customer experience retail

Why Retailers Are Struggling to Deepen Customer Relationships in 2022

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Demonstrating the important role that customer relationships continue to play for businesses post-pandemic, a new report from Forrester Consulting and Uberall finds that 70% of businesses believe it’s more important to have a deeper understanding of their customers now than before the pandemic, and 72% are looking to increase customer retention and loyalty.

But accomplishing those tasks is easier said than done. 

Although 73% of decision-makers believe digital capabilities in physical locations—such as QR codes, self-checkout, and contactless payments—are more important now than before the pandemic, seven in 10 rated their organization’s ability to provide seamless customer journeys across digital and physical touchpoints as “average,” “fair,” or “poor.” 

Nearly half of the decision-makers surveyed by Forrester said adding digital capabilities in physical locations is one of the most challenging objectives to implement.

Why the disconnect? 

Uberall Chief Customer Officer Tijs van Santen says the problem isn’t a lack of technology. Organizations today have access to more tools for facilitating shopping through a mix of online and in-person channels than ever before. Instead, van Santen believes the problem has to do with organizations relying on too many siloed teams — marketing, customer service, and local store operators, to name just a few. One of the fundamental challenges in customer experience is the fact that responsibilities for the end-to-end customer journey lie with many different teams, and aligning teams that work to deliver a seamless hybrid customer experience is a huge challenge. 

Also at issue is the tendency of businesses to invest in technology in a standalone way. Van Santen says using standalone tools for social listening, intelligent communications, and review management stunts the holistic approach that hybrid customer experiences require.

“As we emerge from the pandemic, we are finding that customer expectations have radically and permanently shifted. Today’s customers demand digital-first conveniences and are looking to location-based businesses to innovate like never before,” van Santen says. “While most businesses recognize that consumer behaviors have changed and are prioritizing activities to match these behaviors, a whopping 70% find their organization’s ability to provide seamless hybrid customer journeys suboptimal.”

Gaining customer loyalty via digital conveniences

​​The possibilities for hybrid experiences inside physical locations are virtually limitless, from digital queues that allow customers to shop while they wait, to augmented reality, audio experiences, in-store personalized ads, and in-store-to-online offers for limited stock items.

During the pandemic, shoppers got accustomed to some of these digital conveniences — things like curbside pickups and on-demand local deliveries. Now, as people return to in-person activities, van Santen says the digital conveniences they’ve become accustomed to shouldn’t just disappear. Engaging with customers across the digital and real world is another way for companies to gain consumer trust and loyalty.

Decision-makers in 2022 have been hesitant to implement especially forward-thinking or creative strategies, but it’s not because they’re uninterested. Forrester’s survey found that 72% are “interested” or “very interested” in using a platform that addresses multiple marketing and customer experience needs. However, many of these decision-makers are afraid to make any missteps in today’s hyper-competitive retail environment, and they need a confidence boost to truly develop the kinds of seamless experiences that customers are looking for. 

Van Santen says industry leaders recognize hybrid customer experience as an enterprise-wide initiative, and leading organizations are designing and implementing end-to-end plans that align corporate strategy with seamless local execution. Unified platforms offer a way for businesses to gain a deeper understanding of the customer and their quickly changing expectations using real-time insights.

“The technology all exists today to enable amazing hybrid experiences, but consumer expectations are incredibly high; there is no room for friction,” van Santen says. “As a decision-maker, you need to evaluate the most critical needs of your customers and understand how to meet them, while ensuring a seamless and consistent experience.”

​​Stephanie Miles is a senior editor at Street Fight.

Stephanie Miles is a journalist who covers personal finance, technology, and real estate. As Street Fight’s senior editor, she is particularly interested in how local merchants and national brands are utilizing hyperlocal technology to reach consumers. She has written for FHM, the Daily News, Working World, Gawker, Cityfile, and Recessionwire.