The COVID-19 global pandemic forced the retail industry to completely reinvent itself. Although this was a stressful and trying time for many, those brands who were already progressive in adopting new technologies to improve their e-commerce and online customer experience had an edge, and those who were willing to pivot quickly also leaped ahead of brands that lagged.
The reality is that current in-store traffic is low and retailers are now trying to adapt to this new world, while seeking new ways to substitute the experience of visiting a physical store location like a virtual storefront. This is inadvertently showing brands that they can’t ignore their online website.
Moreover, they can’t leave their customers alone with a basic webpage with frequently asked questions, or a static virtual catalog or even a basic omnichannel customer experience. The future is here for retail brands, and the future is fast.
Where are we headed after 2021?
The emergence of the cloud store:
A ‘cloud store’ or a ‘dark store’ is a virtual storefront – a store that only exists online and allows online visitors to order directly and immediately, much like the ‘cloud’ or ‘dark kitchen’ concept. In this way, stores are saving money on real estate and delivering products that are shown and sold virtually. Gucci 9 is a brilliant example of a virtual showroom.
They’re using their client services hub to allow online sales associates to virtually clientele and engage with customers before they buy. Salespeople use video chat, messaging, and other channels to allow online shoppers to digitally “try before they buy.”
Business memory will be king:
Due to this global disruption, the way brands use their knowledge of their website visitors’ behavior has shifted in this “retail inflection point.” More and more brands are being forced to figure out how to safely use the customer knowledge they have to understand the complete customer journey and reach them in ways unlike ever before.
Now, brands can proactively target customers to invite them to an event based on their browsing and purchase history on the brand’s site – and even their disposition towards the brand.
And in a live virtual show, the event moderators have visual access to the shopping journey of customers who join the stream – they can see who’s added items to their basket or who’s hovering around checkout, and offer assistance if needed.
This personalized marketing methodology is critical to fostering brand affinity and loyalty. Customers appreciate those small, thoughtful touches.
Digital will be the new physical:
All stores will begin digitizing their online customer experience, which will make online shopping start to look startlingly more like the brick-and-mortar store experience.
What does this mean? Using avatars to “humanize” online consumers or sales agents being able to actually see a 3D character that is a customer, dressed with data, moving around the store “floor” and being able to understand how they are feeling at that moment.
This agent will be able to digest this data 60,000 faster than a typical e-commerce solution. The brand will be able to proactively greet customers through live website chat, recognize and thank the customer for past purchases, make recommendations based on preferences, and use video calls to show them products from the store.
It’s as close as you can get to your customers, even with a screen between.
Big in China and coming soon:
China’s $65M live streaming craze involves salespeople, company execs, and influencers taking shoppers through product demonstrations, live. Half a billion people now use live shopping platforms to shop from their homes.
Even Kim Kardashian promoted her new fragrance to Chinese fans on Alibaba’s new live-streaming platform.
Retail will truly become a form of entertainment, a mix of television, influencer videos, and exciting new products to view and talk about through true conversational commerce.
With this new global reality pushing out newer technology and more investments into innovative tools for retail, brands will safely use data to understand the complete customer journey, and reach them in ways unlike ever before.
Hadar Paz is the CEO and co-founder of Powerfront, an AI-powered customer service solutions provider that helps businesses connect with their customers in a personalized, meaningful way.
In 2014, Hadar envisioned a tool that would allow his clients and their employees to be able to visualize their online customers and connect with them to make their online shopping journey similar to an in-store experience. Thus, INSIDE was conceptualized and has continued to become more sophisticated and intelligent with each release.
Today, leading global brands like Gucci, Valentino, Neiman Marcus, and Sephora choose INSIDE for its unique approach to customer engagement and personalization, sentiment analysis, and data visualization.