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Getting Personal: Retail’s Next Chapter

By Retail Technology | Friday January 21 2022

Everyone’s agrees 2022 will be a crucial year for retail with less pandemic restrictions but what will retail’s next chapter look like? Michael Green from Salesforce says things are about to get increasingly personal

Over the last two years, the UK retail industry has faced immense challenges and disruption. In a digital-first world, customer expectations exceed far beyond quality products and safe payment methods, with 66% of customers expecting brands to understand their unique needs.

Accustomed to predictive recommendations online, customers seek personalised communications and a smooth buying experience whether in-store or online. How people are buying is now just as important as what they are buying.

Digitisation is time-critical

Short-term solutions implemented by brands and retailers during the first wave of the pandemic — like curbside pickup and virtual styling — changed what shoppers expect from their retail experience. To meet these growing expectations, retailers have embraced a variety of new channels and options, but they still are adapting to today’s more complex shopping journeys.

According to Salesforce's latest Connected Shoppers report, between 2019 and 2021 digital channels such as brand and retailer websites and apps, and online marketplaces, grew transaction share by nearly 40%. Emerging channels like delivery apps, social media and messaging platforms have become serious commerce players too, with their share of transactions increasing more than 20%.

Many retailers are still coming to terms with this reality. Despite evolving their strategies, they are still navigating an average of 44 disparate front-end technology systems. Data silos and legacy systems and insufficient technical capabilities often feel like an anchor that is preventing such organisations from moving forward and getting where they want to go.

Delivering a more relevant and seamless shopping process requires a unified engagement platform that brings together data across the organisation. Digital transformation is now an imperative to survival for many retailers. It should encompass all aspects of a business – from product development and supply chain management to production, sales, marketing, distribution and after sales.

Their purchase, their rules

Customers are demanding personalised, high-value and easy to use services. No matter how they choose to interact with a brand, customers want to be known, recognised and understood – not as the buyer of a specific product or service, but as a person with a unique and evolving set of needs.

As the lines blur between digital channels and the physical world, digitally-savvy shoppers expect brands and retailers to meet and exceed their expectations seamlessly. Our insights show that 80% of shoppers will abandon a retailer after three bad experiences. For retailers, this means providing consistency in-store and across all digital channels. Continued investment in engaging and responsive customer service must be a key component to create and drive lifetime value for customers.

Using data for a holistic customer view

In many cases, it is not technology alone that is holding retailers back, but instead how they are managing data. Delivering a connected experience requires a deep, data-driven understanding of how customers want to be served, no matter the location or channel. Building a 360-degree view of the customer, based on the vast amount of data available that charts every engagement they have with a brand, enables contextually-aware and personalised services.

By having all of that relevant information to hand, brands can be bolder and precise, armed with context and background. Whether this is through an employee in an in-person contact centre, or through online marketing and recommendations or promotions, brands can become more confident in knowing what customers want and deliver offerings accordingly.

Boosting customer satisfaction through AI

Leveraging data sets also opens up possibilities for incorporating AI-powered solutions. These empower businesses to discover insights, predict future outcomes and see recommendations in-context. Retailers are now able to action strategies which would have taken months in a matter of days.

This base of knowledge enables personalisation at scale. Each retailer can provide a Netflix-like approach, providing tailored predictive add-ons and recommendations. AI solutions such as virtual assistants and live chat can also help build tailored empathy into the customer journey. Conversation Design can have a significant impact on how a chatbot interacts with the consumer. Teams are already teaching chatbots to display greater intelligence about how consumers will interpret and react to different choices of words and punctuation.

Understanding customers across all touchpoints and delivering their preferred experiences is the new reality in an all-digital, work-from-anywhere world. As we look ahead in this new year, our expectations of consumers are clear: Digital is here to stay and we are not going back to how things were done before. It has redefined how consumers shop in both the physical and online worlds. While online growth will continue to normalise from the massive peaks of 2020 and early 2021, brands and retailers need to be ready to meet their shoppers whenever and wherever.


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