When Black Friday takes place later this month, Jeff Pedowitz knows exactly what his daughters will be doing. They’ll wake up early, around 6 a.m. and head out to the stores for their traditional shopping expedition — even if supply chain issues threaten to get in the way.
“They look forward to it. It doesn’t matter if they buy something. They have coffee, hang out. It’s a memory,” the Alpharetta, Georgia-based marketing and strategy consultant said. “Over the last 18 months it’s been harder to create those kinds of memories.”
Beyond a pent-up desire to get out of the house after periods of lockdown, many shoppers are determining they have no choice but to turn to in-person store experiences this holiday season.
According to a recent survey from shopping rewards app Shopkick, for instance, 68 per cent of all respondents are reconsidering how they will shop over the holidays. That’s probably because 58 per cent said they are already seeing higher shipping costs and 23 per cent are running into delays on getting products in time.
Pedowitz, whose book F The Funnel: A New Way To Engage Customers & Grow Revenue was released this past Spring, suggested retailers could see the supply chain challenges as an opportunity to enhance the customer experience they offer. Some of his ideas included live music, in-store babysitting services or an “appetizer hour” to promote food products.
While some retailers may also focus on building upon in-store experiences through mobile apps, augmented reality and smart displays, Pedowitz said there are still many CX basics that can inject some joy amid the supply chain blues.
“Technology can be used to differentiate, to augment existing processes and to scale, but the tools are expensive, and they’re really only available to the bigger retailers,” Pedowitz told 360 Magazine. “It’s hard for a mom and pop store on Main Street to do augmented reality.”
If they want to go down that route, Pedowitz advised smaller retailers to form a partnership with vendors or suppliers who may see an advantage in collaborating on a more technology-driven customer experience.
Setting and managing expectations digitally
Not all consumers will be focused on in-store shopping, of course. In fact, recent research from Google’s Canadian office showed 32 per cent of consumers surveyed have already begun their holiday shopping and 44 per cent say they plan to start earlier than they did last year. They’re also not just sticking with their traditional favourites: 45 per cent said they are open to shopping new stores/brands this holiday season.
“What we’re hearing is that this is going to be a very big holiday shopping season, and online is going to play its most important role ever,” said Eric Morris, managing director of Google Canada Retail. “That first touchpoint is taking place in the comfort of our own homes, and it’s influencing what we buy and where we buy.”
Morris argued that online can also help address supply chain concerns before consumers make the trek to physical locations. The ability to maintain a site with updated inventory, for instance, should be possible for retailers or any size, as well as communicating whether options such as curbside pickup are available.
“There’s going to be a need to make product recommendations for substitutions — if you’re out of the black boots, make sure customers know they’re in brown or in blue,” he said, adding that gift cards will be the next best option in many cases.
More sophisticated technologies, including artificial intelligence (AI) may also be able to ease the pain of logistics horrors by surprising and delighting customers at the exact moment of impact.
Puneet Mehta, founder and CEO of a platform called Netomi, said AI can be used to connect with back-end systems and mine customer behavior and profile data, as well as real-time context and shopping behavior. Algorithms can then identify which customers are at risk for shipping delays.
“Customer service agents can then proactively start conversations with customers who are interested in an out-of-stock or delayed product to intervene at exactly the right time with targeted suggestions,” Mehta said. “Based on the shopper’s sentiment and profile, these virtual agents can also serve up targeted offers, or free or expedited shipping, to close a sale.”
Pedowitz said companies that want to explore those kinds of approaches need to ensure consumers are seeing value in exchange for being monitored or handing over their data.
This will also be a time where tools like chatbots and virtual assistants will need to provide quick access to a human voice. In store, it might be as simple as training employees to ask a single question that can be used to measure CX effectiveness.
“Most people just want authenticity. They want companies to acknowledge the problem. They don’t always expect a resolution,” he said. “They want realism, and they want to feel they are genuinely cared about and not just a transaction.”
Shane Schick tells stories that help people innovate, and to manage the change innovation brings. He is the former Editor-in-Chief of Marketing magazine and has also been Vice-President, Content & Community (Editor-in-Chief), at IT World Canada, a technology columnist with the Globe and Mail and Yahoo Canada and is the founding editor of ITBusiness.ca. Shane has been recognized for journalistic excellence by the Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance and the Canadian Online Publishing Awards.