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#RIC21 Provides 8 Real-World Answers to the Question ‘What do Consumers Really Want?’

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Retailers certainly need to know what consumers want, but perhaps an even more important question is: How do I provide it to my shoppers? Fortunately the 2021 Retail Innovation Conference, which wrapped up Nov. 17, provided plenty of answers in the form of tips, technology use cases, real-world success stories and a raft of innovative ideas. Here are just eight of the many that were shared by speakers from leading analyst and consulting firms as well as retailers themselves:

1. Employ new extended reality (XR) and the latest visual technologies to bring products to life online.
A host of new technologies are now available to make digital shopping more informative and interactive, and brands are seeing real results after employing them. Eyewear brand Bollé, for example, saw a 456% YoY increase in sales at one of its retailers following the launch of the augmented reality (AR) try-out tool for its winter line. “AR and 3D modeling are going to revolutionize ecommerce because they give an interactive, immersive and really sharp user experience,” predicted Matt Maher, Founder of M7 Innovations.

Want more proof? According to a report from Shopify, merchants see a 250% increase in conversions when using 3D product image models instead of 2D images.

2. Enhance advertising and recommendation relevancy with better targeting and search.
Jess Huang, Partner at McKinsey, said that by honing data governance and targeting practices, retailers can give consumers a better experience not just on their site but across the internet. “Customers today see one of two things [when they’re online] — one, you get a bunch of random advertisements that are annoying and not relevant to you, or two, you get ads based on what you’ve already searched for,” she said. “You searched for a KitchenAid mixer, you bought it and suddenly mixers are following you around everywhere you go on the internet, even though you’ve already bought the one mixer you need.

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“In tomorrow’s world, things can be different,” Huang added. “We don’t have to change how we browse or use the web, but [if retailers put in the work] we’ll get ads that are actually more relevant to our interests, things that our household actually needs. And then when we are shopping on the retailer’s site, we might actually discover offerings from new brands that we’ve never tried before but are targeted to us, because there’s something about us that makes us relevant to that brand.”

Crate & Barrel did a total revamp of its search engine tool and the results have been undeniable: “We have noticed higher conversion and increases in add to cart and order value because we are continuing to serve up more relevant items to our customers,” said Aaron Veit, Director of Digital Product Management at Crate & Barrel.

3. Share granular consumer data with suppliers to create more appealing products.
Digital apparel retailers are adopting fit technology to help shoppers find the right items, improve satisfaction and reduce returns, but data collected from these programs can be further analyzed to get a better understanding of who your customer base is and what they really want from your products. “We discovered that up to 80% of our customers were more petite and curvier than we previously thought,” said Tanya Zrebiec, Head of Innovation and Strategy at 1822 Denim. “Thanks to this insight, we were able to design denim products that are a better match for their sizes and shapes. Our marketing team has also benefited from the implementation, since we were able to retarget customers with denim products that were a better fit for their unique size and shape, and promote styles that will better suit their bodies.”

4. Boost BNPL usage by integrating offerings into loyalty and digital wallet programs.
Buy now, pay later (BNPL) can be a win-win for retailers and consumers, but it still represents a tiny fraction of all transactions. To boost usage, Hemal Negarsheth, Associate Partner, Financial Services, Kearney, noted that retailers should employ varied techniques to pick up on data signals that indicate a shopper would benefit from budgeting flexibility, a key consumer motivator for using BNPL.

While shoppers may be wary about sharing their data, Kearney research indicated that consumers trust their primary bank and card networks with their data more than other entities. To leverage this trust, retailers can:

  • Enable BNPL within their loyalty offerings to allow shoppers to choose how and when they access it;
  • Work with digital wallet providers to add BNPL support within them; and
  • Explore how financial institutions can partner with them.

5. Improve digital accessibility to create a better shopping experience for everyone.
Making retail websites accessible to all shoppers, including those with disabilities that require them to use tools such as screen readers, can actually improve the browsing experience for all customers. Getting these websites right means focusing on clarity and ease of purchase, which will not only make it accessible to many new customers but also create a more convenient experience for existing shoppers.

“The nice thing about digital accessibility is that it doesn’t just mean people with disabilities can use this website,” said Geoff Freed, Director of Perkins Access Consulting. “It means the experience is improved for absolutely everyone who comes to the site.”

Freed likens digital accessibility to the curb cuts added to sidewalks across the country after the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 passed. They were initially intended to help people with mobility-related disabilities, but they have been useful for strollers, bicycles and hand trucks as well. “Everyone uses curb cuts, and in the same way everyone takes advantage of your accessible design on your website,” he noted.

6. Malls can use tech to enhance CX and spotlight new retailers and products.
While retailers have taken most of the CX spotlight, shopping malls have had to do plenty of their own work to create a better experience for consumers across all channels. Jennifer Peterson, Chief Executive of Easton Town Center, shared insights into how the shopping destination has embraced new tech and connected experiences to drive traffic and engagement.

The company completely overhauled its mobile app to offer better services, such as an active events calendar, retailer information and a real-time map with parking guidance. The company also launched a 520-square-foot retail incubator that allows consumers to touch and feel products but also engage with digital content via technology like digital screens.

7. Make loyalty programs experiential and community-oriented.
Customer loyalty has taken a hit during the pandemic, but brands like Peloton are going the extra mile by focusing on community activation and collaboration. Diego Casanova of Kearney, PCE Labs, shared a new world of loyalty driven by an “experience core,” and noted that tarte cosmetics and lululemon also are turning their loyalty programs into experiences. For instance, tarte allows people to earn points when they share data, and that ultimately unlocks more personalized rewards, while lululemon emphasizes community engagement and allows shoppers to connect with local ambassadors.

8. Listen to what your customers are saying.
It sounds obvious and yet it’s not something that most retailers are doing. Online content and channels such as website reviews and social media, as well as internal content such as surveys, customer emails and service tickets, are an “untapped gold mine” of customer insights, said Kjell Carlsson, EVP of Product Strategy at Stratifyd. The key is to make a concerted effort to gather all that data and mine it for insights, which is easier than ever before because of new technology offerings.

External channels like social media and reviews are particularly helpful: “Your customers are telling the whole world what they think of your products and services, they’re just not necessarily telling you,” Carlsson said. He added: “If you’re only paying attention to the conversations that you are having directly with your customers, it’s like listening with one hand over your ears — you’re missing out on those unfiltered conversations that are out there.”

Carlsson also suggested that companies look to this external commentary with more than just reputation management in mind. Online commentary can be a great resource to identify marketing messaging that will resonate with your customers, zero in on competitive advantages and discover logistics and product improvements.

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