t’s a brave new retail world today. If you’re a retailer and not excited, you should ask yourself why.
There has never been a clearer opportunity for breaking new ground and taking on new and exciting projects as consumer habits force us all to upend everything we thought we knew.
As the title of this post suggests, any new retail trends worthy of attention will have an online and offline component — in fact, even thinking of these two channels separately will immediately slow you down (hence why we’ve written about the importance of omnichannel retail).
We’ve already seen traditional retailers launch online while digitally native brands take to the streets with brick and mortar stores, but it’s no longer enough to simply exist both in-store and online — the next step is to ask how you can make your omnichannel presence do more for you and for your customers. The rest of 2020 presents a compelling opportunity to try new ideas and test the boundaries of what it means to offer customers a seamless shopping experience.
As a software company that works with omnichannel brands, Endear has had a front row seat to what our customers are trying. Given what we’ve learned from them, we’ve put together a recap of the trends we believe all retailers should be paying close attention to, if not already finding ways to act on.
Broken down by the actual purchase journey of a customer, we hope this list can spark inspiration for what should come next for your brand.
Nothing has been more impactful on brand discoverability in the past decade than social media. Whether you start a Facebook group of fans or have thousands of followers on Instagram, these public profiles create great opportunities for new customers to find you and enter into your ecosystem.
However, the last year or so has shown a path of even more organic, authentic means of discovery that supplement what has become a highly competitive social media landscape. One such example is a return to the traditional retail model, but in the form of more flexible, affordable formats such as pop-ups or pop-ins.
In fact, one study suggests that a physical store presence can increase traffic to your website in that area by up to 37%. Given how competitive the digital advertising landscape has become, finding new ways to get exposure is certainly key. Another strategy that doesn’t seem to be going anywhere is the brand collaboration — teaming up with a complementary brand or service to create a shared community of customers that you both target.
By working together with other brands to create unique opportunities for discoverability, you can end up saving a lot of time and money that often comes with building a new channel from scratch.
I recently had my own experience with online browsing, and it didn't take place on an e-commerce site. A friendly associate at a local store texted me a series of product images, and even offered to have the items I liked sent to my home for a private shopping session.
These are exciting times! Between Instagram's shopping and saving capabilities, iMessage's quick reactions, and all of our new-found love and obsession with text message, it should come as no surprise that customers are browsing your products in places you would not even imagine.
Online streaming platforms such as ShopShops also empower customers to browse digitally, with the support of an online host on the scene to show them what's in-store. What our customers have pointed out as a game-changer for them has been how easy Endear makes it to share these kinds of product images with more customers without sacrificing personalization.
What used to be a tedious task of taking multiple images of products and sending them one by one has become not only easy but also a more efficient, visually-pleasing experience thanks to Endear's lookbook capabilities — particularly handy for formally styling customers.
As we all learn to depend on digital resources to get sh*t done, we’ve grown more comfortable with new communication channels and methods of staying connected. Video conferencing app downloads have surged, and customers are readily engaging with LiveChat apps in order to learn more about the products they can no longer touch and feel in-person.
While each of these various communication channels contributes to a more immersive customer experience, the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. In other words, the more you can unify the conversation a customer has with your brand across these channels, the more likely your strategy is to generate customer loyalty in the long run. At Endear, we’ve found that one way to unify the retail experience is by ensuring that the customer is always talking to the same person no matter what channel she’s using.
In fact, customers’ main gripe with live chat solutions is that they can often feel impersonal, sometimes forcing customers to either repeat their questions or never delivering solutions at all. But customers should be able to communicate with your brand across any channel and feel like it is one fluid conversation. By equipping your entire team with the right communication tools, customers will have a better time shopping with you.
Speaking of salespeople — ever wonder why the conversion in-store is about 7 to 10x what it is online? When customers walk into a store, they have the opportunity to engage with an expert in real-time in order to get their questions answered and learn more about the products they see.
A big challenge for most e-commerce shoppers is that they often do not have someone knowledgeable about your product to count on for information. However, as more customers move online, brands are starting to understand that having a team of omnichannel associates is a necessary upgrade from the traditional retail sales strategy. Having a team that can educate customers face-to-face and remotely may be the thing to motivate customers to visit more frequently and, more importantly, convert.
Gucci is a prime example of the digitization of the associate — in June of this year, the luxury brand launched Gucci Live and dedicated a full team of salespeople to support digital-only shopping and clienteling for its customers. Another is Rhone, which relied on Endear and our lookbooks to easily showcase new products to customers who weren’t able to come to the store.
Through virtual appointments, customers could see new merchandise and have a selection of items sent to them over email or text in order to decide which items from their appointment to purchase. While most digital brands today will have support teams to aid with shipping issues or returns, still few have made moves on a proactive sales team to replicate what stores offer, creating a prime opportunity for brands to stand out from their competition through top-notch service.
Only in the past few years, when I’d check out on an e-commerce site, I had two options: PayPal or adding my credit card details. Sometimes I forgot my PayPal password, sometimes my credit card was nowhere near me, and just like that, another abandoned cart. Most e-commerce brands will know their abandoned cart rate like their own phone number; in the US, it’s a little above 70% — meaning only about 1 in every 4 people ends up buying something they added to their cart.
But there has lately been a surge in payment options that reduces the friction of checkout, including new portals such as Shopify’s ShopPay, and Amazon Pay. Perhaps more important than these though, has been the rise of the “buy now pay later” platforms — apps that allow you to pay a small amount up front and pay for the remainder of your item’s price in future installments. Platforms like AfterPay, Affirm, and Klarna are popping up left and right so that shoppers are able to buy more expensive items today by paying for them over time. Boasting increases in conversion north of 20% for the merchants that use them, these platforms also are a big help to customers who don’t have credit cards (about 45% of Americans don’t have one), freeing up cash flow while still enabling them to acquire more expensive items the same way a credit card would.
While e-commerce makes it super easy to order pretty much anything, returns still prove to be hard on customers and on retailers — in fact, apparel retailers face a 43% return rate! Putting aside the decision to return an item in the first place (which may come with its own disappointments), the next question is how easy is it for the customer to return an item, and how much will it cost the retailer. For most retailers, those two things are inversely related so that reducing return costs also means potentially dismaying customers.
However, returns prove to be another opportunity for omnichannel retailers to shine. By having both an in-store and online presence, you’re in a position to enable your customers to return however they like. Enabling them to return in-store if possible also reduces costs to you by eliminating the need to cover shipping and enabling your retail store to keep returned items on-hand as local inventory. This option may also prove easier for the customer, who no longer has to deal with re-packaging her item but instead can simply drop it off with a receipt. If you are not an omnichannel retailer however, there are still options available that may help lower your costs and also make life easier for your customers.
For example, Loop Returns encourages customers to consider exchanges and store credit instead of a standard refund, which can dramatically reduce your losses from returns. There are plenty of reverse logistics platforms that provide customers with a positive experience returning items, so be careful not to sleep on the post-purchase part of your customer’s journey.
All these trends have already started to take form, but there is still plenty of time to join in on the fun and find a way to make them work for your business and your customers. At Endear, we focus on helping our customers come up with creative omnichannel solutions to ensure that they are always one step ahead.