I’m sure you’re aware that brick-and-mortar retail is in trouble and that some of the retail giants are closing hundreds of stores across the globe.
The reason why physical retail is dying isn’t that we’re all too lazy to leave our nests; it’s that the shopping experience in real life isn’t that great.
That’s why consumers are migrating online, where you can shop your way – most of the time.
With that in mind...
what do consumers want from retailers?
The future is still uncertain, but the consumers of the near future are expecting three things:
fewer barriers, and
Here are a few things consumers are expecting to see fully implemented in a few years based on the technology we already use.
Delivery when and where they want
“Retail stores will become an extension of online stores. The stores will be places where transactions are processed as ecommerce transactions allowing for immediate delivery of high-demand items or fast, in-store pickup with a setup like the Amazon Lockers.”
– Luis Fernandez, Retailer Review
But, wait a minute, Luis.
Amazon Locker might still not be a solution. According to this review by Business Insider, it took the reporter 12 times to find a working locker, and the one available was an 18-minute walk away.
And he didn’t get his package on the same day, either.
Other Amazon-powered options like Scout or Amazon Go have proven to be pretty successful at delivering things exactly when and where the consumers want them, but they’re still being tested.
What BI’s review shows is that consumers’ expectations for shipping have tightened dramatically. They don’t even want to pay for 2-day shipping anymore; they want it now.
Let’s say you’ve got 30 minutes available at 8:00 AM before you go to work or at 7:00 PM before you hit the gym. You should be able to schedule your delivery at exactly that time. And, in the near future, you will be able to choose your delivery time, not only on Amazon but on almost every ecommerce store.
Expect to see more same day delivery options such as Amazon’s scheduled delivery or UPS My Choice becoming available for ecommerce stores.
Better online customer service experiences
“You are a guest to your customer’s journey. When we call, talk, or email a sales rep, we don’t want to start the conversation over. We want this seamless conversation because if we don’t get it, that’s another opportunity for us, consumers, to switch to a different provider.”
– Josh Stewart, Consumer Reports
We all know how soul-crushing working in a retail store can be. We’ve all seen that jaded employee silently judging our every step, and that’s often the reason we end up shopping elsewhere.
That’s why, instead of focusing on hiring and burning sales reps, the future of ecommerce is hiring more online customer service agents and training them to delight your online shoppers or even potentially using your in-store staff to assist those online.
For instance, Poppin, the colorful office supplies retail store, has been leveraging live chat and video calls to help their customers to the point where 70% of them chat with an online sales rep before they make a purchase.
Goldsmiths, a UK jewelry shop, is also using live video chat to mimic the in-store experience, offering personalized one-on-one video customer support. Customers looking to purchase can now speak directly with an agent using live video. And to ease any concern, agents undergo extensive training to ensure that they know what they’re talking about.
Digital dressing rooms and curated experiences
“AR [Augmented Reality] is classic for furniture. In the future, the simulation of trying on clothes before purchase will be super realistic. VR will be used to experience reality and create an emotion in products like cars, motorbikes, and hotel rooms.”
– Arnold Siad, Sound Innovations
The beauty of virtual reality is that it enables you to put customers in a showroom, regardless of their physical location. Consumers want to see if their products really work. They need to make sure their couch is going to fit their living room. With a VR headset or an AR-powered app, you can show them how things will look.
But virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR) aren’t only for IKEA. You can also use VR to try on clothes and makeup.
Let’s take a look at Sephora. This retailer is taking advantage of AR to engage with the consumers. Sephora’s Virtual Artist brings the experience of trying out some makeup at a store to the consumers’ home. By tapping, consumers can try on and select products using AR and facial recognition.
In this review from Tom’s Guide, one of their senior writers tried it out and commented on how seamless it was. It’s not surprising, because Sephora is one retail company that has invested heavily in technology.
Over the next few years, VR shopping will become mainstream and most of the major retailers will include VR into their sales process.
Today, only a few early adopters have tested the possibilities of VR and AR in retail, but, in my opinion, VR shopping adds a ton of value to the overall shopping experience for both the retail and the consumer.
Consumers want to pay using cryptocurrency
“The future users are the new generations who are becoming exposed to digital devices from early ages; they will be completely immersed in cryptocurrency commerce. So over time this phenomenon will take over the world, and make it a better, faster, more connected place to trade in.”
– John Malcolm, Ionix Global
Most ecommerce stores are crippled by excessive point-of-sale processing fees from credit card companies or profit-eroding fees from payment processors like PayPal.
For businesses, cryptocurrencies represent a way of maximizing profits while also making the process easier and safer for customers.
Besides, now that users can filter Yelp search for businesses that accept bitcoin, it seems that consumers are looking for places where they can pay using cryptocurrency.
Also, let’s not forget that Starbucks now accepts bitcoin through third-parties and Shopify enables bitcoin payments on ecommerce purchases.
That these two giants accept cryptocurrencies means that consumers are demanding new payment methods that suit their needs.
This doesn’t mean crypto is going to take over the world. Money Insider conducted an experiment and tried to pay with gold and bitcoin in NY, and most retailers didn’t accept any, which means that while many retailers and ecommerce stores are accepting crypto, chances are you’ll still need traditional payment methods to pay at a bodega.
How should you prepare for consumer demands?
Successful brands and ecommerce businesses of the future will be those that offer three things: faster shipping, a better shopping experience, and more methods of online payment.
Things are changing fast, and being an early adopter can be scary, but it can also pay off.
Don’t sit back while your competitors reap the benefits of technology. Be bold and reap the rewards.
As a merchant looking to future-proof your business, you need to ask yourself,
“How can I become better at implementing technology solutions today?”