With soaring vaccination rates and the promise of no more lockdowns, the new year offered optimism for a fresh start and return to ‘normal’ for Australian retailers. However, so far 2022 has provided little but uncertainty and chaos, with surging case numbers, supply chain delays and staff shortages creating a challenging environment for Australia’s dynamic and resilient retail industry.
In the face of adversity, evolving market context and fluctuating consumer demands, it’s crucial for retailers to continuously refine their customer experience (CX) to stay relevant and ahead of the curve. But in the year ahead, what customer experience trends must retailers embrace and be aware of as they navigate the ongoing pandemic and the evolving retail landscape?
Fundamental market changes
The pandemic has changed the fundamental nature of markets, industries and consumer demands. Understanding these changes and evolving to meet them is not easy, but the retailers that do so will be well positioned to provide the adaptable and contemporary experiences that shoppers demand. While they may sound simple, digital payments, quick delivery, easy returns/cancellations, and high availability, are all top priorities.
Take digital payments, for example. Few retailers don’t accept card payments today. But in 2022 shoppers want the freedom to also use Buy Now, Pay Later models like Afterpay, or even the option to pay with digital currencies. And, with huge pressure on local, national and international postal systems, many shoppers prefer to shop online and collect in-store, so click-and-collect is important. Meanwhile, straightforward and accommodating returns/cancellations policies demonstrate that a business is flexible and happy to work around its customers. These fundamentals are not ‘nice to haves’ but essential.
Reliability over style
In uncertain times, certainty is worth its weight in gold. Experiential retail, NFTS and virtual shopping assistants are what make retail such an innovative, experimental and future-focused industry. However, in 2022, reliable and sustainable retail experiences are more important for shoppers than flashy experiences. The last two years have left both customers and employees in need of reliable experiences from brands.
Bold ideas and experiences are fine, so long as the brand has the basics firmly in place. Flashy tactics matter little if a retailer doesn’t offer necessities digital payments, has strict returns policies or slow delivery options. Therefore, doing the basics well rather than reinventing the wheel will serve retailers well in the year ahead.
Personalisation, not one-size-fits-all
Gone are the days of mass messaging an entire audience with the same deals and offers. Today, each customer seeks individual attention and expects retailers to cater to their specific needs. There are various ways to collect and utilise information about customers. The key, though, is how retailers use it to create personalised experiences, rather than one-size-fits-all.
The easiest way to organise and automate this is through Customer Relationship Management software with advanced AI and BI, like Zoho CRM. It allows retailers to collect, store, analyse and automate data – such as customers’ shopping history – and target them with specific communications that recognise their habits and preferences. Personalisation helps increase engagement, improve brand perception, and drive higher conversion and acquisition rates, all of which boost overall customer experience.
Trust-by-design will become a strong expectation from customers and the ultimate brand goal. Conscientious consumerism is growing quickly in Australia, with spoilt-for-choice shoppers seeking retailers they trust. For example, customers will switch to brands that offer more privacy, take data security seriously and can demonstrate a genuine commitment to sustainability and culture.
Shoppers will even pay a premium for such offerings from brands. This is already starting to be true and will only gather momentum in 2022. Customers will also support brands that focus on inclusive, ethical and sustainable practices such as fair wages, responsible sourcing and thoughtful waste management. When competition is high and many brands offer similar products and pricing, standing out can be achieved by building trust in every interaction.
Self-serve experiences will be sought after in 2022, especially as social distancing remains top of mind for millions of shoppers. Self-serve digital experiences are already valued by shoppers in grocery stores such as Coles and Woolworths, and have the potential to have the same impact for many high-street retailers too.
Nothing can replace the meaningful human-to-human interactions that retail provides. Still, for simple, transactional needs like purchasing products, customers prefer to have as much within their direct control as possible. Not only does self-service provide the control and autonomy that shoppers crave, it also helps to alleviate pressure on retailers too – many of whom have been badly affected by the impacts of staff shortages.
Today, consumers are spoilt for choice, and loyalty is a rare but cherished commodity. By staying agile and prioritising trust, reliability and personalisation, retailers can provide the experiences their shoppers cherish and demand, no matter what 2022 throws at them.
Vijay Sundaram is chief strategy officer at Zoho.