Expert Roundup: How Will Retail Transform in 2021?

At Street Fight, we’re starting a new tradition. As an extension to our monthly editorial themes, we’re rounding up the top voices in a given theme to weigh in on opportunities and dynamics. You may remember we did this last month. Now it’s an official series (we’re on the hook!), and we continue the narrative with this month’s theme: retail innovation.

When reaching out to our community to enlist these insights and contributions, we were pleasantly surprised by the level of enthusiasm to participate. In fact, we got so many responses that we’re breaking the list into two parts. Here’s what we were able to gather from the community, in no particular order. Stay tuned next week for Part II.

Dan Slavin, CEO of CodeBroker, on managing relationships with unhappy customers

Appeasement is the new next-day Delivery.  Long ignored by retailers and other consumer-facing businesses, appeasement tactics will be the next big trend with respect to customer relations and problem resolution. Gone are the days when an irate customer would angrily hang up and be done with it. Now consumers go viral with their grievances. Knowing how social media has empowered the consumer, poor customer service gets heard loud and clear. On top of that, consumer expectations have never
been higher.

Some brands monitor these media channels to address service issues and curtail the spread of bad reviews or complaints. Sometimes you must get on the phone with a customer. It’s a lot more meaningful and protective of your brand. But the reality is that it’s nearly impossible for anyone to reach a real service person. Chatbots are largely automated, causing more harm than good, escalating the frustration.

There will always be unhappy customers. What’s lacking are better appeasement solutions. No matter how trivial their concerns might be, each complaint needs to be taken seriously and handled quickly; brand reputation is at stake. So the problem becomes one of defusing the customer problem before it becomes explosive, and to remedy the situation at the Amazon-like speed to which they have grown accustomed.

To that effort, instantly issued single-use digital coupon offers and gift cards can go a long way toward appeasing the customer. Once the decision has been made to offer appeasement, the customer service rep should have the ability to deliver the appeasement instantly on whatever channel the customer happens to be on, whether that be chat, direct message, Facebook messenger, email, or another channel.

Call centers need the ability to track where these coupons are going, how they are being used and redeemed, and if alterations need to be made. They need to control the appeasement chain; they need to keep valued customers in a state of satisfaction. If you can satisfy a grievance you just may have a customer for life. Reward them for their troubles and they will spread positive word of mouth to many others. A happy customer is a
forever customer.

Paul Magel, president, business applications division, CGS, on adopting cutting-edge tech

The retail blueprint has changed drastically in the last year because of the pandemic, resulting in brands and retailers needing to further scrutinize every decision related to the supply chain. Retailers will continue to see rapid changes, requiring further digital tools to help them monitor market needs. The past year was not necessarily an innovation event, but more of an acceleration event as the pandemic expedited changes to the retail industry that were already underway including enhanced supply chain capabilities and concept-to-consumer collaboration.

While the trend was already in motion, the past year’s lockdown and social distancing expedited digital alternatives to the loss of traditional tactics for apparel and footwear retailers including fashion shows and in-store shopping. The industry was forced to shift toward digital marketing and brand awareness efforts that turned the model upside down. Moving forward, catwalks will go completely virtual, allowing TikTok and other social platforms to guide product design and fuel sales pipelines. This shift will further propel the digital age of self-expression in which consumers demand to be heard and possess an active role in shaping fashion. Brands and retailers need to deliver on this desire by joining the trends and conversations that are taking social media by storm and leveraging analytical tools to monitor trends.

Consumers have been pushing to have retailers automate processes, such as contactless payments, and redesign physical stores to be more aligned with their online shopping experience. For essentials, stores such as Amazon Go can offer an interaction-less experience. From the consumers’ perspective, purchasing online, picking up in-store, or curbside are convenient processes.

In addition, helping consumers virtually try on clothing, online apparel and footwear retailers are looking to deploy technology. Some of the more recent technologies, including 3D and augmented reality, combined with use of avatars that can be modeled to look like a consumer – in facial features as well as body shape and size – can help the virtual shopping experience. It can help improve their buying experience while also minimizing returns.

Additionally, the supply chain disruption caused by the pandemic made it clear that fashion companies will need to invest in technology to tie their supply chains together digitally from concept through to consumer and gain real-time visibility. This will also further ongoing sustainability efforts and efficiencies, which will help brands quickly create and deliver relevant, personalized product designs.

Google and Amazon have, of course, been competing on multiple fronts for years now, with Amazon making gains against Google in digital advertising and Google pushing hard to unseat Amazon’s market dominance in cloud computing. As far as local is concerned, the contest that is of greatest interest right now has to do with the changing face of e-commerce. Though Amazon remains the e-commerce behemoth, far ahead of Google and every other company on the planet, Google is innovating fast in this area, with the apparent goal of digitizing the hidden local inventories of every store in your vicinity.

Damian Rollison, VP Market Development & Strategic Partnerships, Brandify, on Google’s localized e-commerce approach

Yes, Amazon sells third-party inventories through its Marketplace, but their approach to date, aside from Whole Foods and the experimental Amazon Go stores, is, if anything, anti-local — we’ll ship anything quickly to anywhere. By contrast, Google has been pushing Google Shopping and the Merchant Center in the direction of local availability in several ways just in the past year. This includes:

  • Adding local pickup attributes to products
  • Making inventory feeds in the Merchant Center free for all merchants
  • Showcasing free product listings in a redesigned Google Shopping interface
  • Showcasing products with increased frequency and prominence in business profiles
  • Acquiring the Irish startup Pointy to help small brick-and-mortar businesses digitize their inventories

Of course, the pandemic threw most prior plans for a loop and probably slowed Google’s trajectory somewhat, but it also provided a huge boost for e-commerce and innovation in online-to-offline transactions, with BOPIS, curbside pickup, and third-party delivery services all seeing significant gains in adoption.

Brandify’s recent survey of in-house marketers at multi-location brands found that 39% adopted curbside pickup for the first time in 2020 and 30% launched BOPIS. Of those who haven’t yet done so, 33% are planning to launch curbside pickup in 2021 and 22% are planning to launch BOPIS.

Moves by multi-location brands, along with third-party services that work both with brands and SMBs, will ease the logistical friction of fulfillment as Google works to create the data layer where, conceivably, most offline transactions could in the near future begin in digital space.

Will Kunkel, VP of Marketing, Stirista, on targeting post-third-party cookies

There has been much handwringing across the industry and in particular from retail marketers looking for the marketing holy grail in the absence of cookies. Personalization, measurement, attribution — particularly for device tagging and in-store tracking — have continued to elude retailers trying to extend their digital reach while their media agencies scramble to show realistically attributable metrics (read: makeup). And most identity solutions and graphs that are leveraged as the data backbone to fuel campaigns are based on outdated third-party data sets and tied to extremely loose probabilistic MAID-HASH pairs.

As overall advertising and marketing spend has become tighter and expectations for increased visibility into digital multichannel ROI grow, retail execs need omnichannel, data-first solutions that confirm their digital strategies and defend their budgets. In order to maximize spend, marketers need to properly attribute each interaction a user has with their brand across every channel.

Newer retail martech innovations are finally being advanced in the market to give retailers the ability to take their first-party data and match it against a real-time identity graph and then target those consumers for personalized cross-device advertising utilizing IP plus device-level coverage. These crosswalk technologies and visitor ID graphs enable retail marketers to track and measure which consumers come into stores based on multichannel ad performance.

With retail marketers’ increased interest in CTV options, avoiding ads on repeat helps extend precious ad budgets. Newer frequency capping mechanisms ensure excessive dollars aren’t wasted, as ads are often over-delivered to the same household thanks to fuzzy math from miscalculations of the types of devices and services households (and even within households) are consuming. Newer anonymous, privacy-compliant tracking
mechanisms for digital devices including mobile devices, smart TVs, and refrigerators yield deeper insight into household-level consumption that is critical as retail marketers continue to innovate.

Stay tuned for more next week.

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