Many of us have experienced the shopping rush around events like Valentine’s Day, Black Friday, Back-to-School, and Christmas. Last-minute shoppers looking for the perfect gifts flock to the box stores and scour the internet for deals. The only way retailers can truly differentiate their brands is to make the last-minute shopping as stress-free as possible for the panicked shopper.

Today’s consumer can buy a dozen roses or a box of chocolates from thousands of shops online and in-person. In retail, products don’t differentiate anymore, customer experience does. That is why retail stores need a customer experience transformation if they want to stick around.

According to the National Retail Federation (NRF), Valentine’s Day spending reached $23.9B in 2022 and over 180M Americans shopped during Thanksgiving weekend in 2021. When retailers focus on creating a memorable customer experience, they can capture more of that spend.

However, a memorable customer experience doesn’t just mean treating your customers like royalty. New reports are finding that hyper-personalized marketing and more consistency across touchpoints are increasingly important to consumers. So, for retailers today, a customer experience strategy must include the right technology integrated throughout the buyer process.

Retail leaders are developing a game-changing customer experience through digital transformation that goes well beyond updating contact center or e-commerce technology. Read on to discover where they’re prioritizing that transformation, and how it’s impacting both the business and their customers.

Make an Impression That Lasts the Whole Year

The rise in e-commerce isn’t the end of brick-and-mortar retail — it’s an opportunity to stand out. Used strategically (centered on the customer and with effective data flow in mind), digital commerce technology can enhance and streamline the customer experience.

Whether we like to admit it or not, most of us order gifts at the last minute. As such, we like to be able to track the delivery status of those gifts in real-time so we can make sure the gifts arrive on time (because if the gifts aren’t going to arrive on time, we will find something else).

To enable this, and to create an impression that will last the whole year, retailers must put the technology in place to make it happen. Top-performing retail companies are typically employing a combination of cloud infrastructure, automation, customer relationship management software, and data analytics for this purpose.

“Wow” Your Customers With a Phygital Strategy

When retailers keep customer experience at the forefront, brick-and-mortar stores and digital commerce go together like wrapping paper and ribbon. Leading retailers implement technology in a way that also integrates the different steps in the buying process, creating a better, more consistent customer experience — no matter if the consumer is walking into a store or having a product delivered to their doorstep.

From supply chain to customer service, retailers can now connect each piece of the business with a “phygital” strategy which links the physical retail world to the digital commerce world to improve data movement and enhance the customer experience.

Consider how Amazon sends a push notification to a customer’s mobile device when their package is on the way, and again when it’s delivered. Or how a customer can check to see what laptops are available at their local Best Buy before driving across town to look at them in person. Linking each step in the buying process — physical and digital — through improved data exchange results in a dazzling customer experience that will stand out in a consumer’s mind long after the purchase is made.

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How Retailers Should Prepare for the Rush

How many times have you heard an in-store employee say, “Our online inventory doesn’t always match our in-store inventory, sorry!” To take advantage of the consumer spending momentum close to major holidays, retailers need to take a phygital approach and work in advance to make sure:

  1. Their physical and digital operations are integrated
  2. Real-time capabilities are prioritized
  3. Systems are enabled to communicate seamlessly and instantly, no matter the system’s location (in the cloud, on-premises, etc.)

When retailers focus on these three things in their digital transformation, data can flow seamlessly where it needs to go to trigger events and provide critical information to both the customer and the retailer. This can eliminate friction in the buying process for the customer and provide instant insights to the business so it can quickly take action when the customer experience is at risk — like if a package pickup is delayed.

Another benefit of digital transformation that focuses on these three things is the ability of a retailer to dynamically move data to the cloud during peak times so that their infrastructure continues to perform at its best. We all can relate to that website that won’t load because everybody is buying tickets to the biggest upcoming sporting event or critically acclaimed play at the same time.

It’s not always easy, though…

A retail digital transformation that improves the customer experience in this manner demands real-time, bidirectional data flow, which can prove challenging for some organizations to implement. There can be obstacles to effective data transport and routing due to the variety of data formats, APIs and protocols used by different applications and systems. Streaming data from globally distributed facilities can also be costly, especially without edge intelligence to reduce the amount of noise being sent to the cloud.

Event-driven architecture may help ease the pain in these cases. Putting event-driven capabilities at the forefront of the digital transformation effort can help retail organizations:

  • Keep up with evolving buying patterns by enabling physical and digital operations to work together more easily
  • Improve the customer experience with digital apps that communicate seamlessly with legacy systems
  • Innovate faster with customer insights enabled by AI and analytics
  • Capture, analyze and respond to business events in real-time

Ready for the Rush!

Consumer expectations are the highest when they pressure is on and big events are approaching. Retailers must focus on integrating systems for real-time business to both meet those expectations and enchant customers with an experience that leaves them feeling grateful, appreciated, and relieved long after the holidays have come and gone.

Sandra Thomson

Sandra Thomson is the Director of Product Marketing at Solace.