“Retail has become synonymous with digital bells and whistles,” says Strategy + Business. Retailers are using artificial intelligence to detect patterns and predict customer preferences, while augmented reality is enabling customers to try on clothes or test out room decor, and mobile apps are changing the way shoppers pay.

Regardless of the ways technology enhances today’s shopping experience, though, consumers are still coming away unsatisfied. Strategy + Business refers to it as an “experience disconnect”, a phenomenon in which companies promote their latest digital innovation but fall short when it comes to the aspects of customer experience that are the most meaningful.

According to a PwC Consumer Intelligence Series (CIS) survey, the human touch still matters. Check out some of their findings:

  • 75% of survey respondents report that they want more human interaction in the future, not less.
  • Nearly 3/4 of shoppers say customer experience is more important than price and product quality when it comes to purchasing decisions
  • 65% of U.S. consumers say a positive experience with a brand is more influential than advertising.

As Strategy + Business points outthese statistics should serve as a wake-up call for retailers who are considering how to best engage with shoppers. While technology will remain an important component in the retailers’ ability to understand and predict customer behavior, keep in mind that none of the high-tech capabilities retailers are using would even be possible without people.

“Whether on the front lines or behind the scenes, it takes a veritable army of specialized staff — floor associates, data scientists, product designers, artificial intelligence experts, supply chain specialists, distribution center workers, and more, all operating in concert with technology — to delight customers with products and services they didn’t even know they wanted and keep them coming back.”

Source: Strategy + Business

“Now is a time of revival and reinvention for retailers able and willing to deliver the experience that customers increasingly demand,” explains Strategy + Business. Below are three ways they can make it happen:

1.Create a Community of Commerce

Savvy retailers recognize the importance of creating an environment where shoppers enjoy spending their time as much as their money.

“Liberated from being just an inventory repository, today’s reimagined store is a community of commerce — an outlet for product discovery, a forum to educate and entertain, and a channel to reinforce the brand.”

Source: Strategy+Business

For example, in April 2018, Nordstrom opened a Manhattan boutique that caters solely to men. The retailer’s goal is to combine cutting-edge technology with old-school in-store service by offering everything from rag-snapping shoe shiners, digital screens that display custom-made jackets on an avatar of the shopper and sixteen tailors on staff to take care of alterations to an audio department with accessories such as headphones and a digital kiosk that quickly processes returns.

The brand is taking their personalized service to a whole new level, too. For instance, if a customer needs a tie at two o’clock in the morning, he can simply order it online and a Nordstrom employee will meet him at a store entrance at the designated time, no matter the hour.

Other companies—like the trendy eyeglass retailer, Warby Parker—originally an online-only store—have discovered that physical stores are a critical way to build in-person connections with customers.

2. Foster a Culture of Empowered Employees

“Even as technology plays a larger role, the most successful retailers understand that employees are the connective tissue in the retail experience,” says Strategy+Business.

The Ritz-Carlton, for example, has taken the need for superior customer service to heart. The company allows each employee to spend as much as $2,000 US dollars per guest to provide exceptional service, encouraging employees to tap into their creativity to ensure every customer experience is memorable.

Such a relentless focus on the customer has resulted in numerous prestigious hospitality awards for guest satisfaction, and The Ritz-Carlton’s employee retention rates are among the highest in an industry notorious for employee attrition.

The luxury hotel has the right perspective when you consider that at least 56% of consumers will turn away from their favorite brands after a few bad experiences and 32% will walk away after only one bad experience, according to a PwC Consumer Insights Survey.

3. Invest in Customer Data

“Being in the retail business today means being in the data business,” says Strategy+Business.

“Customer experience falls short if retailers can’t effectively harness the power of technology in order to engage customers. Retailers need data scientists and other professionals with advanced analytics skills who can help companies carry out analyses and apply data to better understand customers and predict trends.”

According to information found on Strategy+Business, by 2021 employer demand for data science and analytics skills will far exceed supply. In fact, analysis from a 2017 report by PwC and the Business-Higher Education Forum indicates that retail has the highest proportion of job openings for data-driven decision makers.

Smart retailers are reconsidering their job candidate pipelines and placing more emphasis on identifying, developing, and recruiting retail workers with in-demand data skills, suggests Strategy+Business

Conclusion

“Ultimately, the human element remains central to customer interactions,” says Strategy+Business, “even if it’s embedded within automation, artificial intelligence, advanced analytics, or other technologies.”

One of the statistics mentioned earlier in this post bears repeating:

75% of survey respondents report that they want more human interaction in the future, not less.Click To Tweet

Companies that heed the call for a customer experience that provides a human connection will benefit from loyal customers and repeat business, ensuring that their retail store will always be in demand.

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About Author

Sherene Funk

Sherene Funk is the author of the contemporary romance Autumn in Your Arms and the eBook The Small retailer's Ultimate Guide to Increasing In-Store Sales. She is a voracious reader who owns more books than she can ever read in this lifetime (but that doesn't stop her from collecting more). A graduate of Brigham Young University, she has published several humorous non-fiction articles and worked in advertising for many years before moving to her current position as a writer on modern retailing at Rain Retail Software. She researches non-stop to see what successful retailers do and loves to share what she learns with other small business owners through informative articles that address their unique needs.


Also published on Medium.

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