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Mind the Gap: Bridging the Customer Journey Execution Gap in Retail

An intriguing trend is forcing retail businesses to rethink their approach to customer experience (CX): the customer journey execution gap.  

On one side are empowered consumers with high expectations. With global trends like technological advancement, shifts in the socioeconomic status quo, and peoples’ ever-evolving lifestyles, today’s retail customers want—and expect—memorable, impactful experiences, not just a simple exchange of cash for products.  

On the other side, retailers are juggling resources, technologies, and well-intentioned strategies to accommodate these expectations, often missing the mark and creating a chasm between what they can deliver and what customers need. 

Bridging this gap requires a multi-dimensional approach. Retailers must foster customer loyalty and practice sustainability while figuring out how to blend digital and physical customer experiences. Embracing new technologies is also vital for creating immersive experiences that align with modern consumer expectations, with generative AI and Big Data being fundamental to hyper-personalization and reduced customer effort. Equally important is going beyond traditional metrics to harness the voice of the customer to gain deeper insights into customer sentiment, behaviors, and needs.  

By recognizing these trends and embracing agile change, retailers can bridge the widening gap and transform customer journeys into cohesive, rewarding experiences. Before getting there, however, we need to look more deeply at where consumers’ expectations are falling flat and the consequences for retailers.  

Here follows a sneak preview of the content we’ll be covering over the following weeks to help retailers navigate important trends and close the customer journey execution gap: 

Drivers and Detractors of Customer Loyalty 

Loyalty is an important focus for retailers in challenging economic times. Shoppers are exercising more caution in their spending, prompting businesses to shift emphasis from customer acquisition to retention.  

One path to retaining customers is through personalized and sophisticated loyalty programs that serve as incentives for repeat business and platforms for data collection, enabling retailers to enhance communications further and foster customer engagement beyond purchases.  

In e-commerce, personalization extends beyond targeted advertising and customized content to stages of the customer journey like checkout and post-purchase. Retailers that make their customers feel valued and special throughout the customer journey, by leveraging flexible payment options and tailored return policies, for example, will reap rewards. In the current context, more than ever, it’s time to depart from a one-size-fits-all approach to encourage customers to stick around.  

The good news is that while fostering customer loyalty has become more challenging in retail, it is far from impossible. Successful retailers will be those that can balance the cost and complexity of leveraging loyalty drivers against their potential to establish long-term customer relationships and, ultimately, increase profit. 

Sustainability: Customer Journeys That Reflect Brand Values

From ethical sourcing to waste reduction and renewable energy use, sustainability permeates every aspect of retail operations. Plus, purchases have become expressions of personal values and beliefs for conscious consumers, so retailers must align their strategies to reflect the same.  

Customers are more vocal than ever about their expectations and are not afraid to vote with their wallets. They’re asking for transparency and making choices based on the social and environmental impacts of their purchases. As a retailer, meeting these expectations and effectively communicating your efforts is essential. 

Conversely, sustainability poses an operational challenge, particularly regarding return policies. Consumers expect smooth and hassle-free return experiences – and free returns. However, high return rates can lead to increased waste, contradicting sustainability efforts. Navigating this issue requires innovative solutions that balance customer experience with environmental responsibility. 

The road to sustainability is not without its bumps, but its importance in the customer journey is undeniable. Retailers must therefore innovate, communicate, and take purposeful steps toward sustainable operations. Doing so will help brands meet consumer expectations and ensure longevity in an increasingly green-focused world. 

The Blended Experience: Merging Physical and Digital   

Retail customers are no longer bound by physical or digital channels, so they’re actively seeking a blend of both. This fusion, sometimes called the ‘phygital’ experience, combines the tangibility of in-store shopping with the convenience and flexibility of online platforms. 

Shoppers want the ability to touch and test products in a physical store, combined with the easy comparison and swift checkout processes they find from e-commerce and even immersive experiences, where they are able to “try on” their potential purchases. The challenge for retailers lies in integrating these distinct yet overlapping worlds to deliver a seamless customer journey. 

Part of the solution is reinventing physical stores to provide experiential value, transforming them into spaces for brand interaction, product discovery, and human experiences that resonate with customers. Layering that up with personalized recommendations, real-time support, and effortless purchasing options is the foundation for a successful “phygital” strategy.  

Even so, this is one of the most challenging “gaps” to bridge in the customer journey, especially for digital natives who found success without needing brick-and-mortar locations. Legacy retailers, too, must find the right balance to enhance their in-store experiences without neglecting their online presence or risk widening the gap even further.  

The Role of Generative AI 

Generative AI, which extends beyond chatbots to encompass a range of capabilities, has the potential to revolutionize retail customer interactions by making them more personalized, intelligent, and efficient. 

One significant advantage is its ability to automate routine tasks. Whether sorting through customer queries, managing inventory, or assisting with checkouts, AI can streamline these processes, freeing human advisors to focus on more complex tasks.  

By harnessing customer data, AI can also generate personalized product recommendations, offer targeted promotions, and provide bespoke advice to customers. This ability to tailor interactions to individual customers can significantly enhance their shopping experience and foster deeper loyalty and engagement. 

While the benefits are clear, integrating generative AI into the retail environment is not without challenges. Retailers must ensure that it complements rather than replaces human advisors while aligning with their brand values and customer expectations.  

As generative AI evolves at breakneck speed, it’s essential to tread carefully. There’s a risk of widening the execution gap while capitalizing on this powerful technology’s potential to transform the retail customer experience. 

Leveraging Behavioral Science: The Power of the ‘Nudge’ 

Insights from behavioral science can help shape consumer behavior by subtly directing them toward certain decisions, a strategy known as “nudging”.  

A well-crafted nudge can influence habitual decision-making processes, guiding customers along a specific journey and encouraging favorable actions without overtly imposing a choice. It could be as simple as prompting customers towards digital support channels over traditional ones.  

The advantage of this delicate technique is its fluidity and adaptability. By implementing, testing, and adjusting these subtle nudges, retailers can determine their efficacy and fine-tune their approach to customer interactions to optimize CX substantially.  

Retailers can also use behavioral science to understand why customers drop out of sales journeys, using nudges to reduce drop-outs and increase sales conversion. The right nudges can relieve these friction points in customer journeys by helping customers make the right choices or complete difficult or daunting steps.  

In short, by understanding and predicting how humans make decisions, retailers can more easily bridge the customer journey execution gap and craft experiences that resonate deeply with customers. 

New Technology for New Shopping Experiences 

Technological innovation is enriching retail CX with engaging and personalized touchpoints.  

Advanced technologies, such as augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), and the Internet of Things (IoT), are redefining the concept of shopping, infusing it with an element of wonder and customized engagement that wasn’t imaginable a few years ago. 

AR has enabled customers to visualize products in their homes or try on clothes virtually before purchasing. VR can transport customers to meticulously designed virtual stores, allowing them to browse products in a store-like environment from the comfort of their own homes. 

IoT devices collect valuable data during customer interactions, feeding them into machine learning algorithms that analyze behavior and preferences. This continuous feedback loop allows retailers to provide real-time personalized product recommendations and promotions, creating a tailored shopping experience that meets customers’ needs and expectations.  

And these technologies will only continue to evolve, so retailers that embrace them will be best positioned to provide personal, engaging adventures that represent the future of shopping for customers. 

Reshaping Retail CX: 7 Big Takeaways 

Stay with us over the following weeks and find out why the following topics are so important in closing the customer journey execution gap, and what your business can do to effectively close it: 

  • Recognizing and effectively managing the customer journey execution gap is critical for retailers.  
  • Fostering customer loyalty is a powerful strategy for retaining consumers.  
  • Sustainability is a non-negotiable brand value that resonates with today’s conscious consumers.  
  • The “phygital” experience is the new frontier of retail, blending the tangible experiences of physical stores with the convenience of digital shopping.  
  • Generative AI presents exciting opportunities to personalize and streamline customer interactions.  
  • The “nudge” approach, backed by insights from behavioral science, can subtly guide customers along the desired journey.  
  • Emerging technologies like AR, VR, and IoT are redefining the shopping experience.  

But before all this exciting content, we’ll hear from global retail expert, Jack Stratten, on the big trends – consumer and technology – that are impacting retailers. 

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