Top Retail Customer Experience Trends for 2023
Updated: Mar 3
The year is already in full swing. As with every year, 2023 promises to be an exciting one in retail–and a successful one for those retailers with sound customer experience strategies. We’ve discussed before why customer experience (CX) should be a priority. Knowing where to focus your CX efforts is equally important. It’s an always-growing part of the retail landscape, so having experts on your side to navigate the rapidly changing world of retail customer experience is invaluable.
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At Brilliant Workplaces, we have a commitment to learning and understanding the current trends in retail and many other industries. By attending various webinars, reading articles from publications like Progressive Grocer, Food and Beverage Insider and the Customer Experience Professionals Association, and interacting in real-time with countless companies and customers, we’re able to share valuable insights on these highly important trends in retail CX for 2023.
Personalization and Rewards
Treating customers as individuals, rather than numbers, is a trend that never goes out of style. Customers want organizations to understand who they are and what challenges they face. They want retailers to make it easy for them to find solutions that fit their individual needs.
While customers are indeed more than just numbers, we can use numbers to enhance personalization efforts. In today’s digital climate, businesses have robust data that can be leveraged to create personalized experiences. And new technologies can automate processes so that customers feel as though solutions are tailored to them.
Among the most impactful ways to personalize an experience is catering it to your customers’ culture. Humans want to feel more connected to those around them, even if they’re online. Businesses that consider culture, language and inclusion in their customer experience strategy will be better equipped to win hearts and minds because customers will see themselves within the brand.
Rewards are also a key element of personalization. When a customer receives exclusive pricing offers simply for being in a loyalty program, or they get coupons in the mail for products they purchase frequently, a positive relationship is strengthened.
ArtificiaI Intelligence and Automation
Communicating personalized offers is only becoming easier thanks to tools made possible by artificial intelligence and automation. There’s no need to manually create a unique email or push notification for each customer. By building a framework with dynamic elements coded in, individualized messages—or even entire campaigns—can be triggered based on where a customer is in the CX journey, a recent purchase they made or an item left in their online cart.
According to Zendesk’s annual report on CX trends, business leaders are turning to artificial intelligence to improve CX. Through tools like chatbots and automated customer service calls,
“57 percent plan to increase their AI budgets by at least 25 percent.”
Anything that can help satisfy customers faster is a good thing. The trick is to make sure your AI is doing that and not creating negative experiences like making customers feel that they can’t talk to a human when they need to. AI technology is a work in progress, but its potential efficiency is an obvious attraction to businesses and consumers alike.
As challenging as it can be to manage existing touchpoints to ensure each represents a positive customer experience, retailers are also seeking to add more touchpoints to keep customers engaged. One such trend many companies are adding is gamification.
According to Investopedia, “gamification describes the incentivization of people's engagement in non-game contexts and activities by using game-style mechanics.” For example, a grocery retailer can employ gamification in their customer loyalty program by offering extra reward points for making a certain number of purchases in a given product category, or from a brand partner in a specified period of time. Customers opt in and are then motivated to return, interact and meet the goals.
With greater amounts of data available as a result of digital interactions comes a greater ability to use that data for the good of the customer. Companies are always seeking ways to better understand core customers and core employees to drive growth. This year is no different. Why play guessing games when you can directly tie data into operational steps to make customer experience improvements?
One relatively easy example of enhancing retail customer experience is A/B testing. Presenting two or more different messages to relatively equal audiences in emails, social posts or on the web can show clear-cut results of what works and what doesn't. For example, which offer messaging in an email subject line that customers engaged with more helps point the company in a direction that will logically appeal to more people in future email sends—and help improve customer experience.
We can’t discuss using data without also discussing the growing trend of data transparency. Customers may be willing to provide data to companies, but they understandably want to know how that data will be used before they share it. According to McKinsey,
87 percent of customers “said they would not do business with a company if they had concerns about its security practices.”
Being fully transparent about data practices is therefore an essential part of CX.
Empathy, Trust and Transparency
Quantitative examples are fantastic ways to find tangible places to improve CX. Less tangible attributes of your company’s CX strategy—and EX strategy—should also be examined.
The two-way street connecting the company and customers only works when obstacles are removed. That means clear, honest communication. Keeping people informed, being transparent and having their interests in mind is a winning strategy for this year (and beyond).
A little empathy can go a long way. Cultivating such empathy begins when you get perspective about what a customer or employee might be feeling and thinking, and then developing strategies that truly get to what someone might be going through.
What better way to make sure your product meets a customer’s need than to do whatever is necessary to understand that need.
As wonderful as new technologies are, there’s no replacing the human element. Retail customer experience is a factor of all of the people involved, not just the customers. When I worked in corporate customer service, it became clear that without focusing on the employee experience (EX) and culture, you will never get a truly exceptional customer experience. From the retail store associate to the developers working on the website, engaged and empowered employees are responsible for the day-to-day work that all funnels into the customer experience. And it shows.
Resilience strategies are not pizza or doughnuts in the breakroom or a random thank you. Overcoming burnout and forging connections takes focus and work with a purposeful strategy. As in customer experience, employee experience seeks to find ways to understand what your employees need at the moment through focus groups, surveys and whatever other means may be necessary.
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Diversity, Inclusion and Equity
Part and parcel of earning trust and focusing on the human element are diversity, inclusion and equity. Whether a person is working for your organization or shopping in your store, they want to know they’re accepted for who they are.
Many retailers are empowering their teams by creating internal groups where like-minded employees can come together to make a difference within the organization. From a customer standpoint, diversity, equity and inclusion should be evident every time they visit your store through a product assortment that caters to all audiences, to the diversity of the team members working.
Social responsibility extends far beyond the doors of your store to the communities your customers live in and the world at large. Continuing a trend from previous years, customer experience must include being a steward of the environment by cutting down on waste, investing in electric vehicles for your fleet, switching to recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging and many other sustainability efforts.
Customer Health and Wellness
As with the health of the planet, prioritizing customer health is key, too. A lot of companies focus on marketing health and wellness at the beginning of the year to capitalize on New Year’s resolutions but having offerings that appeal to all different diets and meal-planning strategies at all times of the year will help show customers you’re serious about support their health.
Grocery retailers and food service companies, for example, are focusing more than ever on increasing offerings of seasonal produce, plant-based options, alcohol-free mocktails and more.
And healthcare providers are making it easier for patients to prioritize their own health with more options for no-appointment-necessary clinic visits or telehealth appointments.
Omnichannel Customer Experiences
The past couple of years have seen an understandable uptick in the importance of digital customer experience. That trend will continue in 2023 and certainly beyond as we go about our always-connected lives. A great digital experience can’t come at the expense of in-person interaction. Customers expect the same quality across every channel. Ensuring consistency whether a customer is online, in-store or receiving an order or communication piece at home is an absolute must.
End-to-End CX Journeys
While focusing on omnichannel CX involves crafting memorable experiences in each individual channel, it doesn’t mean those channels are mutually exclusive. They’re all part of the same journey. The companies that ensure positive interactions and reduce friction before, during and after purchase will be this year’s leaders in CX…and perhaps next year’s CX trendsetters.
Customer Experience 101: Getting started with your CX program
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Suzanne Olson is the Owner and Chief Experience Architect of Brilliant Workplaces, a consulting firm specializing in listening to customer needs, and designing experiences that build loyalty. Suzanne can help you design a strategy to keep your customers delighted and save you time. Email at Suzanne@brilliantworkplaces.com to discuss more.
Photo by: Mike Petrucci