Two years ago, the forecast was for holiday sales to rise by 10-13% over 2020 as pent-up demand for months of lockdowns was released. Last year, the National Retail Foundation pegged 2022 sales at 5.3% higher than 2021. Going into the fourth quarter of this year, projections range from flat to less than 5%. Persistent inflation and the unknown of what lies ahead mean that this short-term prediction could have long-term repercussions, with customers putting needs over wants and value over mere price.
A full understanding of the retail industry requires looking at it as part of a larger chain, one that includes manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, merchants, and consumers. If any of these is impacted, then the others usually feel it, too. For instance, when money is tight, people spend less, so inventories tend to be smaller, production may slow down, and the opposite is true when customers are flush with cash.
Things to Look For
Globally, retail sales will soon surpass the $30 trillion mark. You may be surprised to learn that brick-and-mortar stores still account for 70% of all sales, perhaps surprising given the popularity of online shopping. While digital commerce may be less robust than some think, it continues growing, and the increased adoption of such channels is affecting the consumer experience in multiple ways:
- Hybrid shopping experience that blends the digital with the physical. Traditional stores are giving way to facilities with interactive kiosks, apps designed for in-store use, and augmented reality to better give consumers the “feel” of specific products.
- Personalization is a consumer expectation what with the vast quantities of personal information that we actively or passively give out. Retailers who can only dig so deep into data can still personalize the customer relationship through timely communications, relevant recommendations, and follow-ups to purchases.
- The seamless user journey that seeks to build on the connection between user and brand, with consistent branding and service across all channels, real-time visibility of inventory, and flexible modes of fulfillment.
- The continued influence of social media and online reviews. Consumers talk, and they share information. Third-party recommendations are valuable because the people providing gain nothing either way. Testimonials have great value; unsolicited testimonials provided for free are worth even more. Also, social channels have emerged as a new means of tackling support issues and interacting with customers.
Meanwhile, merchants have adopted a broader approach to order fulfillment. This includes multiple payment options that account for mobile wallets as well as plastic or cash, managing inventory to account for in-store vs. online items, and embracing a new series of acronyms for completing sales:
These are extensions of the hybrid model that was mentioned earlier, and they exist to reduce friction in the customer journey. Even inside stores, many customers and quite a few associates use mobile devices to execute transactions or complement one purchase with another. And this does not factor in the growing use of generative AI and its ability to influence buying decisions.
Issues to Address
Among the key challenges in the retail space are the things that cannot be controlled and the ones that can be. The former group includes product lead times, supply chains, inflation, and market instability. The latter includes analyzing competitors, engaging consumers online and in person, and maintaining a high level of customer service. In addition, there are these matters to keep in mind:
- Data and cybersecurity: the industry runs on data – customer insights, sales forecasts, marketing plans, proprietary information, etc. Just as merchants know this, so do hackers, and adequate protection is a must.
- The user experience and how it is a means of building customer loyalty. This means consistency between stores and online presentation. Loyalty is often born of consistently high-quality service and responsiveness, proactive engagement that speaks to individual user preferences, and the occasional promotion.
- Exchanges, returns, and refunds as part of the journey. One research group says that 60% of online shoppers read the returns policy before buying. One thing that makes Amazon so popular is the ease of returning merchandise.
A perennial issue is labor, both finding and keeping good people. Retail is notorious for high rates of turnover. Employee retention can be built just like customer retention by focusing on the little things that make up the overall experience – onboarding that makes new hires feel welcome, training and development programs, a promotions path, and so forth.
We’ve Been There
A major part of service and support is listening to the voice of the customer and hearing what it says. Each service interaction involves numerous data points about user perceptions of the brand, likes and dislikes, and so forth. Those findings are shared with you so that any decisions that are made are based on quality information from your best source – your customers.
As a retailer, think about customer service and support with the same interest that is applied to product development and marketing. You do not want a poor service experience to ruin the time, effort, and expense that went into attracting customers in the first place. Our more than 20 years of experience benefit you in three ways:
- People: support is labor-intensive; we are designed to scale as the businessgrows and in response to seasonal demands
- Money: outsourcing service and support is usually less expensive than hiring internal personnel, plus the cost is predictable
- Technology: the pace of innovation can be daunting; we keep up with it so your internal resources can factor in core needs
Choosing the right partner is a big decision. It will impact your business. We have a list of retail clientele and partners who, while not explicitly retail-based, sell products and services. Our customer care repertoire includes technical support, pre- and post-sales help, order fulfillment, and the rest of the customer lifecycle.