Around half of customers expect virtual reality to play a part in retail’s future

Consumers and business buyers think virtual reality and artificial intelligence will play a big part in retail experience in the near future, according to Salesforce research

Almost half of UK consumers believe virtual reality (VR) technology will be provided by companies by 2020, according to research by Salesforce.

A study of consumers found 48% of customers and 57% of business buyers think companies will provide service through virtual reality technology over the next four years, and 45% of consumers believe companies will start using artificial intelligence (AI) to recommend products based on customer preference.

Globally, 79% of the millennial generation, those between the ages of 18 and 34, believe smart home technology will have a big impact on daily life by 2020.

Simon Mulcahy, Salesforce chief marketing officer, said: “Increasingly, customers expect every touchpoint to be personalised and proactive. These demands are breeding new business models and upending industries, prompting CEOs to consider the seemingly infinite influences on the marketplace.”

There is no doubt that customers are using technology to reclaim the “customer is king” mentality in the retail space.

Consumers are becoming ever more fickle, with 74% of global consumers claiming they will switch to using a different brand if they find a mobile experience difficult to use.  

The increase of omni-channel has meant customers frequently interact with brands across many different channels depending on what is easier for them, and 75% of consumers expect companies to provide a consistent experience regardless of whether they are interacting on web, social, mobile or in store.

A growth in data fed into retailers from customer interactions is making it easier to offer a personalised experience to customers.

For most, personalisation is an expectation, and two-thirds of consumers said they would switch to a different brand if they felt they were not being treated as an individual.

Data’s role in customer loyalty

Data collection is now the norm for retailers and businesses, with most using customer information to deliver a better and more personalised experience.

According to Salesforce, most customers understand that this personalised experience is driven by the data they are willing to share with companies.

Customer attitude to data sharing differs between age groups, with the younger millennial generation offering their data up more freely if they feel there is something to gain. 

Some 63% of millennials worldwide claimed they would share their data willingly if a company would give them personalised offers and discounts.

However, only half of Generation X (people between the ages of around 35 and 50), and 41% of baby boomers (the older generation) will give up their data for a personalised in-store or online experience.

Social media driving relationships

Technology is now a staple in people’s lives, becoming a fundamental part of everyone’s home and work lives on a day-to-day basis.

Customers have said technology is changing the way they interact with brands, with 70% of consumes saying it makes it easier for them to shop with a different retailer.

More than 60% said technology has changed the way they behave as a customer, and 58% agree that technology has changed their expectations of how a business should interact with them.

Technology has also pushed the boundaries of what a customer expects from a business, with 64% of customers believing companies should interact with them in real time through technology channels.

Mulcahy from Salesforce said: “Ours is a culture forged by constant connections – mobile access to everything imaginable, the instant we need it. The result is that customers, consumers, patients and citizens are supremely empowered with more information and choice than ever before, making it an even greater endeavour to sustain loyalty.”

People are constantly connected through social media channels, and 71% are more likely to buy a product if it has positive online reviews from other users.

More than half of consumers said they feel “empowered” by social media, with more than 40% using it to tell others about product experiences and 53% stating it is important for them to read online product and reviews ratings of potential purchases.

As customer behaviour begins to shift towards the omni-channel and the digital, retailers must implement new technologies to offer the seamless experience, instant response and good customer journey that consumers increasingly expect.

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