Shoppers are no longer on a linear journey. Today, the path to purchase moves from touch point to touch point — and back again — at a dizzying speed that wasn’t even fathomable a couple of decades ago. And while this might seem like the old playground taunt of you can’t catch me, it’s actually the opposite.
Shoppers are no longer settling for impersonal interactions with retailers. They’re looking to build authentic, long-term relationships that move seamlessly across platforms. This gives retailers a fantastic opportunity to make a profound connection with customers. But for this to happen, sales and marketing strategies must evolve along with the shopper.
The Customer Journey Has Changed
In today’s digital world, each customer journey is different. There is no longer a single path to purchase. The new journey comes down to understanding intent and anticipating a consumer’s needs, regardless of where they are on the path: beginning, middle or end.
Consumers are no longer moving neatly down the assembly line toward a purchase. They might hop from a Pinterest pin to an influencer post to a physical store to a price-comparison website — and loop back any number of times. Some might even be at two touch points at once by checking product reviews on their phone while browsing the product in store.
With shoppers moving from phase to phase at an impressive speed, traditional market research will no longer provide the information retailers need to understand (and convert) customers.
Say Hello to Big Data
With the customer journey changing rapidly, stagnant market research no longer cuts it. If retailers want to keep up with their target markets, data must be collected in a more fluid way. Enter big data.
With big data, it’s now possible for retailers to gain specific and highly accurate insights on consumer intent and in-store operations in real-time.
Retailers will want to embrace software that employs big data techniques of machine learning, artificial intelligence, and pattern recognition algorithms. This will allow audience insights to update in real time, giving retailers the ability to make better decisions on inventory management, offers tailored to the consumer, product displays, marketing strategies and more.
Forbes shared a great example of this in action using Neiman Marcus’s ‘My NM’ shopping tool. The tool doesn’t show product recommendations based on past shopping behavior as most sites do. This is because it’s smart enough to know that if a shopper bought silk socks last week, they probably aren’t back to buy another pair again today. Instead, it’ll provide a wide variety of options and then customize recommendations in real time based upon the user’s current shopping pattern.
This enables Neiman Marcus to deliver a highly personalized service that’s akin to in-store shopping — something online shopping has been missing in the past. With big data, ‘My NM’ provides a tailored shopping experience that changes as quickly as the shopper changes their mind.
Focus on Creating Authentic Relationships
While the customer journey now involves swimming in circles, a shark mentality won’t get the sale. High-pressure sales tactics that might have worked in the past no longer hold any weight. Consumers have too many choices to give their business to a retailer who expects an immediate sale, ignores customer service inquiries or complaints, or doesn’t reward loyalty.
Take BarkBox for example. If you’ve ever seen any of their social media accounts, you know they have a captive audience that was built through authentic interaction and personal connection. From tweets to texts, BarkBox is highly responsive and always on brand, using a relatable, humorous voice across all channels and interactions.
BarkBox is doing more than providing exceptional customer service — they’re creating brand advocates. BarkBox’s customers post photos and ‘unboxing videos’ of their pets going crazy for the toy-and-treat-filled boxes every month, giving the brand powerful testimonials. And BarkBox rewards this loyalty by reposting the user-generated content on their social accounts, giving fans — and their pets — massive exposure.
This level of interaction makes fans feel like they’re a part of the BarkBox family and keeps the brand at the top of consumers’ minds throughout their journey.
If retailers want to stay relevant throughout the customer’s interconnected journey, it’s going to take a comprehensive strategy that focuses on building and maintaining consumer relationships.
Connect With Customers at Every Phase of the Journey
Today’s shopper isn’t an easy sell. If a retailer falls short of expectations, consumers can switch to a competitor with a five-second Google search. This is especially likely if a brand has failed to make a connection or earn the shopper’s loyalty.
Here’s how brands can cultivate lasting connections throughout the customer journey:
- Create ebooks, webinars, podcasts, white papers, and blog posts that address pain points, answer questions, and provide the answers shoppers are looking for without asking for the purchase. This is how retailers can establish trust, build exposure, and boost credibility.
- Invest in social-listening tools that make it easy to catch (and respond to) both positive and negative brand mentions.
Consider integrating AI-powered bots into existing social strategies. Retailers can set bots up to direct customers toward sources where they can find more information, like white papers, blog posts, FAQs, and webinars until agents can reply.
- Employ a multi-channel customer-service strategy of chat/text/email/phone to give shoppers an easy way to get the information they need — however they prefer to receive it.
- Creative a cohesive customer experience by aligning messaging, content voice, and branding across all mediums. This will help a shopper connect to a retailer’s brand and inspire confidence.
- Put a heavy focus on rewarding loyalty. If retailers don’t foster connections with customers after the purchase phase, repeat buyers will continue to elude them.
Yes, the shopper’s journey has changed, but retailers can adapt by embracing enhanced customer journey analytics and putting a heavy emphasis on a cohesive brand experience across all channels.
With deeper audience insights and more meaningful connections, retailers will be able to build (and sustain) relationships with shoppers as their journeys continue to grow more and more complex