Back-to-school shopping season is in full swing, but thanks in part to Amazon Prime Day being pushed up nearly a month this year, millions of consumers have a head start as they prepare for a brand new academic year. In fact, it’s estimated that 29 million households across the U.S. will spend a total of $27.6 billion on supplies this year.
Behind holiday shopping season, which brought in $1 trillion in retail sales in 2017, back-to-school is the second largest shopping event of the year, giving retailers a chance to take advantage of the inevitable increase in in-store and online traffic. However, it’s not as simple as increased volume = increased sales. Retailers will have to be prepared to satisfy a range of evolving customer demands and preferences to succeed during back-to-school season.
These are the top three considerations retailers should keep in mind to ensure satisfaction among all customers this back-to-school shopping season, from millennials to Gen X to in-store and mobile shoppers.
Your employees are your greatest brand ambassadors
Shopping in physical stores will prevail over online shopping this season, with 57% of back-to-school spend anticipated to take place in store. Retailers should consider increased integration of emerging technologies like automation, AI, and chatbots advancements to improve in-store CX and to enhance the capabilities of frontline staff.
For example, companies like Oasis are utilizing tech to enhance the in-store experience by providing sales associates with iPads. While on the store floor, employees are armed with the ability to give customers immediate, accurate and updated product information while also serving as a mobile cash register, making it easy for associates to ring up customers from any location within the store (eliminating one of the common customer pain points, long lines!). If a product or item is out of stock, staff can instantly place an online order for a customer and have it shipped to their home. As the adoption of similar tools heighten, employee training to leverage these tech touchpoints must be a top priority for retail brands.
It’s important to keep employees engaged throughout the training process so that they’re able to effectively apply their learnings on-site. A great way to achieve this is to offer personalized training opportunities that are tailored to an employee’s individual role and responsibilities. Offering learning opportunities that can be accessed on-demand in the form of MOOCs (Massive Open Online Courses) is a great way to ensure that training tools are easily accessible to employees on a continuous basis, but especially ahead of busy shopping seasons like back-to-school season. Employees will appreciate the flexibility that these tools offer and be less inclined to view training as a rigid requirement and more as an asset.
It’s equally important to offer in-person training opportunities, especially in retail. Situational trainings should address a range of potential customer inquiries or interactions that could occur in-store, and offer guidelines on how employees should respond. A great proactive measure to take ahead of a busy shopping season like back-to-school season is to identify the most popularly shopped products for that season and ensure that employees are knowledgeable of product descriptions, prices, and back-stock locations. Scenarios that cannot be predicted or prepped for are bound to happen, but proactively arming employees with the knowledge and resources to be able to respond to customer questions, issues and requests is the best way to cover your bases.
Consumers Expect Frictionless Commerce
Customers are expected to use their devices during back-to-school shopping season to access websites, look for prices, and collect coupons and discounts versus actually making a purchase. However, this doesn’t mean that a retailer’s digital presence should be neglected.
Omnichannel retail focuses on a cohesive user experience for customers that is necessary to achieving customer satisfaction at all levels. As shoppers are more likely to make a purchase when engaging with a brand on multiple channels, it’s critical that retailers are prioritizing all touchpoints from the website to brick-and-mortar stores to social media accounts.
Tailoring these platforms based on the behavioral patterns of shoppers is a challenge and in order to create experiences that cater to the needs of different shopper profiles, brands need to be willing to offer multiple options that lead to the same outcome. For example, while one customer might prefer to speak with an agent to facilitate a return, another may find it more convenient to connect with a chatbot.
Bank of America is a great example of a company that is catering to the needs of multiple consumers with its online banking app that allows everything from check depositing to appointment scheduling while also offering customers with expertise from physical agents for more complex banking needs.
Automation is Useless Without the Human Touch
Chatbots offer shoppers the convenience of quick and easy responses, however, they cannot express the empathy and emotions that truly drive customer loyalty and long-term satisfaction. In the digital era, it’s necessary for retailers to offer new tech like chatbots as an alternative engagement option to stay relevant. However, it’s equally important that human interaction with these tools is considered upon integration. Instead of using these resources to replace human employees, they should be adopted with the intention to improve and supplement employees’ existing skill sets.
For example, Starbucks expertly introduced chatbot technology to enhance the capabilities of in-store staff with its mobile app that allows users to place an order using voice commands or text messaging. The chatbot then alerts the users when the order is ready along with the total cost, streamlining the customer-employee interaction that will take place in-store and allowing staff to focus solely on producing the product. While this technology is certainly creating a more convenient shopping experience, it’s important to keep in mind that regardless, without the baristas, there would be no drinks.
Proactive preparation is critical to finding success in the retail space during the back-to-school shopping season. Businesses that can establish a system that prioritizes both digital and physical consumer experiences will be sure to succeed during this busy shopping season and beyond.
Craig Reines is Chief Operating Officer at Sitel Group AsiaPac