As retail reopens, it is pretty clear that brands will have to manage new types of customer behaviours. Some consumers will start shopping in stores again much as they did before; others will be happy to continue their journey online, again, much as they did before. But for a growing cohort, which will probably turn out to be the majority, they will be managing their online / off-line life differently.
What we know already is that lockdown sales have been shifting online; McKinsey expects the online share of fashion and apparel in Europe and North America to increase by 20 to 40% during the next 6 to 12 months, while our own data shows more shoppers are coming online with average UK traffic growth in April up 20% and checkouts in the last three weeks of April up 22% on average compared to 2019.
The objective for retailers is to understand these many consumer behaviours and develop a position to align to them. For instance, consumer demand for personalisation is up – how can retailers align to this demand? What clothing categories pair well with hot sellers? Correcting actions quickly will depend on connected data, through both the retailer and the customer journey and will enable consumers to start their journeys farther along the sales funnel. By applying what is already known about each customer, retailers can build upon the consumer’s previous shopping experiences rather than starting a buying journey from scratch.
Consumers want to be confident that what they are purchasing is something that they will want to keep. To ensure this, retailers will need to integrate online and in-store in ways that they have been talking about for a long time as part of their digital transformation journeys. Now many are realising that they must accelerate those plans and reimagine modifications, particularly as safety concerns for both staff and customers will inevitably introduce friction to the in-store journey.
Retailers can assure their customers that they will be safe to shop, in-store and online, and have an experience that is both comfortable, convenient and easy. Knowing your customer on an individual level is key – were they big in-store shoppers, or all online, or a combination? Not forgetting the newer cohorts of shoppers – customers who have never shopped online until now and who will need an experience customised to them. And as behaviours fragment and experiences become more customised and relevant, a strong differentiator against competitors emerges – retailers who offer shoppers enhanced experiences through connected data find revisit rate increases of 25%, shoppers view 2x – 3x more styles per session and AOV increases by 20%.
In-store safety can be incorporated into a seamless customer journey rather than adding friction, and in fact, even where some friction is inevitable, lightness of touch can balance hygiene and convenience. Leverage the pre-pick up opportunity to remove friction that emerges from kerbside collection for instance, where shoppers can’t try clothing and shoes on in-store. Identify opportunities for shopper engagement through digital channels, like replacing fitting rooms with personalised fit and style guidance.
Retailers that have the right data, fit technology and appropriate integration between stores and online are well positioned as customer reticence to try clothes on increases. Fit technology both online and in-store will give the customer confidence that they are making perfect choices for their wardrobe, choices that can be supported by store staff making themselves available as virtual assistants.
Returns will not disappear, but they will no longer be the easy option for consumers that have gone to the trouble of trying to find the perfect purchase, particularly where their journey involved visiting a store. Retailers can help here; returns will now require careful handling with some retailers such as GAP quarantining returns for 72 hours before putting them back on the sales floor.
Enhancing customer service by connecting a chatbot – something Levi’s are currently considering – or a virtual stylist becomes even more powerful when linked to shopper data, presenting an opportunity for growth.
For customers wanting more service, store staff can act as personal shoppers by engaging through Instagram, FaceTime, Google Hangouts etc., tours of the store and rails, one-to-one advice about garments as part of virtual styling sessions, and manage the whole process right through to payment and delivery.
These help generate bonds between customers and a brand that may well survive the initial transaction and are a perfect example of digital and real world working in harmony.
Jessica Murphy is Co-founder of True Fit, the data-driven personalisation platform for footwear and apparel retailers.