It’s been a challenging couple of years for the retail industry. Changes in customer preferences, advancements in technology and a global pandemic have changed the way retail businesses need to operate.
In 2022, consumers expect hybrid shopping experiences, sustainability, and purpose-driven brands. For example, IBM research found that hybrid shopping is the primary buying method for 27% of consumers and 36% of Gen Z, more than any other generation, and our own research finds that 75% of businesses say their customers expect to be able to interact with brands anytime, anywhere via digital services.
With 500+ stores in the UK and over 15,000 globally, we understand this only too well. When our stores closed their doors, we had to train our retail teams to support our customers online using webchat and other tools. And now that we are back having face time we’re changing how we do things.
We learned from our stores in Italy and Spain that around half of store interactions with customers are around technical support and advice so we have started offering educational workshops in store – with the same offering available through our virtual shop. This unique experience provides a better connection with our customer and adds value to their visit.
For our enterprise customers, we launched our virtual customer experience centre so that we can showcase our solutions to customers around the world, and created V-Hub for our smaller business customers to advise them on their digital transformation through a combination of digital and remote support.
A mix between the best of digital and physical is what customers want and that expectation is only going to grow – omni-channel is the way to go.
Looking a bit more ahead, Gartner predicts that by 2026 a quarter of people will spend at least an hour a day in the metaverse which will bring a completely new interaction model with customers. This is going to augment how we buy our retail products and leading brands such as Adidas, Hyundai and Coca-Cola are already preparing their presence in the metaverse sphere.
The first step in preparing for that change is to digitalise for today while preparing for tomorrow.
Our research has shown that the importance of technology is not underestimated by retailers. Nine out of ten retail organisations see digital technology as highly important and over half believe technology can help them conquer business challenges.
However, the majority of retailers have yet to implement a digital transformation plan and only 18% of retailers are considered ‘Fit for the Future’ (FFTF) and are therefore, confident and well prepared to deal with future challenges.
Not only will being ‘fit for the future’ help businesses tackle things like rising customer demand, increased competition, and changing employee expectations, additional analysis of the research conducted by the London School of Economics found a link between companies being FFTF and business performance.
Organisations that scored a 10-point increase in their FFTF score were more likely to outperform their competitors by 36%.
It is great to see that the pandemic has had a positive impact upon the digitalisation of retailers, causing just under half to accelerate their plans and invest in technology but more needs to be done.
Our research has shown that customers want to be able to contact brands anytime, anywhere and want more personalised experiences and Forrester reports that, as a result of the pandemic, consumers have higher expectations for seamless digital experiences.
From chat bots and digital signage, to social media and mobile messaging, technology is helping brands offer more engaging interactions 24/7, as well as supporting a more personalised experience – both on and offline.
It’s time to get those basics right and then build on them.
For example, as a result of increased contactless services during the pandemic you can now use an app to order from your table or notify a store you’ll be heading in to collect your package so that it is ready for your arrival.
Imagine if, instead, the shop can spot you arriving and prepare your parcel before you even reach the checkout, so that your soymilk latte is ready and waiting for you every morning and automatically paid for via the details saved in your app. This is some of the thinking behind our recent DAB announcement and the work we do in location insights together with retailers and advertisers.
Another increasing expectation is sustainability. Customers want to know where their products are coming from and how they are being sourced and produced, with many now only buying from brands that align with their own ethical positioning.
Yet just a third of retailers have an Environment, Social and Governance programme in place.
Businesses who don’t put a focus on ESG will not only miss out to customers, but they also risk losing their investors too. Gartner report that failure to transparently demonstrate sustainability in stores will hamper customer trust, as well as negatively impact success in unified commerce execution.
Technology such as IoT can help maximise supply chain visibility, putting that information right in the hand of buyers so they can make better decisions around CO2 emissions and production. While other solutions can provide accurate reporting, drive sustainable approaches and even deliver carbon neutral options.
With regulations getting tougher on green washing, its important retailers take sustainability seriously and start to bake it into everything they do.
Having faced many challenges over the past 18 months, retailers will continue to face disruption. The organisations that are able to adapt and respond to these trends quickly will be best placed to seize opportunities and flourish in the post-pandemic world.
Technology has a vital role to play as our research has clearly proven that companies further along their digital journeys will have the edge, already proving to be more successful financially and from an ESG perspective.
As a retailer ourselves, we understand the challenges these businesses face and can help you kick start your digital transformation today.
Around the globe, our network reaches over 184 countries.
We provide the underlying transport network, the virtual overlay, and the platform to prioritise everything.
We have been recognised by industry analysts as leading network providers.