Frustrated with your current retail customer experience? Don’t worry. It’s changing rapidly, and as consumers, we have a lot to look forward to.
Imagine the day when your personal intelligent digital agents dutifully assist you in using your own Internet of Everything on your favorite interconnected devices, all synchronously interacting and faithfully catering to your every need-of-the-moment.
Shopping, banking, travel—even healthcare—are all pleasurable experiences that are completely tailored for you alone in products and services, nimbly integrated into your life via your personal devices and intelligent agents. The companies you do business with are fully based on your personal values and tastes, because you help them understand your needs and judge them for their service in real-time.
Human-friendly technologies wrap you in comfort with astonishing new innovations, all working together to create a physical world that is digitally aware, participatory, self-policing, sustainable, socially conscious, and co-created by businesses and customers. You may have a personal drone for deliveries and taking your next-gen selfies, or live in a self-aware community, and drive a flying car.
It’s all happening right now. 2015 is the tipping point towards the world of tomorrow’s new retail. Will you be part of it or be left behind?
5 Ways Future Retail is Already Here
1. Experience Design Is the Primary Differentiator
Brands that have focused passionately on improving customer experiences and designing customer interactions have outperformed competitors for many years, becoming the darlings of retail for customer loyalty and press.
It’s been proven for some time that focusing on good design and great customer service keeps customers coming back and increases bottom lines—and every startup in the world these days promises to delight customers in some way. Many call it the “experience economy,” driven by carefully crafted micro-interactions that exceed customer expectations in utility, desirability, and wow-factor, and overarching omnichannel strategy that seamlessly blends these micro-interactions into a larger customer loyalty engagement designed to consistently please, inspire, wow, and satisfy customers online and offline.
2. The Customer Is Back in Charge
Customers now hold an amazing amount of power in-hand on mobile devices and wearables, and their ability to collectively influence change has amplified through social media. This empowerment has led some to call it the “age of the customer,” driven by the “connected consumer.” Both simply mean customers are now completely in control, and more demanding than ever. Disappoint them in one small interaction and 90% of them will immediately take their business elsewhere, and spread a worldwide wake of negativity about your brand on social networks as they go.
Consumer social power has grown so much that they now completely bypass traditional supply chains to barter and share the things they need with each other. The rise of the Sharing Economy, also called the Collaborative Economy, has upended historically impervious industries, like travel and hospitality. AirBNB now hosts more people than the entire Hilton hotel empire.
3. Expectations Are Soaring
The economic downturn created very frugal shoppers, who are always online hunting for a bargain or the best deal. But studies have shown that almost all of them will pay more for a better experience, and are loyal to companies who provide great experiences and customer service. They also have numerous options and will quickly leave if you don’t provide great experiences. And that bar is now set very high, as consumers expect the hyper-personalization of their digital experiences to be mirrored in, and connected to, their physical shopping experiences.
They are also becoming more tech savvy and aware. They fully expect emerging technologies to continue to make their lives better, and are demanding companies step up their technology and customer service games. Gartner calls this becoming a Digital Business, and proclaims companies better start now before it’s too late. The number of major companies left in the wake of the eCommerce revolution alone shows what happens when changing customer behaviors are not met with action.
4. Sci-Fi Tech Is Rapidly Maturing
Emerging technologies are giving retailers the power to let customers carry their digital world of eCommerce right into the store. A myriad of advances will merge it all into our daily lives at home and work. Billions of dollars are being invested in retail tech startups and brand innovation labs each year.
Advances in smartphones, tablets, sensors, wearables, in-car, and the Internet of Things create instant, real-time personal analytics from a variety of data sources. Mobile data output alone grew 81% last year. Customers are now pouring out volumes of data at any given time of day, everywhere they go.
Advances in cloud computing, big data, and machine intelligence now allow companies to utilize this formerly overwhelming amount of data. Retailers can finally understand the omnichannel path customers are taking online and in-store, and their sentiments along the way. They can now respond instantly to customers and predict shopping behaviors to anticipate needs, cater to desires, and personalize shopping experiences. Store associates can now be empowered with smart, assistive digital agents, and a complete single-source view of customer data and sentiment.
Advances in robotics, 3D optics, 3D printing, virtual reality, augmented reality, haptics, bluetooth, beacons, and multitouch displays allow retailers to further blend shopper’s digital and physical worlds in-home and in-store. From large immersive shopping walls and holographic displays to micro-interactions on windows, walls, and counters that respond to customer gestures, gazes, even facial expressions. Stores can track shoppers movements and morph into a personalized experience.
Advances in supply chain and delivery services allow same-day delivery when instant gratification isn’t possible. Malls and stores have taken the hint from Amazon and are responding by acting more as distribution centers, further personalizing the supply chain.
Major brands and startups have been experimenting with and maturing these technologies since around 2010, and they have proven out that “blended reality” is where things are going. Burberry, Nordstrom’s, Kate Spade, Tesco, Macy’s, and many other major brands have already implemented and profited from these digital technologies that enhance the in-store experience. Competition and innovation in this space is commodifying technology to the point where it seems like a natural resource. Costs have plummeted as capabilities skyrocket, bringing the customer experience of luxury brands on London’s High Street affordably to the corner store on Main Street, USA.
5. Convergence Brings It All Together
What’s making the new retail happen now is the convergence of these trends and technologies at the same time. The retail revival is coming for those who take action and leverage digital experiences to augment their store environments. But it isn’t as simple as having a kiosk with a website. A true omnichannel experience will need to be designed and executed, where all of the physical and digital products and services mesh into a unified shopping relationship with hyper-personalized service.
The companies that leverage these new technologies, and take the time to design exceptional, well-choreographed customer experiences will reap rich rewards, and have a retail renaissance.
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