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CCS 2022: Experts Provide Lessons and Best Practices from the Great Acceleration

While some brands and retailers are still adapting to some of the new realities established by the COVID-19 pandemic, others have established learnings and best practices to guide their paths forward. The 2022 Connected Consumer Series featured industry experts, thought leaders and practitioners prepared to share their wisdom with their peers, and spotlighted powerful examples from FILA, Lidl, Patagonia and other businesses.

The four-day series, which touted 15 sessions, is now available on-demand to help executives successfully navigate the industry’s ever-changing tides. Sessions illustrate the increasingly complex nature of the customer experience, and how the lines between commerce, marketing, service, and even supply chain and fulfillment, continue to blur.

Why the Non-Purchaser Might be Your Most Important Customer

Traditional customer loyalty is dead, and we are now in what Zack Hamilton, Chief Experience and Strategy Officer of Chatter by Stingray calls “The Great Brand Exploration.” Consumers are ready and willing to “explore” another brand if the one they are currently shopping with doesn’t meet their expectations or needs, whether that be in terms of delivery options, product availability or any other number of factors that cause shoppers to abandon a purchase.

In this new environment, brands can no longer afford to ignore the non-purchaser; in fact, shoppers who engage with your brand but don’t end up completing a purchase can provide insights that can help you improve your commerce experiences and offerings. Shifting away from more manual engagements for gathering customer input, such as a follow-up survey sent to customers who have a bad experience, and toward more automated actions that gather insights from non-purchasers in real time, can not only help brands make future improvements but also potentially save the sale.

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As the Customer Journey Gets More Complex, Focus on Buyer Intent Instead of Channel

Online buying has evolved rapidly in the last few years, leading to an increasingly fragmented customer journey. “Everyone is on different channels doing different things, and we’re more siloed than ever before,” said Greg Ives, Senior Product Marketing Manager at ChannelAdvisor. “Consumers want you to serve them the right product at the right place at the right time, but there are so many of them it’s hard to optimize selling strategies on every single channel.”

It’s no wonder marketers and merchants are overwhelmed trying to capture consumers’ attention and convert them. The key is to stop thinking about each channel individually and instead focus on overall buyer intent. Even though the customer journey is no longer a straight line, buyer intent typically is, and all consumers move through the same five stages (albeit at their own varying paces): awareness, consideration, motivation, conversion and finally, loyalty.

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How Third-Party Marketplaces are Fueling a New Kind of Retail: Community Commerce

A whopping $3.23 trillion was spent globally on marketplaces in 2021, and two-thirds of B2C ecommerce sales now happen on marketplaces. “The marketplace movement is changing the economics of ecommerce,” according to Jim Stirewalt, President of Marketplacer. It’s also changing the dynamics of retailers’ relationship with consumers.

“If there’s one word we’re hearing besides ‘revenue,’ it’s the word ‘community,’” said Stirewalt. “Retailers are always looking for ways to build deeper relationships with their customers. When you look at marketplaces through a community-driven lens focused on a common interest, it can inspire really creative uses. It’s about connecting people with a shared passion, and the products they want and need to pursue their interest.”

To see this in action, Stirewalt was joined by Lisa Kennelly of Fishbrain, a fishing app and online shop for anglers worldwide, who talked about the choice to add a third-party marketplace to its platform and the impact that has had on Fishbrain’s relationship with its community.

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Fraud is on the Rise: How Retailers Can Limit Their Risks

While the rise in digital sales has been COVID’s silver lining, it also has exposed the retail industry to additional risk in the form of fraud. The danger has become common enough that 54% of consumers surveyed in 2021 claimed they experienced fraudulent or suspicious encounters online.

“It’s an organization-wide problem — it can’t just be handled by IT, and it can’t just be handled by marketing,” said Bill Gustin, Partner at Shiptronix. “You need to get buy-in from across the organization — from the finance team, from the customer service team, from the IT team, from the marketing team. All departments need to be working together to prevent fraud.”

Taking a holistic, enterprise-wide approach can lead to the creation of a feedback loop between fraud prevention and other teams. This ensures that the entire company is aware of developments in fraud and scams that may target one aspect of the system. In turn, that helps ensure that the right kinds of prevention are always in place.

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Transformation Lessons from Patagonia and 5.11

COVID-19 forced retailers to make major operational shifts at record speed, but these quick changes were made easier for Patagonia and 5.11 with the help of Microsoft Dynamics 365 and Sunrise Technologies. Patagonia implemented curbside pickup, BOPIS and distributed order management capabilities, and used Dynamics 365 Call Center and other CRM capabilities to enhance customer support.

Tactical apparel retailer 5.11 pivoted its retail stores into distribution centers and successfully shifted processes to create Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and other necessary items during the pandemic.

“The customer is truly the only sales channel,” said Annie Graziani, Senior Director of Marketing at Sunrise Technologies. “Retailers need to deliver on their expectations, which are changing all the time. To do that, you have to improve how you’re operating on the back end, how you’re owning your inventory, reducing waste and creating more sustainable business operations that can ultimately deliver to the customer.”

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Feed the Content Machine Without Burning Out Your Team

We are living in the “penultimate visual economy,” as Max Mabe, Director of Product Marketing for Cloudinary put it, but the explosive need for more content (images, video, copy, experiences) has put a lot of pressure on teams across organizations. “Burning out your staff and creatives with all these repetitive tasks that we’re doing to create all this content takes them away from spending time on creative work or innovating,” said Mabe.

The solution? Finding ways to automate repetitive tasks like the resizing and reformatting of assets for various platforms, which is now possible thanks to new technological innovations. The most important thing needed to optimize your digital asset management (DAM) is good planning — if you know all of the ways you plan to use content before it is created, you’ll be able to ensure that it is crafted in a form that can easily be repurposed.

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OMS Advancements Are the Core of Evolved Omnichannel Retail Strategies

A strong order management system is the backbone of omnichannel retail. As physical and digital experiences continue to blend, fortifying retail OMS is crucial to business success.

“The biggest thing we’ve learned over the last two years is that we have no idea what’s coming next,” said Tradd Raizes, Order Management AE for Salesforce. “Being nimble and having a system that is future-proof is going to create the stability that is needed when we don’t know what’s coming next.”

Touching upon the Wayfair ruling, marketplace facilitator laws and tax legislation, Pete Olanday, Director of Retail Consulting for Vertex noted that OMS tax automation can help create consistency and scalability so businesses can easily solve tax-calculation challenges.

“It might seem complicated behind the scenes but to the customer, it’s just different ways that they’re interacting with you,” said Olanday. “They would assume that the tax calculation is consistent regardless of which channel they’re in.”

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Inside FILA’s Mission to Build its DTC Business

Most digital professionals (89%) say they’re investing in personalizing the customer experience, according to Brendan Witcher, VP and Principal Analyst at Forrester. However, a mere 40% of consumers believe the information they receive from brands is relevant to their tastes and interests. This is a significant gap that can impact conversions and overall brand loyalty, and FILA is addressing it by gathering and integrating data to create comprehensive shopper profiles.

Starting in 2020, FILA has focused on bolstering its direct-to-consumer (DTC) business. To drive long-term growth, Dawn Trenson, VP of Ecommerce for FILA, indicated that her team has had to understand customer journeys, devices used, and the content and resources that ultimately drive conversion.

“On the digital side, we were able to achieve significant growth in 2020 and we have focused on shoring up and making sure all the puzzle pieces were in place, so that our tech and systems operationally were there and could support the meteoric growth that we could achieve,” said Trenson. “In 2021 and into 2022, it’s been a very customer-centric focus…how can we best ensure that experience, soup to nuts, is everything the customer is expecting? But also, how can we exceed those expectations to drive growth?”

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Proven Omnichannel Service Strategies from Retail Experts

Nearly two-thirds (64%) of consumers tried a new way to get in touch with customer service over the past year, with many seeking help through mobile and social messaging apps. WhatsApp alone experienced a 110% increase in support conversations. To meet changing shopper needs and behaviors, retailers will need to rethink how they handle customer service altogether.

“Retail companies need to adapt not only for customers, but to also take the load off their support teams,” said Yvo Chavez, Industry Solutions Lead at Zendesk. “This is where being conversational is so crucial. Instead of siloed chats that start and stop each time a customer reaches out or switches channels, each interaction becomes part of a larger conversation that carries over a lifetime of interactions with the company. The result is a seamless experience for customers and agents alike.”

Creating that seamless experience means implementing new messaging services and experiences across the customer journey. This can include adding live chat or texting features to key pages to help with product selection, and sending proactive SMS messages on order status and delivery updates.

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How Proactive Post-Purchase Communications Helped Lidl Boost Basket Sizes 12%

Can retailers enhance the shopper experience even after the customer has hit “buy” for their online transaction? They can. Since discount supermarket chain Lidl added automated post-purchase emails offering carrier data and access to a data-integrated order status page, the retailer has added 2.7 new touch points per customer engagement and achieved a 12% increase in average basket size. Additionally, high-value content in emails draws 85% of customers back to the Lidl web store.

This concept, termed Operations Experience Management, gives retailers both greater control over the post-purchase process as well as additional sales opportunities. “Companies get complete ownership of not only the pre-sales and confirmation messages, but also fulfillment, shipping, delivery and returns,” said Jay Nierodzik, OXM Solutions Expert and Director of Solutions Consulting, North America for parcelLab. “This means that customers receive relevant, reliable information about their orders, and brands have an increased opportunity to build loyalty, trust and even cross- and upsell.”

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Location Intelligence Becomes a Secret Weapon Amid Industry Disruption

To truly understand their customers, retailers need to get more context into consumer wants, needs and behaviors. While at a high level that may mean understanding their age, gender and past behaviors, location provides a deeper level of insight and context that can help retailers make better decisions.

“With the rapid adoption of digital commerce, the biggest problem is maintaining relevancy across every single customer touch point,” said Gary Sankary, Retail Industry Manager at Esri. “For the retailer, the challenge is ensuring you’re keeping them engaged by providing relevant content, products, assortments, offers and standing out from the competition.”

Getting specific and location-centric with customer interactions doesn’t just impact customer experiences; it also impacts strategic business decisions. Understanding where your most loyal customers are, the stores they visit and the channels they use to engage with your business can help you hone your investments in stores, supply chain, advertising and more.

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Using ‘Digital Dialogue’ to Drive Omnichannel Excellence

Over the past two years, consumers have relied more on ecommerce than ever before. Although many consumers are headed back to stores, they are now armed with digital knowledge that has made them savvier — and their expectations higher. To develop a mature omnichannel retail strategy, Forrester’s Brendan Witcher urged retailers to focus on understanding their customers at a much deeper level.

“Your ecosystem is tying directly to this view of the customer,” said Witcher. “Create a world where you’re creating digital dialogues with customers, and that’s how you’re getting a better understanding of them, what they need, what they want and what that omnichannel experience needs to look like.”

A strong omnichannel system can improve sales by 10% to 15 %, while reducing cost of sales between 15% to 20%, according to Rachel Henwood, Senior Sales Consulting Director at Oracle. To build a customer-centric omnichannel experience, retailers need to first identify their own digital needs, shortcomings and solutions to determine the tools they need.

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Giving Consumers Control Over the Digital Customer Experience

A staggering 73% of consumers rely on multiple channels while making a buying decision, according to Colin Crowley, CX Advisor for Freshworks. Today’s shoppers are in the driver’s seat, and that means retailers must focus on creating delightful digital service experiences across all channels.

“We’re not in a world where people are primarily glued to their email anymore,” said Crowley. “They’re navigating across a multitude of different channels, be it email or phone or live chat or social messaging.”

Retailers must move from traditional customer service models that are human-intensive toward digital-first approaches. Gaining efficiency and information through digital tools allows customer service agents to offer meaningful experiences as they solve issues. The end result is a more seamless, personalized experience for consumers and improved revenue and loyalty rates for retailers.

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Trends Driving the Future of Local Retail

92% of local businesses said their consumers have changed in a demonstrable way, according to research from Podium. While many are quick to spotlight the negative or disruptive changes, Hally Pinaud, VP of Product Marketing at Podium, noted that the pandemic has inspired consumers to be more appreciative and supportive of their local businesses — and that has led to positive change.

“Consumers have come out of this experience with more appreciation for local businesses,” Pinaud explained. “A lot of us have seen firsthand the impact these topsy-turvy two years have had on the businesses that we love, and we’re much more conscientious of the role these businesses play in our community.”

But that doesn’t mean local businesses still don’t have work to do. Through a consumer survey, Podium found that shoppers are actively seeking channels that are automated and allow them to avoid speaking with humans. Local businesses need to embrace tools and technologies that support these experiences and allow them to be more efficient in their work.

“It’s time to officially declare that the ‘digital transformation’ has happened,” said Dan Gingiss, who is a CX consultant and author of several books on the subject. “I would replace this phrase with ‘digital evolution’ because…we’re never done with customer experience. As soon as we think we have the perfect experience, our customers’ expectations are going to change again and we’re going to have to adjust.”

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Self-Service Tools Become a Retail Value Driver

Traditionally, customer service has been reactive: shoppers calling, emailing or texting a retailer with a query and (too often) a complaint. But technology improvements, particularly with AI and machine learning, can help retailers reframe customer service from a cost center into a potential revenue driver, according to Christine Russo, Principal at the Retail Creative & Consulting Agency.

But Russo warned that retailers need to provide consistently excellent customer service experiences, particularly if they are using chatbots. Too often, companies use chatbots with less-advanced technology that simply can’t comprehend what consumers want.

“Customers prefer self-service if it’s amazing,” said Russo. “It’s a value driver when it’s an experience improvement. This is a show-me story, so it’s the job of the retailer to re-engage and reposition this as ‘This will be better, we promise.’”

Retailers have no choice but to up their self-service game, Russo added: “The self-service piece of retail is no longer an add-on or something in a silo. It’s built into every piece of retail. In terms of personalization, ease of use and speed levels, self-service checks a lot of boxes in the DNA of being a digital retailer, and it also goes into physical retail as well.”

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