2018 was an important year for retailers and UK brands.
Changing spending habits, growing business rates, unprecedented levels of discounting and even the weather all collided to make 2018 one of the most difficult trading years for consumer brands in recent history.
And all at a time when retailing is in a midst of a massive transformation as brands attempt to stay ahead of changing customer needs.
Customer Experience has never been so important.
As household names like House of Fraser and Marks and Spencer push forward with restructuring plans, we explore four key customer experience trends that will make or break retailing brands in 2019.
Digital success will be driven by a seamless on- and offline experience
With an increasing shift from high street to digital spending – according to the ONS, one in every five pounds we spend is now via digital channels – it is more important than ever to delight users online.
Large estates and costly rents are forcing many traditional retailers to close the door on any number of their high street stores. Yet online pioneers, including ASOS, are turning to the high street to bring even more convenience to their customers through their nationwide ASDA ‘toyou’ Click and Collect partnership.
The customer journey doesn’t stop when a shopper hits ‘purchase’. The most memorable online experience is now only as good as its weakest offline touchpoint – delivery, collection or customer contact will play a crucial part in both online conversion and in-store experience.
The best personalisation will combine human ingenuity with the machine
While futurologists talk about ‘Cybernetic CX’, we are still some way off the automation of the entire browsing and buying process – front-line employees still provide a valuable element of the brand experience that can set retailers apart.
2019 is therefore all about bringing people and technology together to positively impact how customers interact with a brand.
The strongest brands of 2019 will be the ones who successfully leverage customer insight and intel
In the past few years, brands have realised that whilst technology is great, it is often not an end in itself and instead, technology is most powerful when you can empower employees.
For example, key information, recent feedback or customer preferences can – and should – be made available to local customer-facing teams so they’re able to adapt and make the experience personal and memorable.
As brands attempt to entice shoppers in-store with destination retailing initiatives, we’re likely to see more brands encouraging the personalised treatment of shoppers or communities powered by near real-time intel and insight – on-the-day advice, recommendations or even early previews all help to create memorable interactions that drive loyalty.
Falling out of love with discounting
2019 will be the year retailers wean themselves off discounting with brands starting to opt-out of short-term discounting in favour of a more meaningful, long-term relationship with customers.
Our Black Friday research over the past couple of years has shown that the increase in traffic and sales is often driven by bargain shoppers who have little to no affinity with a brand. It means short-term discounting events do very little for both the customer experience and brand loyalty.
One thing 2018 proved is that if you try and buy sales through discounting, retailers will crush margins and create a short-term blip rather than longer-term sustainability. ASOS discovered this when, despite growing by 14%, they wiped out a huge chunk of profit by regular discounting to achieve it.
With a number of retailers predicting lower growth for 2019, we’re sure to see retailers deploy alternative sales strategies to the discounting drug. Listening to feedback and truly getting to grips with customer wants and needs will be crucial to success.
Trust and authenticity; Keeping it real
We’ve certainly seen a move towards more authenticity in brand relationships over the past few years.
As the UK faces a barrage of uncertainty and dwindling consumer confidence in 2019, customers will want their interactions with brands to be based on authentic, tangible values rather than the myth-based marketing of the past.
This doesn’t mean brands can’t be creative in how they differentiate themselves, it simply has to be based on a purpose that’s meaningful, believable and resonates over time.
It’s why customer closeness will be a big research and insight trend over the next twelve months as brands look for a deeper understanding of customers in a bid to create meaningful, longer-lasting relationships.
Making or Breaking it in 2019
The strongest brands of 2019 will be the ones who successfully leverage customer insight and intel.
Delivering an exceptional experience that stands your brand apart from the competition has never been so important. And it’s only by listening to the Voice of the Customer and truly getting un der the skin of wants, needs and desires that brands can achieve this.