How we shop and interact has completely changed in the past decade. Yet the entire customer revolution is still only in its infancy. What will the customer experience look like in 2030?
Technology has forced huge changes in how we consume and interact with brands. The Millennials and Generation Z – roughly everyone born between 1980 and now – have grown up with smartphones, social media, web shops, and increasingly, interactive experiences. Their desires and demands to a great extent determine how brands should present themselves, as this group is by far the largest consumer group, in both numbers and spending power.
Today, the individual customer is already the boss. Their satisfaction and optimal gratification is worth a lot, and will only be worth more by 2030. This development has great consequences for the design of transport, logistics, and retail.
Customer experience in 2030: The most important features
From brick to outdoor
E-shopping will be as normal in 2030 as a fried egg on a Sunday morning. This doesn’t mean that physical stores will have lost their value, but they will look very different than what we are used to in 2018. The traditional department stores will largely have been replaced by ‘retail spaces’ which will often be located outdoor.
There are various reasons for this, such as increased construction costs and the need for much more flexibility than bricks can offer. The open air shops will not just focus on sales, they will mainly offer an experience. Moreover, the emphasis will be on the social aspect. And when it rains, the shop will quickly be covered using advanced technology.
Industrial 3D printers, sold in the shop
Consumers want to buy what they want, where they want, and when they want. The risks of keeping stock will have further increased in 2030. The answer? Industrial 3D printers produce ‘on demand’ products. These printers will not be located at industrial sites, but can simply be found in the shop. The customer stands around and watches, and immediately takes his fully ‘customized’ product home with him.
Everything is circular and whenever possible, local
Worries about the planet will strongly increase between 2018 and 2030. Also amongst consumers, who will still almost exclusively opt for circular products and services. This will lead to a huge upsurge in the amount of sharing concepts.
Clothes, means of transportation, tools, living space: you name it – there will be a sharing or ‘as-a-service’ concept for it. Products that are individually purchased will be entirely and infinitely reusable at the end of their lifecycle. Manufacturers that have not explicitly presented themselves as sustainable over the past decades will surely fail.
The increase in environmental and health consciousness will also have resulted in a revaluation for small-scale and local. Local crafts will be hugely valued. This will not only benefit local communities; the planet itself will also appreciate this change in behaviour. Logistics will become much easier and less burdensome. Thanks to extensive data and behavioural analysis, the offer will be strongly adapted to local preferences and habits.
Everything will become ‘as a service’
Nearly all products that you will be able to buy in 2018 will be available as a service in 2030. The traditional model of ownership will have shifted increasingly towards renting products and buying services in which the original product no longer matters.
Take, for instance, a lawnmower. The object itself is of little value. Behind the product however lies a need: customers want to have a regularly manicured lawn. The rise of companies like Uber and Snappcar are an example of this development. Rather than owning a car, the transport from A to B is the focal point. Getting back to the lawnmower: Amazon already understood this development in 2015. Consumers back then could already rent goats for manicuring the lawn.
According to Gartner, 80 percent of all customer contacts will take place via artificial intelligence by 2030. These AI systems will not only understand the customer’s individual preferences, but will also recognise the customer’s mood. Depending on whether a customer is angry, happy or sad, the system will adapt to these emotions. AI systems recognise emotions by voice, wording, and facial expression, which is why brands use them in both physical stores and web shops.
The technology can be valuable in all customer contact moments that take place via AI. Customers value empathic abilities, even if this takes place via bots. According to recent research from the Fashion Institute of Technology, millennials in particular seek an emotional connection with a brand. An AI system that recognises emotions and anticipates them will seem more human, reinforcing that connection. Customers have the feeling that ‘the system’ thinks along with them, and they feel better understood.
Emotion recognition not only reduces the risk of a dissatisfied customer completely turning his back on a brand, it also provides new possibilities for ‘up-selling’. A happy or satisfied customer is, after all, more likely to buy something else, whereas this sales technique will probably seem more pushy to an angry customer.
Emotion recognition, however, does not eliminate the value and necessity of human contact with the customer. However advanced AI might be, it cannot replace human warmth and compassion. For some matters, people will always prefer dealing with a human. Technology where possible, human where needed.
The challenge in 2030 will be not go overboard in using technology, as effectively illustrated in the video below.
Shop windows are interactive
Not all shops are open 24/7, nor will this be the case in 2030. The high streets in the evening hours and on Sunday will nevertheless be far less boring than in 2018.
Shop windows will have interactive screens displaying ever-changing content. The content shown will be adapted to issues like the weather, time, and even to the person standing in front of the shop window. Passers-by can immediately order the displayed items with their smartphone. They will also have easy access to more information about a product via a QR code.
The chain is transparent
Which cows produced my steaks, and where did they graze? Which grain types are used in my beer, and where were these harvested? What happens to my trainers when I return them when they are worn out? Consumers in 2030 will want ample details on origin, source, and supply chain design.
Manufacturers will also be providing lots of these details. Moreover, it will be an important competitive factor. Spreading false information will be futile as thanks to the blockchain, fraudsters will be exposed at an unprecedented speed. The same blockchain will also make the entire chain more transparent than ever. Because of this great supply of information, the number of returns will reduce significantly, thus saving costs.
Shops will present experiences
Physical shops will have changed into showrooms and ‘experience centres’. Using holograms, virtual reality, and gloves with haptic feedback, the customer will be able to try out and ‘experience’ custom-made products before purchasing.
Robots in the shop will provide assistance, advice, and will point out the way, leaving shop employees with more time to provide more specialist help.
Many shops will be highly specialized
Consumers will be able to choose from millions of products online. Physical stores will however still provide an added value. They will have rediscovered themselves by focusing on, alongside experiences, special interests and highly specific market segments.
Think, for instance, of racing bike shoes, vegan breakfast products, lighting on solar energy, and VR game consoles. More specific will mean more successful.
Transport and delivery
An immediate satisfaction of needs will have become even more important by 2030. Waiting for an order for several days will be unthinkable. Whatever we cannot take with us immediately from the 3D printer, will be delivered within at the most 24 hours during our own preferred time period. Many brands and shops will have switched to ‘same day delivery’, enabled by decentralised production possibilities and drone delivery.
Staying home for a delivery will no longer be necessary. Via our smartphone, we can remotely grant access to people standing in front of the door, so they can deliver the items into the house. The successful pilot of Amazon in 2018 that uses this technology has already caught on worldwide. Thanks to camera monitoring, we are ensured that deliverers will not abuse the advantages of having access into the residence.
The most important factor: Not technology, but people
The customer experience is all about people, and will remain so in 2030. The Be My Eyes app is a current example of how technology can help to fill in human needs. This app enables the sighted to look along on a blind person’s smartphone camera by means of a videocall, so they can assist them with their daily lives. The technology behind this is perhaps not ground-breaking, but the application most certainly is.
Those who wish to build a future-proof customer experience should realize that customers are people. Technology is a means to achieve this, and never an end in itself.