AICorner OfficeExpert Opinion

Reimagining Retail with Technology Innovation

Technology will be a key differentiating for brands to endure consumer demands this festive season


 By Deepak Pargoankar

As the Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the shift to shopping online, retailers have had to re-imagine how they do business in a new digital world. Over recent months, leveraging technology to stabilize their business has shown us what it meant to be resilient in a crisis. It is clear that how and where we shop – along with customer expectations – are changing forever.

Even as stores have reopened, the demand for digital service continues to surge. A recent survey by the Boston Consulting Group estimated that over the last three to four months, around 20% new users have been added to the universe of online shoppers leading to a faster acceleration of categories such as foods and staples—which people bought online as India’s lockdown put restrictions on movement and retail stores. Moreover, people also spent more on purchases online. In fact, 45% of pre-Covid online buyers increased their online purchases in the same time period.

In a post-pandemic world, the relationships that retailers have with their customers and technology alike will continue to evolve. A strong e-commerce strategy means creating inspiring shopping journeys online, being available to customers 24/7, quickening the pace of business and minimizing unnecessary costs. Retailers equipped with a single view of each customer also presents an opportunity to reimagine brick-and-mortar stores. As the digital-first economy continues to evolve at hyper-speed, here are three ways in which retailers can begin to build a unified customer engagement strategy and boost brand loyalty.

Create a unified Shopping Experiences Online

Whether shopping online for themselves or a loved one this festive season, customers are more likely to return due to ease of purchase and accessibility. Platforms such as Instagram and Pinterest exemplify the growing power of technology to drive sales. Rather than providing long lists of products and prices, searchable via filters, by leveraging popular social media and streaming platforms retailers can digitally create the in-store sense of discoverability.

A seamless experience across all channels is essential to attracting and securing business. Whether customers are browsing on their desktop or mobile device, collecting data at every touch point will help retailers get to know their customers better and provide personalized experiences they expect in-store. Being able to share the right information and offers at the right time, based on previous interactions and tailored to customers’ needs, will keep them coming back for more.

PUMA India is an example of how a company can pivot quickly to replace its whole retail and operation with e-commerce. PUMA has successfully replicated their in-store experience online, while keeping up with consumer demand by leveraging Salesforce Commerce cloud.

Communicate Directly with Customers at Anytime, from Anywhere 

As online sales continue to increase, the cost of e-commerce – picking, packing, delivery, and returning items, cannot be ignored. Online customers need just as much, if not more, personal consultation than they would receive in-store. Having the capability to communicate with customers directly will enhance the customer experience and also save retailers time and costs associated with handling requests to return items.

In this context, both the strategic deployment of AI-powered chatbots and the continuous development of store associates is becoming increasingly important. Through communication tools like live chat and digital concierge services retailers can quickly address consumer queries, for instance, relating to product availability, shipping visibility and delivery updates. Continually revamping commerce web pages to provide comprehensive product descriptions and reviews, accurate fit guides, even videos, are key to instilling confidence in customers before they buy.

Create personalized customer Service In-Store

Just as the evolution of e-commerce is making online shopping more convenient, retailers can also deliver a safer, smarter and more unified customer experience in-store. Leveraging new channels like live streaming is helping retailers to drive customer engagement, showcase and sell products. Connecting physical and digital retail channels and creating a single source of truth for every customer is better equipping in-store associates to deliver a complete, personalized, and trusted service.

With an omnichannel strategy and ready insights, such as past customer purchases and access to digital inventory, in real time retailers can promote, sell, and ship products from anywhere in- store. Altogether, this is making the store associate’s and customers’ experience more informed and convenient.

The Need to Invest, On-and Offline

As the festive season draws closer, having an effective e-commerce strategy will be essential to meet changing shopping trends online and minimizing requests to return items. Looking beyond this pandemic, continued investment in engaging and responsive customer service, both online and in-store, will be a key component of every retailer’s digital transformation journey.

Appearing online is one thing, digitizing whole business models is another. In an all-digital world, only by connecting marketing, commerce, and service teams together can companies confidently deliver informed, inspired, and personalized customer experiences.

(The author is Vice President, Solution Engineering at Salesforce and the views expressed in this article are  his own)

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