Connected Consumers Are More Demanding Than Ever – How Retailers Are Adapting
This post is the latest in our “Connected Consumer” series. It’s our editorial focus for the month of December, including topics like personal assistant apps, smart speakers, IoT and wearables. See the rest of the series here.
As the omnichannel approach to retail takes off, industry insiders are beginning to wonder whether giving shoppers what they want, when they want it, across any connected device, is causing consumers to develop unrealistic expectations about the types of experiences and services their favorite stores can provide.
The omnichannel approach to retail has made it so consumers can purchase anything, at any time, day or night, without ever stepping foot inside a physical store. Consumers can place orders by voice and have them delivered on the same day using Amazon’s Alexa. They can also use drive-up, pick-up services at places like Target to have purchases placed directly in their vehicles. But giving shoppers access to enhanced experiences and developing seamless online-to-offline sales strategies is leading to higher expectations among consumers. In some cases, retailers now are struggling to meet those expectations and deliver on the types of immersive shopping experiences their customers have come to expect.
“It comes down to shifting attitudes towards convenience, and that’s largely a story of digital transformation,” says Jeff Saenger, vice president of customer success at Helpshift, a digital customer service platform. “The smartphone revolution ushered in a new era for retail, where suddenly consumers could shop anywhere. And of course, it wasn’t just retail. Everything from banking to buying flights can now be done with a few taps from anywhere with an internet connection. Convenience became the new paradigm for consumers because the devices enabling them to buy had become like an appendage. Not only do consumers expect greater convenience in terms of how and when they shop, but they also expect the same convenience when it comes to support.”
Online-to-offline strategies, like buy online, pick-up in-store (BOPIS), were up 43% this Black Friday, according to data from Adobe Analytics. When they attempt to meet the demands of connected consumers by adopting strategies like click-and-collect, BOPIS, or drive-up pick-up, without first implementing the right back-end infrastructure, retailers put their reputations at risk. Unexpected order delays lead to frustrated customers any time of the year, but these issues are especially detrimental during the holiday shopping season.
Some retailers are working to meet the increasingly high expectations of shoppers by bringing on more employees to handle the extra load. For example, the kitchenware retailer Williams-Sonoma recently announced that it would be hiring 2,500 extra customer service associates to help customers locate products, schedule deliveries, and process returns during the holiday season. Other retailers are relying solely on technology to fill the roles that human store associates once filled.
Unfortunately, Saenger says many digital solutions are difficult to scale, and that can lead to frustration for consumers who then have to deal with long hold times and multiple transfers to resolve simple issues.
“Brands have rushed to modernize their logistics in order to deliver products quickly but have failed to modernize support in the same way,” Saenger says. “Consumers are taking notice and choosing brands that have revamped their entire customer experience — from logistics through to customer support.”
Although it may be too late for retailers to implement new technology this holiday season, it’s not too early to begin thinking about next year. Saenger recommends that brands look into digital self-service tools and begin to add searchable knowledge bases to their websites. Because consumers today are more comfortable using technology, they’re more likely to have success resolving their own issues when retailers give them the tools to do so.
“Today’s consumers value convenience above all else, yet they still expect the same level of service that they’ve always been accustomed to when shopping at brick and mortar stores,” says Saenger. “Many retailers have struggled to adapt to these expectations — especially because legacy tools for customer support fall short in terms of their scalability and efficiency.”
Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.