If you spot a hoodie you love during your morning social media scroll, you can then try it on virtually, see if it’s in stock at your local store, pay for it on your smartphone, and pick it up the same afternoon.
Shoppers expect more than ever from retailers, and retailers are getting better at creating exceptional customer experiences. We have seen the retail industry adapt to a lot of changes since the onset of the pandemic, but the landscape is still evolving. Customers have also had to adapt. For example, they may have realized they love online ordering for pickup but haven’t tried delivery yet. There’s going to be even more to discover in retail, with emerging technologies in everything from digital signage to payment methods to delivery services.
It’s important to keep asking questions of yourself and your customers. What are your customers’ biggest worries and challenges? What has changed for them? What will continue to change? Your ability to adapt to those changes is what will differentiate the retailers that thrive from those that struggle.
Here are four retail strategies to help you not only adapt, but succeed in the new world of retail:
- Embrace social commerce
Nearly half of social media users in the U.S. reported making a purchase directly through a social media platform during the past year. Pandemic lockdowns boosted online sales and not just because of the need for contactless shopping. After the shift to working from home, many people started spending more time online and on social media. The virtual world became a way to cope with isolation and stay connected.
Retail has become an omnichannel experience. Social media and influencer marketing are ways to authentically integrate the physical and digital aspects of your business. When done in a natural way, these methods can reinforce your sales efforts by meeting your customers and prospects where they already spend their time.
Over the last couple of years, companies have found more ways to merge the virtual and physical. And in addition to targeting prospects on social media, companies are coming up with more ways to listen and learn from customers. Retailers discover what people like online, then make it a reality. TikTok, for example, partnered with its creators and a company called Virtual Dining Concepts to deliver dishes that had gone viral on the app. Other companies have used social media to develop products based on what users are saying.
- Prioritize convenience
More than half of customers say convenience influences their purchases, and 97% of shoppers say they abandoned a purchase because of an inconvenience. Shoppers prioritize speed, cost, and delivery time in what they want from a convenient transaction.
The pandemic made shopping more convenient, but only after it had become much less convenient. In the beginning, shoppers no longer knew whether you accepted cash, offered curbside pickup, or even held the same hours you had for years. Retailers and shoppers had to adapt to contactless shopping, supply chain issues, safety requirements, and more. Some stores closed their doors temporarily or permanently. The public health emergency revealed where both communication and convenience were lacking from retailers.
On the bright side, many retailers used the disruption to improve options for the online purchase process, as well as pickup and delivery. There’s still a lot of opportunity for improvement, including using data and technology to personalize shopping experiences. Personalization—from first contact to fulfillment—will improve convenience for both customers and retailers. Businesses won’t waste their efforts on the wrong prospects, and customers will get more of the products, promotions, and experiences they want.
Ulta Beauty shoppers can enter their GLAMlab—either in the app or in a browser—and virtually try out products. Compare eyeshadow colors, test eyeliner types, or see how you’d look wearing plumping lipstick. That kind of willingness to innovate is what will make or break companies in the new retail environment.
It’s essential to try new methods of serving and communicating with your customers. The companies that saw success during the pandemic were the ones willing to try new things, and the need for innovation won’t fade with the virus. Innovation doesn’t always equal technology, but tech has grown increasingly important in the retail industry.
One Pew Research Center joint survey found that 86% of experts think the pandemic will drive long-term change, particularly in the digital realm. The experiences of the last couple of years have spawned tools and solutions that shoppers already don’t want to live without. However, many retailers have yet to adopt emerging technologies like facial recognition, computer vision, robotic assistance, virtual mirrors, and radio-frequency identification (RFID) tracking.
- Adopt sustainable practices
The pandemic has shown how connected the world and its inhabitants are. According to Trust Protocol research, 69% of retailers say the pandemic put a spotlight on how important “environmentally friendly” products are to consumers. And it’s not just products that are up for discussion, as customers also want businesses to follow sustainable practices.
Sustainability is an ethical issue, but it’s also smart business. Adopting sustainable practices preserves the environment as well as your supply chain. Customers are increasingly aware of issues like packaging waste, energy efficiency, and corporate causes. You can make internal changes as well as support broader sustainability efforts in your community and the world. The right decisions and investments now may help prevent new global disasters.
The future of retail is social, convenient, innovative, and sustainable, and industry change has never moved at a faster pace. Technology is essential to surviving the new realities of retail, but the companies that will thrive are those agile enough to not only adapt but to envision and shape the future.
This post was originally created and published by Egen Solutions, Inc., experts in cloud modernization.