Today’s retailers can’t survive without at least some elements of omnichannel retail at work in their stores. This is especially true for businesses operating multiple store locations.
But some businesses haven’t yet realized the full potential of omnichannel, especially as it relates to their retail customer experience. And they may be even less prepared for what the future of retail looks like.
Here are some of the trends you can expect to continue shaping omnichannel retail in the near future.
Data Sync Across Platforms
Retailers will continue to embrace data sync across platforms, unifying online and in-store systems. This allows for consolidated customer purchase histories and improved data visibility throughout retail operations.
As a result of this improved data sharing, retailers will deliver a better customer experience across a range of touchpoints, including in-store returns, retargeting and other marketing strategies, and personalized product recommendations. Data sync also streamlines buy online, pick up in store services, which means faster order preparation and even the ability to provide curbside pickup.
IoT and Real-Time Data to Drive Instant Decision-Making
Internet of Things technology brings new capabilities and experiences to customers in your store. As adoption of IoT increases, businesses will continue to build out new methods of leveraging real-time data in their decision-making processes.
With access to an abundance of data acquisition channels, retailers will seek new ways of using advanced analytics to make quick, insight-driven decisions related to every aspect of their customer experience, including marketing messaging, merchandising, pricing, and other moving parts.
One example is using data to change pricing and promotional offers based on what is most likely to earn a sale from a customer—and to optimize earnings from sales. Walmart’s Jet.com, for example, uses dynamic pricing to drop prices for products in real time as shoppers add more items to their cart, encouraging them to buy more.
Quick decision-making, whether enacted by a worker or an automated tool, will help businesses identify opportunities and seize upon them in tight windows when a fast response is essential—or it will tell them to pass on those opportunities and seek better value elsewhere. Whereas Walmart has long prided itself on offering “everyday low prices,” for example, it now recognizes that competing with Amazon on price across the board amounts to a “race to the bottom” that their company is sure to lose. Instead, the company now prioritizes personalized offers to pick their battles more wisely.
Automation to Get More Value from Each Point of Engagement
Every point of engagement with a customer is an opportunity to strengthen your brand’s relationship with them. But it is impossible for employees to give constant, undivided attention to each and every customer, especially online or on social media.
Automation is one way to add positive touchpoints with customers without needing additional employees to monitor every channel. With a combination of automation tools targeted to the customer experience, you can ensure shoppers are never “alone” when they’re in need of assistance as they shop.
This automation is already available in many different forms, including chatbots, automated status updates on orders, and digital tools that can provide rapid responses to customer queries about product availability.
In addition, integrated inventories make it possible for shoppers to look online to see which products are available in which stores. Automated real-time updates ensure that this information is always up to date, so shoppers can trust that the product is in stock before they take the time to travel to that store.
Optimized inventory management also enables online product reservations and buy online, pick up in store services. This allows you to give your customers more options while making order fulfillment easier for your team.
Automated touchpoints are expected to become even more ubiquitous in the future as businesses make an effort to be in constant contact with customers, delivering the right messages at the right time.
Merging Visual and Digital
Visual experiences such as virtual reality and augmented reality are being used in retail environments today, but they haven’t yet become commonplace—especially among small retail chains with a regional presence.
Expect that to change, especially in stores where visual information is ripe for enhancement. It’s not just AR/VR technology that will integrate deeper into the customer experience; the use of smart shelves, tablets, smart mirrors, and digital signage will all provide a hybrid shopping experience that merges online information with the offline experience, resulting in better customer engagement.
The Gap already offers this with its DressingRoom app, which uses a virtual mirror to allow customers to try on clothing without entering a fitting room. Expect this type of augmented retail tool to become more common in the near future.
Chatbots and Agents, Working Together
The increased use of artificial intelligence and machine learning solutions will create a more collaborative relationship between employees and AI solutions providing front-line chat services.
As AI becomes more effective at communicating with customers through chat-based support, the line of separation between bot and employee will blur.
This complementary relationship will be important to providing a seamless experience. For all of AI’s enhancements, it isn’t capable of understanding empathy or “speaking human” beyond basic chat interactions. Even as AI improves over the next few years, it won’t be able to replace the value of a trained employee hearing and responding to a customer’s frustrations and need for support.
Is your business prepared to embrace the future of retail? It’s coming faster than you think—and your customers are ready for it.