Title Image: Understanding How Digital Affects Your Customer's Journey
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Understanding How Digital Affects Your Customer’s Journey

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Hovering near the top of business news headlines for the past decade or so has been a seemingly endless series of stories about how rapidly-growing e-Commerce giants and digital-first brands have disrupted the retail industry and driven yet another iconic “bricks and mortar” brand into bankruptcy.

Yet while the admittedly large kernel of truth in these tales prompted many retailers to embrace e-Commerce as the solution to all their problems, the bricks-versus-clicks storyline is misleadingly simple and misses a larger picture – one filled with opportunity for the retail industry, and at all scales.

What digitization has done is to change not just how we shop, but everything that comes before and after shopping as well.

Consumers may post about a problem on a social media channel or online forum, and get a product recommendation link in the comments. That link may point not to a retailer or the manufacturer, but to a review posted by a vlogger. The consumer may consult an online magazine’s interactive ratings site for that product category, and, while later visiting the manufacturer’s site to watch an official demo, might put out a post on their social channel of choice to canvass the experience of their friends’ network. They may experiment with different personalization options that the vendor may offer.

All of this before ever walking into a store and talking to a salesperson.

Even the choice of which store they eventually visit will be conditioned by “store locators” offered on many vendor websites – few people want to take the risk of travelling to a general department store on the assumption it will stock the product they want – and if they’re able to confirm with the same tool that inventory is indeed available at a nearby location, even better.

At this point, new options come into play. If the product can be reserved by the consumer so it doesn’t sell out before they arrive, they may well register for that. The retailer’s website or mobile app may offer a “pay now” button integrated with the device’s digital wallet – a time-pressed consumer confident in the product they’re buying will value the chance to pay from home and avoid the check-out line when picking it up.

The consumer may prefer to wait, though, if they want to evaluate the item physically. After all, there’s a lot to be learned from holding a product in your hands and feeling its weight, sensing how it’s put together – even trying it out. And remember, because they’re almost certainly carrying a mobile device with them, they may do some further research while standing in the aisle trying to make a decision checking your store’s price against others, sending a dressing-room “how does this look on me?” selfie to a friend, looking for a negative review that might stop them from making the wrong choice.

After deciding to purchase, the consumer could potentially pay immediately with the help of a tablet-armed salesperson, could use the traditional check-out process (with its variety of digital and non-digital payment options) – or could return home and order the product online, having tried it in the store.

After purchase lies another basket of opportunities:

  • Can a customer return an item by courier without paperwork?
  • Can an in-store return be processed instantly – as a quick drop-off – and funds placed back into an account without delay?
  • When the product is used up, can it be easily recycled and refurbished – and if so, will the customer be incentivized to bring it back by a digitally-delivered payment or loyalty program?
  • How will the consumer’s experience with the product be communicated, and to whom?
  • What digital points of engagement will the retailer use to turn that customer into a positive influencer, an honest source of use experience, a design collaborator for future products?

Not all of these opportunities have been fully seized yet, and certainly not by many retailers. But the fact that they are there for the taking points to the value that bricks and mortar retailers and restaurants still retain in relation to pure buy-and-ship e-Commerce vendors. Taking full advantage of them, though – and for that matter, uncovering others – requires a much more holistic understanding of the journeys that customers take before and after purchase.

Some of this understanding will come from the collection and careful analysis of data, but much of it will also come from simply talking to customers, and listening carefully and openly to the tales they tell about their problems and your product. Because the “customer experience”, like all other experiences, is a story.

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