According to a recent Bloomberg report, “Wall Street Has Found Its Next Big Short in U.S. Credit Market,” US malls may close down sooner than later. We know that shopping habits are changing, and more consumers are spending money online. With massive overheads and infrastructure maintenance, physical stores are finding it hard to keep their heads above water. They are focusing on increasing their digital footprint and consolidating their digital commerce market share. The thing to bear in mind here is that while consumers are increasingly focusing on online shopping, their spending hasn’t completely converted to the digital space. Right now, they have the choice of both digital and physical stores, but that choice may not last for very long. With malls looking at the writing on the wall, businesses are now focused at effective customer engagement strategies.
The transition to digital shopping is inevitable. Shoppers are now familiar with the omni-channel choice and quite enjoying it. But there will come a time when this choice is taken away from them. If Bloomberg predictions are correct, then this change is imminent. This is the reason brands are focusing on a customer experience module so that they can handhold customers through this process.
Key insights for customer handholding
- Customer Empathy – Use the digital forum to connect with the customer and bring them back to the fold. Providing an empathic experience is key. It gives a differentiator between a good brand and great one. Look at customer psyche. They are bombarded with information. Brands have multiple media to reach them. Yet, reaching the target audience and effectively delivering a message has become more challenging. So, we must think like the customer, understand their journey from store to digital space, their reticence and problems, and establish trust. We have to look beyond the marketing and sales automation processes that we have been focusing on in the past years and connect with our customers. When it comes to digital marketing, empathy will lead to sales. Understanding customers is no longer about just looking at their actions but about mapping their journey and how they feel, their emotions, when entering, during and leaving their experience.
- Social Communications – The immediacy of social media makes it a veritable marketing tool. Brands know they need to be very responsive over social media along with other channels. There is the need to invest in the right people who can keep up with the new as well as existing media so that they can interact with customers from every demographic group. Customers tend to share their experiences, both positive and negative over social media. Effectively managing their responses will create a ripple effect, much like the word-of-mouth of yore and build the foundation for that WOW experience everyone seeks.
- Omni-channel Support – Despite what the statistics say, customers still want to touch and feel the product that they are buying. In many cases, they opt for online stores when they cannot find their product in the stores. Brands have to focus on achieving a smooth transition between in-store and online shopping, possible only via a seamless, omni-channel experience. At this stage, the ease and convenience of online electronic payment should be perfectly complemented with the reassuring comfort of in-store shopping, blending online support with the ease of reaching an actual salesperson at the store. Empower the customer to connect across channels, enable them to start on one channel and seamlessly go onto the other. For example, they complain via one social media platform, make sure they can as easily reach out to customer support via email and phone. At Beyond Philosophy we realize that a customer’s experience is important at every touchpoint. During our Customer Mirrors service we consider every interaction a customer has with a company, the emotions felt and the implications on the rest of the experience.
- Robust Technology – Marketing and technology have converged today. Brands are quickly adopting emerging technologies to offer customers the same familiarity and comfort with digital platforms as they had with the malls. Thanks to mobile, access to information are instant and constant. 80% of new mobile buyers opt for smartphones, so expect to be responsive. Anything that contributes to the Pull Driven Market System is a valuable investment. So along with the e-commerce technologies such as mobile, electronic funds transfer and online transaction processing, digital marketing, supply chain and inventory management systems, electronic data interchange (EDI), and automated data collection systems, a closer at emerging techs like VR and AR are warranted.
- Study and change – Like any other times, research and development play a significant role in prosperity. Keeping abreast of changes helps companies ride the flux better. This is even more relevant in the digital age since changes are happening at lightning speed. The goal is to reduce the scope of the search and simplify the customer’s shopping experience. Retailers should study online user experience and use the results to improve their omnichannel tactics. Constant testing, prototyping, and learning will help brands understand and empathize with the customer and help refine their shopping experiences. Care must be taken to align in-store and online policies, so that customer experience in both remains consistent. It is only through continuous research and development that companies can leverage and integrate these multiple channels.
For companies that are still not seeing the big picture, the 2016 Nielson Report, Global Connected Commerce, could help. It hints that retail therapy is fast giving way to e-tail therapy. 2016 has been the year when businesses accelerated their focus on omnichannel platforms to ease their transition to the digital commerce space. The idea was to aid in customer search for goods, whether they are showrooming or web rooming. The lines between the two have become blurrier in the last few months as more shoppers find it easier to buy via the nearest digital device.
What has this meant for the already dying malls? The end is nigh. They are also attracting the attention of a growing number of firms that are all set to profit from this collapse, hence the nomenclature – the next big short. Retailers reported one of the worst Christmas-shopping sales last season, adding to the massive store closing announcements by brands like J.C. Penney, Sears and Macy’s. Many experts have stated that they see a very limited prospect of a turnaround in performance and instead expect a wave of loan defaults.
In this changing retail ecosystem, it is imperative businesses focus on positive customer experience before sales.
How do you prefer to shop? Do you still visit the malls? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.
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Colin Shaw is the founder and CEO of Beyond Philosophy, one of the world’s leading Customer experience consultancy & training organizations. Colin is an international author of six bestselling books and an engaging keynote speaker.
Follow Colin Shaw on Twitter @ColinShaw_CX