Happy new year!

02. January 2018, Editorial

We talk to voice-activated assistants, chat with robots and only discover what we've always wanted to have thanks to product recommendations. Our retail outlook.


5 To-dos
Artificial Intelligence
same-day delivery
voice search

2018 will finally deliver what the past few years have been promising: at long last we will see the bricks and mortar and online sectors fully converge, virtual assistants will be in daily use and delivery times that are tailored to the customer are on their way. For retailers, showing that they can provide a coherent customer journey throughout the various communication channels will decide their fate. The latest estimates see the online retail segment swelling to USD 460 billion in 2018 – more than half the revenue of the automotive industry. But it is not just the number of customers that is rising. Competition is growing all the time as well. Online and bricks and mortar retailers have never seen such strong competition as they did this year. Which is why we have come up with five to-dos.

1. And another thing.

Back in the day, the customer experience started at the entrance to the store and ended at the cash desk. Easy peasy. Today it starts with a quick scroll in bed, continues a couple of days later over lunch and then at some point the week after concludes with a trip to a store. Well, that’s the theory anyway. However long the customer journey lasts, and wherever it leads, retailers have to take consumers by the hand and accompany them every step of the way. At the POS, in the online store, in their own app, and other peoples’ apps such as Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook. In short, everywhere. And everywhere all at the same time. Which is why the time is ripe for omnichannel marketing in 2018. Yes, we’ve been talking about it for a while now, but this time there really is no way round it. According to Google, these days 85 percent of purchases start on one device and are completed on another. Which makes a uniform strategy all the more important. Even with a multitude of different sales channels, retailers need to offer a single shopping experience that does not differentiate between online and offline sales. (more) The whole sales process is becoming more complicated, but only from an internal perspective. On the outside, everything is as straightforward as it ever was. Click, click, buy.

2. You cannot be serious!

There is nothing new about the idea of robots playing a part in our everyday lives. But what is new is that we can now communicate with them completely normally. “Hi, is that grey shirt in stock at my favourite store?” Or “When is that sparkling wine in the pink bottle back in stock?” Chatbots – programs that talk to customers via text massage – are linked to databases that filter appropriate answers to questions just like these. Until now, chatting with robots was largely confined to standard pieces of information embedded in messenger services such as Slack and Facebook. At present, this approach is applied wherever quick access to information is paramount, such as in online retailing and customer support services. Experts believe that more than two thirds of all retail interactions will take place without any personal contact whatsoever by 2020. In light of this development, work on making these systems more intelligent is gathering pace. Artificial intelligence (AI) is the watchword here. With the help of big data, chatbots can recall conversations with specific customers and set up cross links. But we will still encounter real-life employees from time to time. Why? We all need a helping hand from time to time when it comes to matters of taste!

“Last time you bought those trousers in M because S was a bit on the small side. Should I buy you this cut in medium again?”

3. As you like it.

Back to AI now: not only does it make shopping a more personalised experience for customers, because all of their preferences and requirements are known to the system and these data are squirreled away ready to use again. In future, artificial intelligence will be in a position to make relatively accurate predictions – customers will not even realise which product they want to have next, but bots will. Based on previous purchases, location and demographic criteria, bots will be able to calculate what will inevitably end up in people’s shopping baskets. Bullseye!

4. We have to talk.

When it comes down to it, everyone loves convenience. Never again will we have to go out hunting for products; they will find us instead. In 2018 we can all give up typing, with “voice search and purchases” set to become a huge topic. 40 percent of millennials (born between 1980 and 2000) have used Siri, Alexa or one of the alternatives to make a purchase at least once. In response to this trend, American retailer Kohl’s integrated a voice search into its app in 2017. Instead of laboriously typing in searches like “home spa accessories”, all you have to do is say the words out loud. Quick and easy. And it is millennials who are the driving force behind many of today’s developments. After all, they are the first generation to grow up as semi-digital natives at the very least, demanding from retail the same opportunities that run through every other aspect of their lives: it has to be possible to do everything digitally. What is going to happen when Gen Z starts calling the shots?

5. Wait. Or not.

When a consumer places an order the transaction is concluded, but the customer journey is not. It continues until they receive their parcel. Ideally, the journey is relatively short, since delivery times still go a long way towards determining the success of a business. So how is a small outfit supposed to make it against the big boys who are in a position to offer same-day delivery. It’s hard. But not impossible. Cooperation with parcel carriers who offer delivery services outside standard business hours is one option. This increases the likelihood of a parcel being dispatched on the same day, even if it isn’t until the evening. Or you do what Fetchr is doing in Dubai – the carrier has found a particularly pragmatic solution to the eternal “Sorry we missed you” problem. Using an app and GPS data, it can track down the customer’s precise whereabouts and take the parcel to them, wherever they are at that particular moment. There’s a parcel to go with the coffee and cake at a café – and the certainty that the shopping journey has come to an excellent conclusion.

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