyed said they are becoming more conscious of what brands do with their data and 68% say they are very selective about the brands they share their data with.

Retailers will need to dig deeper into this kind of feedback and test out their customers’ attitudes to data, in order to determine an acceptable data exchange and provide incentives to consent.  

With AI and Internet of Things also bringing a whole new dimension to data, brands should focus on prioritising the right data points and connecting the dots between all of their data sources, which will bring them closer to that elusive "single customer view". Most importantly, don’t forget there is a human behind all of these data points.

AI vs human interaction

The opportunity to interact with consumers is shifting dramatically as messaging apps, chatbots and voice enabled tech allow brands to have direct, automated conversations 24/7.

And demand is there, with six in ten 25- to 34-year-olds finding it easier to chat to brands via text, online chat or messenger apps. When using this technology, brands will need to focus in on their conversational skills, being careful to listen and communicate in a clear, distinctive and informal way.

Brand personality and transparency also need to be top of the agenda. These technologies are rapidly becoming more natural and intuitive; however, retailers need to remember that these forms of "conversational commerce" should be seen as an addition, not a replacement for human-to-human contact and systems need to be put in place to determine when it is necessary to hand over to a human.

Helen McRae is chief executive of Mindshare UK

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