Since we are living in an age where retail chains go bust by the score, the need for an optimal customer experience is clearer than ever. Modern technology offers many opportunities to enrich the experience even further, especially since it is developing at breakneck speed. But what will customer experience look like in, say, four years from now?
Digital assistants everywhere, but the human touch retains its value
Siri and Cortana are examples of the digital assistants we know now: nice little smartphone tools that amuse us with funny conversations and the occasional surprising answer. In short: an entertaining waste of time. However, digital assistants will have evolved considerably in the near future. They will offer truly useful conversations and will assist us in making the right choices. Some web shops are experimenting with chatbots and wizards that attempt to offer real advice. By 2020, these systems will have matured and offer real and useful advice based on targeted open and closed questioning.
They will also become a staple in brick-and-mortar shops. One good example of where we are heading is Robot Pepper. This physical robot is able to start a conversation and – assuming it is programmed to do so – assist you in buying products suitable to your needs. In 2020, the first stores will open where such robots take over part of the advisory role so far performed by humans.
However, I am convinced humans will always be needed. But their role will change. Robots will take care of basic customer care, while humans will remain indispensable for more advanced forms of advice that need a human touch. There are many examples of organizations that have subjected an excessively large part of their customer care services to automation.
Also, well-functioning self-service facilities will become more important and will be indispensable by 2020. This includes self-service portals or active user communities where customers can ask their questions.
Interactive shops increase shopping districts attractiveness
In 2020, brick-and-mortar stores will need to think even more about their relevance. The good news is that technology offers countless opportunities to give a tremendous boost to the shopping experience. In 2020, physical shopping will be a true experience thanks to sensors, touch screens and beacons. The only hurdle here is creativity. That is a good thing, because shopping should be sexy.
Let’s take for example a sneaker store. The moment a customer passes the store, he will get a personalized deal offer on his smartphone. The newest addition to his favorite line of sneakers is available with 20 percent off, and in stock at this store. Once inside, he will explain to the digital assistant that he is looking for a sneaker suitable for a novice runner. Immediately, some of the shelves light up.
When he picks up one of the sneakers, a video is shown on a large screen that explains the shoe’s unique features. When fitting the sneaker, beamers project walking exercises on the shop floor to test out some of its features. Finally, the mirror can show him how different colors and other varieties would look on him using augmented reality.
Hyper-individualization brings product and shopping experience closer to the consumer
Stores and brands will increasingly collect customer data in 2020. They generate detailed profiles based on purchases in the past and data submitted by the customer. Moreover, owing to the Internet of Things they can learn important lessons about consumer behavior. Products will be equipped with more sensors than ever before, generating knowledge on which features are successful and which ones are not. They can also advise individual customers about timely replacements, for example.
How will this play out in practice? In the interest of simplicity, I’ll stick to the sneaker store for now. Customers who want to, can get measurements on their walking patterns, soles and weight. Based on that data, they can get advise on the footwear that best suits their needs, both in the physical store and online. Because the account of the sneaker store is linked to a fitness platform, the customer’s fitness level becomes a personal attribute.
The customer still controls the details he wants to share. Privacy will remain an important topic in 2020, and the most successful companies will respect it.
Smartphone as a powerful ‘second screen’
In our daily lives, smartphones have become indispensable. We wake up with them and we go to sleep with them. Mobile applications need to work without issue and be optimized for small screens. Never should they be felt as an impediment. Acceptance of unpleasant mobile experiences is very poor, and for good reason.
In 2020 the smartphone will be a very useful tool for retailers to further enrich customer experience in brick-and-mortar stores. Not only do customers get more product content by simply scanning its label, they can also find product reviews, information on related products, personalized advice and perhaps even pricing history due to links with independent online comparison tools.
Supermarkets can profit much more from smartphone use as well. Not only can customers quickly create shopping lists at home, but in 2020 the app will also show the right picking order based on the layout of the store. It also gives personalized advice for additional products and availability information on alternative products in case of an empty shelf.
Virtual reality offers a new home shopping experience
Virtual reality headsets will have made their definitive breakthrough in the living room in 2020. Consumers will not just use them for gaming, but also for home shopping sessions. They can literally walk through the virtual store from the comfort of their couches. Retailers will enjoy the traditional advantages of brick-and-mortar stores in an online setting: the element of surprise, the ability to steer to impulse buying and strategic product placement.
The digital setting also offers a unique feature that is not available for brick-and-mortar stores. The store’s layout and even the inventory are fully customizable to the preferences and habits of each individual customer.
A new level of delivery
People who like to order their shopping from the comfort of their couches would still like to get a hold of the products as soon as possible. Today, even webshops with the tightest logistical operations need at least two day parts to close the delivery. That may be fast, but in 2020 it will be nothing special. By that time we will also have more delivery options at our disposal. Returning packages will be much easier in 2020 than it is now.
A number of experiments with drones show the potential of this delivery method, and perhaps drones will be able to pick up returns at agreed times in the future as well. This would require changes in law and regulations, however. Another cool development is the appearance of parcel pickup stations at railway stations. By 2020, these parcel pickup stations will be much more widely available.
The customer at the center of the product lifecycle
Currently, the costumer is usually located at the end of a product’s lifecycle. However, by 2020 ‘crowdsourced design’ will have become a serious method for product life cycles. That means the customer is very actively involved in product design or choice in variants. This way, producers capitalize on customer creativity and wisdom, which results in products that meet target audience requirements. One good example is Tesco. The retail giant actively involved its customers in the development of a new wine.
Customer and brand will be closer to each other in 2020 than ever before. Thanks to modern technology, customers are able to give ‘instant feedback’, be involved and choose different variants of a product. At the same time, the Internet of Things provides insight in actual use. This will assist producers to improve the product.
Of course, looking at the future is reading the tea leaves in the bottom of the cup. One thing is absolutely certain though. Enterprises that know their customers best and map out the ‘customer adventure’ most effectively will prevail.