Many speak of the days of old when visiting stores was all about customer service and the consumer was king.
But those days are returning as the retail world shifts to an omni-channel environmen,t in which consumers can use technology as an enabler to find the right product for the right price, delivered as and when they need it.
This shift in power has forced retailers to install more in-store technology to cope with the age of customer service.
The year began with consumers demanding a multi-channel experience from retailers, consistent across all touchpoints.
More than 50% of UK consumers thought their online shopping experience would improve if retailers delivered a consistent service across all platforms the consumer visited.
Consumers demanded a “seamless” experience with brands, claiming e-commerce would be more accessible if a consistent service was delivered, online, in store and on mobile.
As retailers began to respond to the consumer’s demand for technology, they found the lines between retailers and their brands began to blur.
Increased availability of technology – such as smartphone and internet access – is causing customers to demand a better customer experience across the board and is also making it hard to distinguish between the retailer and the brand.
This is because retailers are focusing more on reaching customers through social media interaction, creating a more personal relationship between customers and brands.
During the Demandware Xchange event in 2015, Monica Gagliardi, director of e-commerce for Italian brand OVS Spa, turned omni-channel retail on its head by suggesting that, rather than thinking of themselves as omni-channel retailers, retailers should be thinking of consumers as omni-channel customers.
Gagliardi argued that retailers should be focussing on providing a unified and consistent service to a customer who uses several channels to shop rather than delivering several separate channel experiences.
This makes it easier for the retailer to follow the customer journey and deliver a quality personalised service.
The internet makes it a lot easier to start a business, and some retailers enter the market with an e-commerce-only approach.
But New York University professor of marketing Scott Galloway claimed retailers can no longer be successful with an e-commerce approach alone, as technology as skewed the customer view on how retailers can provide a good service.
According to Galloway, services such as click and collect have led to the customer expecting retailers to be available whenever it is convenient for them, which includes a physical store presence when customers feel they need it.
The last few years has seen many speculate around the death of the high street, as brands take their products and services online.
But 2015 saw a resurgence of bricks and mortar stores as consumers demanded the convenience of shopping in-store when they needed to.
But many believe the purpose of the shop is shifting towards a showroom for products where consumers make their choice about what to buy before making their final purchase online later.
The world of retail is rapidly changing, and while some retailers are hitting the mark when it comes to delivering across multiple channels, many are still failing to deliver the experience customers want.
According to Accenture, 38% of customers feel stores needed upgrading and 60% of customers feel making purchases on mobile devices isn’t easy enough.
This leaves retailers behind in offering a unified customer experience, which may damage brand loyalty.
Customers walk into stores now and expect to see touchscreens, shop assistants with tablets and in-store Wi-Fi.
But often these expectations go unmet and 80% of consumers believe retailers should be using technology to drive customer experience and satisfaction.
A unified customer experience was top of the tables in 2015, with many stating it’s no good having an omni-channel retailer if customers do not receive the same level of service and brand experience across all touchpoints.
According to research by Demandware this will not only drive customer loyalty, but also assist retailers with important business steps such as monitoring and adapting customer experience to fuel engagement, tracking the customer journey and making supply chain management more efficient.
A number of people in the UK own more than one smartphone device, and those belonging to the younger generation are in constant use.
Research by Shoppercentric found 70% of consumers use smartphones as a supplementary device when shopping and will use them alongside online, mobile and physical shops regularly as part of an average shopping experience.
This increases the need for retailers to ensure their mobile offering not only delivers good customer experience but caters to customers who are using their smartphone alongside other brand touchpoints.
In the future, there are big hopes for the retail tech sector in London, with Tech London Advocates dubbing retail technology the capital’s next big thing.
According to the network, retail will be the next driver for technology startups in the capital following in the footsteps of London’s booming fintech sector.
Read more about retail technology