Despite catchy headlines that talk about the Retail Apocalypse, the idea of retail—”selling things directly to customers for their own use”—is not going anywhere.
But it is evolving.
Yes, the type of goods is changing. And yes, the way that these products are delivered is shifting. But more importantly, the way we experience goods before we buy them is changing.
Consider the world of AR/VR.
When this technology was first developed in 1968 (yes, it’s that old), the immediate use was entertainment. These technologies gave the world a more immersive experience to enjoy a game or video. Over the past decades, thousands of headsets were sold to help people all over the globe encounter their entertainment—not simply observe it.
But as the AR/VR world exploded, savvy business owners thought up a new application: enhancing the customer journey.
Most models agree that consumers undergo three chief steps prior to purchase.
It is this second step—consideration—that AR and VR developers have found an audience for in the retail world. Companies, like Ikea, are giving consumers the ability to not only see the product online but see the piece in their home. Using their custom AR app, Ikea shoppers can place a couch in their living room, drop a desk in their study, or place a new nightstand in their bedroom. Ikea is offering context without forsaking convenience.
Because access is not everything.
Providing access to thousands of stores with a click isn’t enough for some consumer products and market segments. As traditional as it may sound, there is a benefit to feeling and seeing a product before you buy it.
When E-commerce came on the scene, buying on the web was simply brilliant. Amazon has been gobbling up market leaders thanks to their ability to give consumers access to products around the globe. But simple access is not the only reason Jeff Bezos is the 3rd wealthiest man in America. Rather, the success is thanks to the holistic experience that Amazon offers in its ever-growing ecosystem—think Prime, Echo, and App development.
eBay is struggling to make a comeback despite a major ad push this holiday season. Why? Their focus, “put some color in your cart”, is still about the end product. Until eBay can boast an experience that rivals Amazon’s, the latter will continue to thrive.
Customer service isn’t simply about the decision phase in the buyer’s journey. Customer service begins much earlier. It begins with how a company enables a prospect to engage with their product. It begins with design as much as operations.
Customer service has always been a hallmark of a strong retailer. But customer experience—the nuanced ways people engage with your company from start to finish—is an approach few retail giants have been able to adapt in time. The product is not the chief value. Companies around the globe are realizing that to win you have to focus on the experience as much as the deliverable.
Various tools will come and go. Technologies will shift and market leaders will change. But the retailer that keeps their eye on the customer experience will create customer loyalty and a black ledger that extends beyond the Thanksgiving weekend.