2018 was undeniably a very challenging year for the retail sector – with businesses like Bonmarché, Patisserie Valerie and Coast being just some of the retailers that showed signs of serious distress. Last year demonstrated how vital it is for companies to constantly be at the top of their game in order to attract customers into their shops and engage with their brands.
How can they do that? Two words: customer experience.
Failure will be imminent for consumer-facing brands that don’t offer the crème de le crème of customer service. Retailers need be rethinking the whole customer journey, across everything they’re delivering to customers – they need to offer seamless buying experiences and eliminate queues and waste.
The retail sector is not doing enough to make customers happy – and is wasting too much in the process. This could spell failure both at the front-end, when it comes to driving customers to a brand, and at the back-end, when it comes to operating inefficiencies.
Read on to hear our top 5 predictions on how tech will transform retail in 2019…
- We need to kill the queue
How is queueing still a concept in 2018? It cannot exist – not when we have technologies that make the cashier redundant. And not when it turns millennials off – now that millennials make up the biggest portion of the average retailer’s target audience.
Customers don’t want to wait around until companies deign to fix their problem or take their order. The time for 24/7 is now – round-the-clock service and instant access to a person who can immediately help a consumer with a query, no matter what that is. Audience mapping, dynamic phone numbers on product pages, predictive routing and specific handlers assigned to answer queries about certain products can help with this for web to call communications.
2. Haute-couture everything
Up until now, retailers and brands have been mass-producing clothes and other products, in the hope that customers will want to buy them. This business models needs changing: it is no longer acceptable for consumer input to come after production.
Engineering the product around the customer makes perfect sense – and it needs to become more widespread. It’s starting to happen – BeLLE China is using 3D foot scans to customise a final fit of shoes, whilst Snow + Rock offers a custom ski/snowboard boot fitting service – but next year it should spread across most brands and across clothing. Why? Because a customer shouldn’t have to wear a pair of ill-fitting, uncomfortable shoes. Or a slightly-too-short cheap t-shirt. They need tailored products that will fit their specifications perfectly.
3. Bye-bye, retail waste
In producing what there is no demand for, the amount of wastage is becoming a significant issue, particularly in the fashion sector. Producing clothes destroys the environment, with global textile production producing 1.2bn tonnes of carbon emissions a year – equating to more than international flights and maritime shipping. This is unacceptable.
In 2017, a staggering 235 million items of unwanted clothing were sent to landfill. These figures are shocking—and it’s going to turn off customers, who are more conscious about the environment that ever before.
Technologies that can virtually create or digitally customise items – as well as ones that can tap into customer behaviour – are all fundamental in sparking a major change that is well overdue: selling more, wasting less.
If you have the data to know what customers want, you don’t have to produce what the customer never wanted in the first place. And this will result in natural savings – therefore bringing down costs and impact on our planet.
4. Goodbye, remaindering stores
When retail starts to produce what customers actually want to buy, there will be no space for remaindering outlets who rely on selling on the old stock from previous fashion lines and product ranges that customers didn’t want first time round.
Whilst this may spell the end of some prominent outlets, it will save on so much waste – including the massive amounts of fuel required in shipping products across the country, the packaging to keep them protected, as well as the substantial amounts of the electricity to power them – and other emissions that contribute to our global footprint.
5. Customer, customer, customer
The customer must be the superstar, the celebrity, the VIP, in the retail landscape in 2019. Customer pulse now needs to influence every step of a retailer’s journey. That includes the need for brands to communicate with customers in the right way. This includes the use of voice, which is on the rise.
In the digital age consumers want everything, and they want it now. For time-poor shoppers, who want to place their orders and resolve any problems in minutes, connecting consumers to brands with apps and cloud-based communications systems is now a no-brainer. It will help elevate the customer experience and thus keep the sales coming in. A win-win for everyone.
The bottom line for brands is that they need to ignore the past, forbid nostalgia – and focus on the future and on what their customers want. That’s what brands need to do in 2019. They’ll fail if they don’t.
 Based on Mary Meeker 2018 Internet Trends and other Freespee consumer studies
By Anne de Kerckhove, CEO, Freespee