One of the oldest mantras in retailing is the customer is always right. However, it seems that in today’s world of retailing, saying yes to your customer is becoming harder all the time. The more you meet their expectations, the greater their expectations become. These are exciting times we live in, but for every news story about cashier-less shops, drone deliveries and AI-powered wardrobes it can feel like the pressure for your business to stay relevant is increasingly, well, unreasonable.
With competition fierce, how will you meet these great expectations?
#1 24/7 support
For a long time shopping online was mainly the practice of those who preferred to avoid conversations with sales assistants. People who wanted to take care of things themselves. Fast forward to today, the new era of the concierge economy, and what we have is customers expecting all the answers to be provided by the retailer. You now have to be more than a retailer; more of a personal assistant at their beck and call through the whole purchase experience, day or night. As a consequence, the unreasonable expectation is that you will have round-the-clock support. If you aren’t available to meet their needs in the evening, they won’t patiently wait with their question until 9 am the following day, they will simply go to a competitor – or worse still, take their frustration to your social media.
#2 Permanent discounts
It’s always Happy Hour somewhere. Online discounting and price comparison has become ubiquitous to the point that consumers now feel like they are supposed to pay less for everything, especially if they are putting in the research themselves. Retailers and marketers got lazy and started using discounts as an excuse for a newsletter at the expense of all other forms of engagement. Now consumers have come to expect that bonus discount – always. They feel like they have lost out somehow if they pay more than the lowest price for something. It’s become a game, and one that retailers are never going to win. If the customer sees the product as more important than the retailer, if the only value you bring to them is being the agent for the sale, then they’ll go to an agent who is working more for them.
#3 Everything on display should be in stock
First impressions stick. If your potential customer sees a product is out of stock the first time they try to buy, they may not put the effort in to come back and check later; they’ll simply find somewhere that does have it in stock. And if you do have it “available” but can’t deliver when they want – that is now – then they’ll spend that waiting time shopping around and go to your competitor instead. If it’s on the site it should be ready to send, regardless of size, colour and quantity.
#4 Every product should be showcased
It’s no good having the best products, or the best service, if people don’t think you do. A stock image of a product – the same as every other retailer – makes you look like, well, every other retailer. People are fickle and superficial, they want shiny playthings, and they’ll keep looking until they find them. It’s a game of one-upmanship really. As soon as one retailer went from having just a single static image to a slideshow then their competitor had to better them by having a 3D rotatable image, then the next had to have a video, then the next needs to have an augmented reality showroom.
#5 Curated collections
It’s so boring if every time you visit a fashion retailer’s website you are just met by the same collection, shown in the same way. Instagram, influencers, Pinterest… all of this has made people crave a more personal touch to the way they explore product possibilities. They want to know what’s hot – not what your inventory system has spat out onto the homepage because it has the best margin. You’ll appear to be nothing more than a product list, where the user has to do the work themselves to find out what is in fashion, or what suits them, or goes well with something else. How do you think they do that research? They probably leave your site and go to a search engine or a blog… and once they’re gone, don’t count on them coming back.
So now you have a choice.
Ignore these new expectations (not recommended), or find out how your business can meet them in a way that works for your customers, and for you.
/ Stuart Shingler
Meet the columnist
What are examples of things you do during an average week?
I work closely with our Product Managers to define the consumer experience of the future, and articulate this experience in a compelling and delightful way. Creating messaging and content that elevates technical and rational features into emotional benefits that solve real problems for real customers.
What’s one secret from your life?
If I didn’t have my work as an outlet for the constant “I wonder if there’s a better way of doing this” question bouncing around my head, I would be taking things apart at home – just to see how they could have been better assembled.
What do you personally shop online?
Clothes, food, contact lenses… pretty much anything and everything online; even the occasional haircut.
What do you want to bring as a columnist?
Sharing insights I get when working at the heart of a company where we constantly are working towards improving customer experiences. Hopefully that will lead to improved experiences for customers wherever they shop.