Customer experience is the magic that consumers expect

Retail is alive and well, both online and offline. But what are consumers expecting in 2023 from their favourite retailers?

While Covid is still circulating in the community, we have well and truly moved into the living with Covid phase and some of the explosive trends that we saw over the last two years will remain in varying levels, while others have not.

In 2021, e-commerce businesses were untouchable, while traditional bricks and mortar stores were on their knees unsure about what lies ahead. Unless you were an essential service or a major grocery retailer your reason for being was being questioned. 

Consumers migrating to online purchases was happening at an accelerated rate never seen before. Last mile delivery services were hailed by many as the saviour, where retailers could gain access through third party aggregators to deliver to consumers on demand irrelevant of location. Suddenly, apparently, we wanted products delivered in 15 or 30 minutes.

We experienced 10 years of change in three months! Time poor consumers finally had what they wanted, anything delivered to them, wherever they were, through the use of technology.

Well guess what? The era of free money is now over, and last mile delivery services that haven’t closed shop are really struggling to make any money. Online shopping behaviour, while still being used broadly, has reversed its explosive growth, and returned to normal levels, mainly focused on higher value purchases of homewares, electronics, apparel and similar products. Uber Eats and the like continue to come under pressure as orders are being delivered cold and late.

Consumers are human beings, with an innate desire for experiences to help them create memories. We all use our senses of sight, smell, taste and hearing to live our lives. These senses help us feel good, they deliver us into environments that delight and entertain us. This is the future of retail – experiential shopping.

Whether you are offering your consumers food, coffee, clothing, shoes, furniture, fuel or electric charging, they need to be entertained and feel good about their interaction with you.

Technology absolutely has a role to play in this strategy with loyalty and personalised offers and services. However, a website can’t help you feel good, can’t allow you to smell the freshly baked bread or the aroma of the barista coffee. An online experience can’t ask you how are you today? It can’t smile at you; it also can’t allow you to see your food being made right in front of you. Yes, it can give you back some time when you need it, but it can’t provide you with the experience that you desire.

Retailers today must focus on not only frictionless and omni-customer experiences, but in-store experiences that surprise, delight, and entertain their customers. People and technology have a very important role to play in delivering this ultimate experience. I urge retailers to continue investing in technology that frees up their front-line staff to focus on delivering exceptional customer service, talking to their local customers and understanding their needs and wants in more detail.

Retailers need to be creating amenities, providing product ranges and in-store experiences that attract customers to their location through new innovative ways. Ideas are all around us both locally and internationally, whether we are working, holidaying, or spending time with your family and friends. This should serve as inspiration for you to feel comfortable to steal with pride and adapt to the needs of your customers in your own retail environment.

Finally, investment in your people through ongoing training and development, culture building, and team bonding is now more important than ever. This should now be a major focus for all retailers to be able to create a sustainable competitive advantage vs your competition.

This article was written by Theo Foukkare, CEO, AACS, for the April / May issue of C&I Retailing magazine.

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