Expert Roundup: How Will Retail Transform in 2021? Part II

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.

Following last week’s Part I, here are more insights we were able to gather from the community.

Nikki Baird, VP of Retail Innovation, Aptos, on the advent of mixed reality

If you’ve spent any time hanging around augmented reality or virtual reality futurists, you’ve probably heard the term “mixed reality,” or “XR,” as a shortcut way to talk about both.

While AR and VR utilize the same underlying technologies, they are very different in what they mean to consumers, and therefore very different in what they mean for retail. So XR was never a good shortcut – if anything, it muddied the waters for both.

One trend I’m watching for 2021 and beyond puts the term “mixed reality” to a different use, and it’s one I’m very interested to watch develop. One of the biggest questions coming out of the pandemic will be how much consumer behavior has been changed by the forced move to online shopping. The longer the shift is required, the more the habit sets in. It has the potential to negatively impact store traffic for the long term – certainly accelerating the trend away from store visits to online.

Looking to China and consumer behavior coming out of its lockdowns, it is certain that “revenge shopping” will be a result in other parts of the world as well. Once the revenge is had though, it is uncertain how much store traffic will be sustained now that consumers have had a long-term taste of the convenience of shopping from home.

This puts pressure on stores to make sure they deliver compelling experiences. If consumers have been habituated to online, then one of the easiest ways to connect digital to physical is by offering a bridge between the two: mixed reality, or the combination of digital and physical experiences that can be enjoyed by both online and physically present consumers.

Livestreaming was a pandemic version of this new definition of mixed reality – it brought the store associate and the store environment into the home, and it could easily be a one-to-one (a personal appointment for one shopper) or a one-to-many kind of experience (a store associate broadcasting a segment to a larger audience). Livestreaming was born of necessity, and it doesn’t offer much for customers in the store – they could have basically the same experience if they were sitting in the parking lot watching from their phones.

But what if you could have online shoppers and physically present shoppers interacting with each other and with store associates? A way of letting digital shoppers make their presence known in the physical world, and a way for physically present shoppers to add to or alter the digital world? A simple version of this would be some of the early bridges between stores and social media, where stores could show the number of Facebook likes for their location, or online likes for specific products in stores.

I once saw a digital sign in a store that kept a running feed of items that were just bought online and the city they were being shipped to. My favorite example is really offbeat: Plantoid. It’s a blockchain/art experiment where people online pay to see the art piece move or light up in the real world. Coca-Cola has also experimented with using technology to connect people from multiple locations, with vending machines that let online participants gift a Coke to someone standing in front of a vending machine half a world away.

These were all fun activities that were experimental before the pandemic struck. Now that shoppers have built a lot of new online habits, the pressure will be on retailers to use stores as a way to engage online shoppers while also enticing them into the store. Mixed reality is one way to do that. It’s not the most likely thing to happen in the next two years, but it’s one of the more interesting ones.

Todd Schoenherr, VP of Strategy, Infutor, on data’s use in retail

Successful retail disruption will be rooted in effective data technologies. For retail marketers, connecting offline to online identities and purchases has long been a top challenge. Now, it is a force driving retail disruption.

Retailers that master offline to online are able to better sync shoppers’ multichannel profiles and influence shopper traffic online and in stores (traditionally or via curbside pickup) through personalized experiences and relevant offers.

Over the past year, the pandemic-driven acceleration of ecommerce adoption among consumers has forced the hands of retailers to get their data houses in order (or revealed the desperate need to do so) to support critical customer experience enhancements. With a cookieless future in sight, retail marketers that have built first-party customer data and identity
assets are well positioned to capitalize on the uptick in ecommerce activity and increased mobile app usage by leveraging their first-party data to power personalization and targeted campaigns.

The key to retail innovations in this area is ensuring that customer data is collected and enhanced in a privacy-compliant way. Retailers that want to win on customer experience and compete with the likes of Amazon by anticipating customer needs will need to lean into consent management platforms and data-driven technologies such as data exchanges and clean
rooms
. In doing so, they can leverage third-party data without personally identifiable information (PII) to enhance customer profiles, enable personalization, and facilitate cross-channel campaigns and attribution.

While many retailers were already on this path, COVID effectively pulled these plans forward for most — an exciting proposition for the marketer who wants to innovate. One year later, it’s safe to say consumer behavior will never be the same even post-pandemic. The retail marketers that thrive will be the ones who can ensure their tech-driven programs are rooted in
marrying insights and attributes with deterministic and privacy-compliant consumer data to tailor a new and improved customer experience that embraces rapidly changing dynamics.

Tara Sporrer, SVP of marketing at goMoxie, on retail’s recovery

As for many industries, 2020 proved to be an incredibly troubling year for retail. In New York City alone, one in seven stores either closed temporarily or locked up shop for good. With consumers shifting to e-commerce as their primary means of shopping, retail brands’ digital presence must be stronger than ever before. Brands that will win in 2021 are those that understand the importance of the customer experience and provide site visitors with guidance throughout the entire shopping journey.

Brands will first need to address their customer support strategies. Understanding the strengths of a proactive approach to consumers’ needs and concerns, versus a strictly passive one will make all the difference in how they will engage with their platforms. According to our recent report, 40 percent of consumers have recently struggled to transact online with a retailer. And when they have, 62 percent of consumers said they abandoned the shopping experience, while 52 percent shopped with a competitor instead. The lesson here? Proactive guidance can help reduce frustration for customers and stop them from calling, emailing or chatting with you, or worse abandoning the transaction all together. Relevant information provided at the right time in the digital journey can mean the difference between a completed transaction and a lost customer.

Taking it a step further, answering a question that the consumer didn’t even know they had can create a thoughtful, well-executed experience — and is the fastest way to win brand loyalty. Brands will realize that if they can provide a frictionless experience­­ — one that removes anything that impedes their customers from completing their journey — they’ll attract more loyal customers than ever before.

Brands will need to utilize their data to identify the common friction points throughout the journey and map them to effective engagements that can alleviate customers’ struggles. Where can you step in to prevent the problem from escalating and preventing a sale? In the earlier stages, engagements are more subtle, while later-stage frustrations should call for a more straightforward response to salvage the purchase.

As brands continue to build out their recovery strategies into 2021, it will be important for them to make these changes in order to find success. The inability to do so will make all the difference in how consumers engage with brands and the size of the purchases they make.

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