How to improve the online retail experience for long lasting customer engagement

The world of retail may have never felt quite so volatile. Are we opening or closing? Are shoppers happily spending or tightening their purse strings? Are people hesitant and scared or in desperate need for some form of retail therapy normality? With peak shopping season just round the corner (Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Christmas, New Year Sales), brands and retailers are caught in a catch-22 where any strategy they implement or any breaking news could save them from or send them into economic turmoil.

33% of eCommerce companies have already stated they are opting out of peak season activities this year versus only 6% the previous year, demonstrating the reluctance and uncertainty about consumer behaviour, even ahead of the most traditionally fruitful and predictable time of the year.

Most of us can agree that our shopping habits have taken a sharp turn this year, becoming more virtual that ever, and the results are in to confirm the feeling. The UK alone saw online retail sales at 27.5% in September, up from the 20.1% reported in February. These are unusual times, of course, but some would argue that average consumer behaviour has been evolving for a long time now. Death of the high street, rise of the untethered shopper – should we be more used to and more prepared for changing behaviours?

Aiming for a Moving Target

It’s sometimes odd to think we group together millions of people into one general concept – Consumers – to try and predict constantly evolving behaviours, attitudes, and desires. But if the collective is dynamic and evolving, so should the experiences they’re offered too. Brands and retailers today are tasked with capturing the attention of the surfing consumer generation always moving between devices, shops and platforms to find the best fit, emphasising even more the need to provide agile, adaptable solutions. Meanwhile, across markets Customer Engagement and Loyalty strategies are often static, or still very much based on the more traditional bases of extrinsic motivation, offering rewards and discounts despite consumers seeking more. McKinsey’s analysis of over 9000 consumers across loyalty programmes of 9 sectors found that 58% are seeking emotional, social and community benefits rather than those more rational ones.

So another way to look at the peak transactions expected in the next few weeks and months, is that it will also be an impressionable time for consumers. Stressed out, fed up, missing loved ones, or eager for reunions – their shopping this year will be fuelled on emotions, so the experiences they go through trying to get from perusing to purchase could have the power to sour or sweeten their engagement with brands.

Transformative customer engagement and loyalty experiences can turn passive, seasonal one-off shoppers into active and loyal brand ambassadors at a time when customer retention could make all the difference moving into 2021.

Tapping into new expectations

For the modern consumer, the standard for a seamless experience is high. It should be – has to be – omnichannel, delivering a holistic view of the single customer across platforms to truly understand their behavioural patterns, with exclusive, personalised, relevant communications and offers, and a customer-centric customer service that evokes trust and loyalty.

This all helps to facilitate the consumer accessing what they’re looking for, however and whenever they need to, but to continue elevating the experience, it’s crucial to consider the people at the centre of the transaction. Considering different profiles and different consumer types is vital in order to understand how to speak to, capture and retain them in the long run.

Recent Euromonitor research went beyond typical demographic-based segmentation to focus more on shared traits and preferences, accounting for the rapidly changing political, social, and online landscapes.

Despite these three types having their distinct differences, they represent a commonality of this new generation of consumer that is continuing to evolve and develop, particularly this year. Integration of care, consideration and concern regarding social, community, and global issues into brand values and communication alongside provision of genuinely enjoyable experiences appears to be what the growing number of consumers are searching for.

A Customer is Not Just for Christmas

We are equipped with so much data, information and insight into consumers, the ultimate gesture for retaining loyal customers is simply to recognise their trust by integrating our understanding and value of them into their everyday experiences and touchpoints with the brand.

Activate, inspire and engage the one-time shopper who arrives on your website looking for a Christmas present with an experience that enables their journey and makes them feel just as valued as a long-term friend of the brand. It may just be enough to transform the relationship into one for all seasons.