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Early Lessons from 2020 Holiday Retail Customer Experiences

It's starting to feel a lot like... no other holiday season in recent memory.  The retail customer experience this holiday season has been filled with adaptation, innovation, and trial-and-error attempts as companies try to safely and productively navigate the new normal.  For consumers, virtual parties, month-long Black Friday sales, and at times frustrating delays for goods and services are altering festivities.

Though the season isn't through yet, we can still take away several lessons from the experience already. Let's take a look at what's changed this season, and what CX professionals across industries beyond retail should be thinking about for their New Year's CX resolutions.

What's Changed Around the Retail Customer Experience?

Many of the changes in company and consumer behavior are expected given the reduction of in-store shopping, but some of the changes we're seeing are surprising in their ramifications for the customer experience. Data from Salesforce about this year's Black Friday/Cyber Monday shopping days show how things have changed.

  • 30% of holidays sales took place on digital channels on Black Friday (a big jump up from 23% last year).
  • Non-traditional advertising channels grew like SMS Messages (+138% YoY) and push notifications (+147% YoY) while email sends remained flat (+5%).
  • Social media was more important than ever.
  • Retail locations are taking on more of a warehouse and fulfillment role compared to previous years alongside newly popular curbside pick-up options.

While some of these trends aren't unexpected based on previous years, the changes this year aren't just a continuation of those trends. Consumers have different reasons than before for their behaviors. E-commerce adoption is up for more than just the convenience of it; convenience is now paired with safety for many.  Social distance means less is being spent on travel, which means gifts and cards are being sent in a "historic crush" of holiday packages.

The changes in consumer behaviors and the customer experience is highlighting for may retailers the importance of rapid insights into these experiences. Retailers are always working to better predict the unpredictable swings in demand for certain products during the holiday, but this year they're also having to predict the unpredictable challenges of new processes and touch points.

Let's talk about three things companies can learn from retailers this holiday season around navigating change and maintaining the customer experience.

3 Lessons from this Holiday Season

     1. Adapting the experience across new channels

Retailers saw a sharp rise in e-commerce, and more broadly, omni-channel engagement. In essence, many retailers needed to replace the one "do-everything channel" (in-store) and replicate it by a combination of other channels (e-commerce, contact centers, SMS, email, chat and more). There's a similar thing happening in nearly every industry, as more companies offer multichannel engagement. Companies need to learn how to adapt the optimal customer experience across these multiple channels.

So, start by asking yourself: What is the core of my customer experience? Once you've determined that, put yourself in your customer's shoes to map out the journeys they could take: where are they starting, and where do they need to go to get where they need to be? In the context of retail, what was once simply returning an item to a store may now involve the website, printing, and shipping the item. While the experience won't be the same, is it nevertheless comparable?

Odds are many people were forced to re-learn how to engage with your brand due to the necessary changes from Covid, but these changes can be the result of many things like regulatory changes, redesigns, etc.

     2. Listening in real time to customer experience

Changes introduce new, unexpected variables for consumers. Your Experience Analytics needs to be able to listen to the customer experience in real time to quickly comprehend how these changes are affecting customers.

With so many stores closing down normal in-person shopping, the contact center took on an extra important and common role in the customer experience. The typical satisfaction survey might capture sentiment-- whether an interaction was good or bad, but the real insights lie within the words themselves. That's why aggregating and analyzing these interactions is critical when undergoing rapid changes: you don't know what you don't know. An Experience Analytics Platform that uses Artificial Intelligence to surface trending themes from speech or text can help you spot problems before they get out of hand.

     3. Communicating changes clearly and proactively

Confusion reigned for many retailers in areas where new health guidelines created uncertainty around the in-store experience. Navigating these guidelines while optimizing according to the insights gleaned from the customer experience analytics resulted in even more changes.  

For retailers, one of the biggest examples of the need for proactive customer communications came from shipping times for the holidays. The crush of online orders is not only delaying processing for retailers big and small, the high volume is slowing down shipping times as well. Retailers have had to encourage earlier-than-normal shopping, which is why all of November and much of October was seemingly a never-ending sale.

With your insights into the up-to-the-minute themes driving customer feedback, your company can confidently complete the customer feedback loop by communicating proactively the solutions to common hiccups. Uncover the trends and take action on them to make it easier for customers to stay loyal to your brand throughout the changes.

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There are a thousand different ways that a Experience Analytics Platform powered by Smart AI can help you better listen and take action as your company adapts to change.  We've recently laid out the top six ways in our new eBook, the appropriately-titled 6 Powerful Ways Experience Analytics Can Help Your Business Now. Download it today to see how industry leaders are taking advantage of the insights made possible by machine learning!

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