Channel Rationalization: Evolving Customer Expectations

It’s no secret that traditional retail is feeling the discomfort in bridging the gap between what was and what will be. Retail is still about designing immersive experiences, but with the increase of channels, providing a consistent experience has stretched the abilities of traditional retailers to move at the speed of change. One of the strongest drivers of change in retail has been from consumers themselves.

These catalysts for change occur through all phases of an interaction with a brand – from attracting customers through their values, the purchase and delivery experience, to service and support.

Customer Values

Gone are the days when your business practices are not considered as purchase drivers. More than just a company’s brand, a company’s purpose lives beyond advertising. With the emergence of purpose-driven retail brands like front-runners TOMS and Warby Parker, consumers started to think differently about their purchases. The value-based consumer has the ability to choose what companies they do business with by assessing how their values connect.

Surfacing your purpose is not an opportunity that’s only available to new brands. Legacy brand REI, founded in 1938, introduced its Black Friday #optoutside concept during the 2015 holiday. Customers rejoiced when they saw such a strong demonstration of commitment to the outdoors and family time on a day known for blatant consumerism. Demonstrating a company’s purpose connects with the humanity of your customers in a new way—in a way that sees beyond their spending power and into their hearts.

Customer Experience

Consumer expectations have rapidly changed around product delivery. Amazon’s Prime, free two-day delivery and Prime Now, two-hour delivery, have delighted customers with the quick delivery times. Now, not only is free shipping expected for e-commerce deliveries, but faster shipping has become an expectation. Other retailers have found ways to make home delivery an experience by paying special attention to the packaging. MMLaFleur, an e-commerce only retailer, calls its package a Bento Box. The box provides a hand-written note from the stylist who chose the clothing items to send to the customer. The Black Tux, a men’s tux and suit rental company, also pays special attention to the packaging. It includes a branded box (with a handle), a hanging bag, shoe bag, and instructions on how to return the suit once the rental is complete. The ability for retailers to delight customers by surprising and sharing novel improvements to the purchase and delivery experiences is illustrated in these examples.

Customer Service

Service and support expectations are also changing. The patience for terrible IVR systems, returns processing, and limited capabilities of support channels wears thin among customers. The call is not lost on retailers. According to a Forrester Report, customer service investments are the highest-ranking priority of investments retailers will make in 2017. This includes investments in chat technology, backed by a combination of humans and machines. This will allow retailers to scale and provide support at all hours of the day and on any channel. Consumers no longer accept being limited to the phone for service and support.

Expectations will continue to expand and evolve in consumer retail. Companies must be listening and looking for ways to improve experiences across all channels and all touchpoints. From aligning themselves with values and ideas that inspire and attract, to improving the purchase and delivery of their goods, and the service and support that leads to brand loyalty. Executing these strategies could involve multiple aspects of a company and the redevelopment of certain business models. Adapting to these changing customer expectations would take a humanized approach to business transformation.