By Bob La Loggia, founder and CEO, AppointmentPlus
In a world where anyone can whip up an e-commerce site and begin selling in a matter of hours, merely taking products to market just isn't good enough anymore. Consumers are surrounded with options, so retailers need to find better ways to turn those browsers into repeat customers.
Today, it's the customer experience that determines the real retail winners and losers.
Some brands have already realized this and capitalized on it. Amazon's plan for drone bases near metropolitan areas is the latest example of the heights to which a company will go to improve convenience. Back on the ground, Amazon offers same-day delivery in some areas, with orders often being delivered within a couple hours.
Online shoe giant Zappos tackled another aspect of the customer experience: service. It has raised the bar on how delightful it can be to deal with company representatives. Indeed, the company has placed customer interaction at the top of the priority list. Representatives will even talk to a customer for 10 hours if necessary.
Customers remember those kinds of interactions because they exceed expectations. Even though these and other retailers have succeeded in providing an exceptional experience for customers, it doesn't mean it's easy to achieve. But like many of today's business challenges, it's technology that will provide the foundation for improving the customer experience for retailers.
Tools that make your product more than just a product
Smart retailers are always on the lookout for ways that technology can advance their brands and generate business. One route with plenty of options is digital advertising. Whether it's a banner ad that follows a consumer from site to site or a short plug buyers are forced to watch before getting to see that video of a cat on a skateboard, internet-based advertising opportunities abound. However, although the opportunity is there, consumers often see traditional advertising as impersonal — an ad isn't a real connection.
Retailers also heavily rely upon opt-in email marketing, which is a tough sell to consumers who cringe at the thought of handing over their email addresses at the register. In fact, the thought of being bombarded with even more promotional emails is enough to make many consumers abandon their shopping carts and run from the store screaming, "I can't take it anymore!"
But fear not. There are other ways technology can connect savvy retailers with customers:
1. Allow customers to book appointments online for services
Many retailers are connecting with customers by allowing them to schedule appointments online for their in-store services, whether it's a mini-makeover, a battery check, or time with a fashion stylist.
That appointment alone makes for a great experience, but it also helps generate new business. Getting a prospective customer through the door significantly increases the likelihood that he will purchase something. Even if the service you are providing is free — a meeting with a stylist at a clothing store, for instance — the customer almost always walks out with something in hand.
But the benefits of online scheduling software go way beyond just allowing for self-service booking. What you're really doing during the booking process is building customer engagement. Your customers interact with your brand from the promotion of the service to being reminded to actually showing up. And the increased website traffic from having to book online doesn't hurt either. When done right, the process is an incredibly powerful tool for connecting with customers.
2. Don't miss the boat on virtual reality
Virtual reality is becoming more advanced and ubiquitous, with estimates showing that investments in VR for retail could climb to $30 billion by 2020. That year isn't far off, so you need to start thinking now about how VR could benefit your brand. Consider how powerful it would be to allow customers to walk through your store or interact with your products without leaving their homes. Your customers would experience the convenience of browsing online meshed with the tangible experience of in-store shopping.
That's not some futuristic fantasy — much of the technology is already possible today. A tip? Get in front of it before it becomes mainstream. Even if you're early to market, that's OK. You'll create attention and interest. You don't want to be the millionth business to get in on a trend; you want to be among the first ones to do it.
Just like Amazon's same-day drone delivery and Zappos' 10-hour customer support conversations, your clients won't forget a great interaction with your brand. Technology makes creating those interactions simpler. Establishing engagement through online appointment setting and offering convenient, cutting-edge ways to shop are two techniques that will set your brand apart and help forge buyer connections that last.