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Customer Experience , COVID-19

Bring online and offline together to increase choice in the shopper journey

by Lane Cochrane, on Jul 15, 2020

Following the easing of restrictions, rapid innovation in how consumers can fulfill their shopping needs will follow.

As Customer Experience continues to grow in importance, brands that best integrate physical and digital channels to create choices in how customers can shop will succeed.

The pandemic and the necessary restrictions challenged the status quo of how customers can shop. What is unknown is which digital avenues have endeared themselves enough to customers, and to what extent new online behaviors will continue.

The onset of the pandemic quickly exposed a lack of choice in ways for customers to fulfill shopping needs. This demonstrated that enterprises must become better at coordinating online and offline channels to help customers achieve those needs.

Restrictions on physical spaces, and behaviors within that space, will force a more judicious use of that offline channel – one that is more deeply coordinated with digital channels. What will follow is rapid innovation in “choice of experience”, and how we can purchase our products. 

Post-pandemic, customers will favor enterprises that best innovate with integrated online/offline experiences.


The current state of offline vs. online experiences

The online/offline discussion is often presented to consumers as an upfront choice. Once a channel is selected, the journey is expected to be completed primarily within that channel. Integrating online and offline options within a shopping journey has been challenging, given how each channel's experience offering has evolved.

Offline environments are designed around the average. Items are stocked in designated sections, optimized partly for the shopper way-finding, and departmental efficiency and replenishment.

The consumer understands this environment is built to the average. They have adapted to that environment, learning the layout and promotional patterns to create their own personalized experience.

In the online world, there is the expectation that the environment adapts to the shopper. In the offline world, there is no expectation the freezer section knows what I searched for in the produce section.

The concept of category management is replaced with “search”. The session trajectory is dynamic based on the user choices. Items may be selected based on the ingredients of a salad being attempted, household members' favorites, and other patterns depending on this session

Information is then leveraged to enhance the online experience. The session data provides intelligence that can suggest or guide the shopper to beneficial next choices. All this comes together to create online experiences adapted to the consumer.

Online and offline are stronger together

Online has fought very hard to erode the advantages of offline channels. For example, through the speed of fulfillment, and providing additional information to reduce the risk of purchase, such as sizing charts, customer reviews, question forums, and return policies.

On the other hand, offline options have not done as much to close the gap with online when it comes to the availability of information, choice, and the ability to personalize and optimize.

Although, offline channels maintain dominance by offering an environment where customers can access more of their senses. That, in turn, significantly reduces the risk when shopping.

During this new period of restrictions, when that advantage was eliminated, we learned quickly that online and offline channels must now intertwine to offer different solutions for different shopping needs.


Innovators must develop ‘choice of experience’

Offering more and new ways to shop, powered by integrated data, will have us looking back at the pre-pandemic options as simple and unvaried.

Many Travel and Hospitality brands have been offering a continuous digital-to-physical experience transition as a flight is executed, hotel rooms are occupied, and resorts are frequented. The industry continues to build on an experience that integrates digital and physical, leveraging the opportunities in Mobile.

This interplay, leveraging Mobile to connect the online and physical worlds, represents a significant opportunity for Retailers. Especially, to compete on the fulfillment experience in the shopper journey. COVID-19 restrictions have created an appetite to gain efficiency by taking advantage of Mobile, as well as online and in-store experiences.

There has always been an advantage in reducing the level of shopper effort in customer experience management. Now, that efficiency will be even further sought out as many customers strive for simpler experiences.


of customers

would pay more in exchange for better experiences.

(Source: Salesforce)


Data will bind physical and digital into one coordinated omni-channel experience

Offline retailers moving to digital have had to tackle the front-end experience and the supply chain logistics to make the digital experience work.

The front-end digital experience is somewhat more mature. Many platforms offer front-end applications that make it easy to shop online.

The bigger challenge – the difference between success and failure – has been the fulfillment of that demand. Specifically, doing so efficiently and profitably within a supply chain built for a store network.

However, there is another component that will make omni-channel shopping work: Customer Data. Especially, its judicious use to coordinate the choices a shopper makes as they navigate from online to offline (or vice-versa).

Data is the glue that will bind the physical and digital paths into one coordinated omni-channel experience.

The use of consumer behavioral data online has a storied history with behavior targeting and conversion optimization. In many cases, it puts business desires ahead of customer needs. However, focusing on customer needs, and the experience that takes place when fulfilling that need, is one truism that commonly dictates long-term success.

A properly curated omni-channel shopping experience is the appropriate exchange of customer information for customer value.

Digital pioneers learned long ago that in exchange for consumer data, they must offer something of value. For example, to reduce effort on the consumer’s part with relevant recommendations.

Growing the basket online relies on this interplay of information for value. In the online world, the brand must continuously offer relevant experiences that reduce consumer effort and build trust to keep the customer relationship. That allows online brands to compete on the customer experience as much as on price, in a time where 66 percent of customers would pay more in exchange for better experiences.

The pandemic has shown that in times of change, strength in customer experience, and the agility to adapt it, can beat other competitive advantages.


Aligning customer experience metrics across channels will also align omni-channel journeys

CX practitioners have come to focus on the key customer experience building blocks to optimize experiences in the digital touchpoints:

  1. Reducing customer effort
  2. Improve content relevance and timing
  3. Build trust in the interaction

Developing interactions around optimizing these customer perceptions drives customer satisfaction and the likelihood that they will engage again with a brand. In turn, this drives the ongoing relationship that brands always seek to build.

The voice of the customer should guide the design of new shopper experiences.

The specifics of how to measure effort, relevance, and trust varies by interaction. However, the core focus of these attributes is to guide customer-centric CX development. In turn, leading to ongoing relationships and continued business.


Omni-channel shopping experiences will become varied and self-driven

Over the last few months, we have seen the collapse of the status quo. We have also seen the reduction of the tactile benefits that offline channels offer. These have shown that there is so much more that can be done with the shopping experience.

It will be an exciting time to develop integrated customer experiences. Customers will be able to choose the channels they want to use to navigate their journey, based on their needs.

Brands will use the benefits of one channel with another to create an overall more compelling brand experience that can adapt to user segments or even single users.

An increase in the number of customer relationships will be the reward for those that choose to invest in truly integrated experiences. Also, it will forgo the notion that the future is somehow a battle between online and offline.

If we approach this opportunity with integration in mind, there will be a rapid expansion in the ‘choice of experience’ as shoppers select how they start, transact, fulfill, and seek support for their desired products.

Eventually, customers will navigate seamlessly between online and offline experiences, orchestrated to the customer’s benefit through the judicious use of data and mobile technology.

Top image source:  Unsplash

Lane Cochrane
Lane Cochrane

Lane Cochrane has more than 20 years of management and business development experience in the market research and analytics industry. As Chief Innovation Officer, Lane is responsible for developing customer analytics offerings that maximize the value of customer research within the evolving customer experience management industry.

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