One of the biggest challenges facing retailers today is understanding how customer expectations will change once restrictions lift.

There’s no denying there will be a big shift to digital. But, digital won’t be the preferred platform of choice for every retail engagement, or every consumer. It’s cliche, but it’s true –  there really is no one size fits all approach.

For example, research from Qualtrics and the XM Institute shows that when it comes to resolving issues with bills more than half of people want to talk with someone on the phone. When it comes to buying a TV two-thirds want to meet with someone in person. In contrast, 41% are happy to use digital self-serve capabilities to open a new bank account.

To exacerbate the challenge for retailers, this shift is happening at a time when experience has never been more important. Not only do consumers have higher expectations than ever for the organisations they engage with, it’s also never been easier for people to switch brands or change the products they use.

For retailers looking to get ahead in fast moving and competitive markets, a recent conversation I had with two rapidly growing digital retailers – Koala and Shopify – uncovered some great learnings to help deliver great customer, brand, and product experiences today and into the future.

  1. Go beyond your core proposition

Brand preferences are becoming increasingly complicated, meaning organisations must think outside of their core proposition to deliver what’s most important for consumers. For instance, Qualtrics research found the top driver of buying decisions in Australia is product quality (45%), followed by price (25%), customer experience (20%), and from organisations that give back to society (13%).

Recognising the significance of sustainability for its customers, Koala has made active efforts for many years to reduce its environmental impact. The organisation is B-Corp certified, which represents a commitment to maintain the highest social and environmental standards.  It’s part of the ‘1% for the Planet’ coalition – meaning it gives away one per cent of gross sales annually to support sustainability initiatives – and partners with the WWF to spearhead multiple projects.

As an e-commerce platform that supports more than 100,000 merchants in Australia, Shopify has also employed out-of-the-box thinking to support its customers. It has a focus on convenience, assessing emerging trends and buying patterns to determine how it can best support consumers. This includes building a robust omnichannel approach to fulfillment and understanding what this really means from a convenience perspective, recognising it as a competitive differentiator.

“Fast, free, and sustainable is absolutely key,” says Robin Marchant, Head of Marketing, APAC, at Shopify. “Speaking from personal experience, we’ve had boxes on boxes, with paper and wrapping stacking up during the pandemic. It makes you think, is this right? How can we improve this experience for people?”

  1. Think outside of traditional retail metrics

Experience metrics are a great way to discover what matters to your customers and how you can build better strategies for continuous improvement. However, they only tell part of the story. The trick lies in understanding what they mean and how to act on them, before putting a story together that resonates with the entire organisation.

This is an ethos that Koala has put into action as it focuses on how multiple metrics can be fused together to tell one meaningful story that stakeholders can get behind.

“I fundamentally believe that it’s important for data professionals to work really hard on becoming great storytellers with data,” says Andrew Sherwood Jones, Customer and Marketing Insights Manager at Koala.

“You can do the best piece of analysis in the world, but if you’re not able to communicate what you did, why it matters and the outcome in simple terms, you’re going to have a hard time influencing any action with it.”

Andrew says a good strategy for executing on this is to be clear about the top three things you want people to take away from the data, then edit to amplify.

  1. Focus on segmentation to optimise transformations

Most retailers and marketing professionals recognise there is no such thing as a ‘global consumer’ or a single customer strategy that meets the needs of everyone. It’s vital organisations cater to this with a comprehensive approach to customer segmentation that considers their specific needs in a profound way. 

This is a core part of Shopify’s experience management strategy, as it focuses heavily on what’s relevant to consumers in specific countries and industries. 

“Each country is having a different response to what’s happening, so it’s about getting down to that granular level because not every country, brand or industry is the same,” Marchant says.

“We then need that granular approach to predict what’s coming next. When we came out of lockdown in Australia, behaviours went back to normal very quickly. Now, we’re pivoting again. Continuous listen enables us to better understand this unpredictability.”

  1. Listen to every customer voice

Once organisations have listening strategies in place covering multiple touchpoints and data sources, it can be easy to rely purely on the aggregation of these data streams to improve experiences.

However, this can result in important experience data falling through the cracks. As such retailers must ensure they’re constantly finding new ways to measure experiences and gather sentiment. 

Recognising this as an issue, Koala undertook a plan to bring teams together to improve their ability addressing experience gaps across the organisation. This included a weekly meeting with senior leadership to chat about the customer, opening with the question: “What are we seeing and hearing?

At one of these meetings, a team member said one of their friends had a clunky experience returning a mattress as part of a free trial. Koala responded by getting the contact centre to do an audit of that experience, which involved looking at experience and operational data to reorient it to the customer, delivering an improved returns process.

This scenario demonstrates that organisations must never rest on their laurels, always striving to find new and innovative ways of uncovering experience gaps, while driving real outcomes for their customers.

A framework of action for the future

Underpinning the best experience management strategies is a willingness to constantly engage and empathise with your customer and employees. Crafting a plan of action is equally important.

Byadopting mechanisms for picking up on emerging signals and shifting preferences, balancing digital convenience with the desire for in-person experiences, and continually designing and improving entire customer journeys – not individual interactions – retailers will be well placed to succeed in whatever comes next.

Lisa Khatri is head of customer, brand and design experience for Asia Pacific and Japan at Qualtrics.