Digital tools can deliver an irresistible customer experience

People opened up their wallets during 2018’s holiday season. From Dec. 1-24, U.S. retail sales reached $850 billion, seeing the strongest growth in six years.

In an admittedly volatile but nonetheless increasingly robust economy, the big question for retailers is no longer whether willing spenders exist, but how to ensure they capture their fair share of spend. It is more important than ever for retailers to keep their customers’ wants and needs in mind. Black Friday saw a record $6.2 billion in sales through digital channels, over 23 percent higher than 2017. Every retailer — from nationwide big-box stores to the Main Street appliance shop — can use digital products to do this.

Use Digital Products To Enhance The Customer Journey

Businesses need to think outside the box (big or otherwise) when it comes to digital experiences. Apps and websites can do much more than just showcase products. Retail is a tough business, and it’s survival of the fittest. The ones who survive will be the ones who offer their customers robust digital products that complement and enhance in-store experiences, not just provide one more channel for a customer to buy.

See: Rethinking Experience Retail

Digital products should be designed with the customer in mind. Focus on solving a pain point or helping customers gain a deeper understanding of how your products will fit into their lives. The modern customer journey is complex and multi-faceted, especially when it comes to retail. A recent study by Kitewheel found there were 447 million customer interactions with retailers on the web in 2017 and 182 million on mobile devices. Retailers must be prepared to meet the challenge.

One example of a company whose digital products enhance their customer journey is direct-seller Next Day Blinds. Its traditional sales channels are twofold: in-store visits and at-home visits. Next Day Blinds’ e-commerce site allows customers to schedule appointments online, browse and configure custom window treatments, and discover innovative products like motorized shades that can connect to home automation systems. Additionally, customers can order samples, and build and order custom-made products from the comfort of their homes.

Digital Tooling

Retailers should not only develop their own digital products to serve customers, but look to those developing products that serve the retail industry. Technology startups are rapidly innovating and looking to improve every area of retail business, including hiring. It used to be that if you wanted a job in retail, you would walk into a store, ask for an application and stand awkwardly by the cash register while filling it out. But with digital products, something that has always been done a certain way no longer must continue being done that way.

For example, on the recently-launched Capango app (a digital product created for employers and job seekers in retail), applicants can now treat their job search like digital dating by “swiping right” on jobs that interest them. Instead of submitting a resume, they can upload a 60-second video to really tailor their pitch. Apps like this offer benefits to both retailers and prospective employees, and have the potential to completely transform how the retail industry hires.

When Digital Becomes The Product

Today, retail doesn’t have to mean brick-and-mortar. Take PBS. Only a few years ago it operated like a traditional terrestrial TV network. Today, it’s a digital media powerhouse. What changed? Working together, we realized that consumers were interested in digital video, but frustrated with their online video viewing experience. We concluded that by delivering a better, more seamless viewing experience we could reach existing viewers — and attract new ones — wherever they consume content. By meeting customers where they are, PBS has been able to drive massive app downloads and garner numerous awards. What enabled the proliferation of these unique digital experiences was a robust digital platform, purposefully built for ubiquitous content distribution. Earlier this year, the PBS Kids Video app was named one of the Best Toddler Apps of the Year by HealthLine, and PBS has won multiple Webby Awards for its websites and apps.

Technology is changing the ways companies and consumers do business, and retail is next. A business today needs to ask: Am I thinking of technology as a product — something that people have to choose to use, and choose to continue to use? And what features actually make my customer’s experience better?

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