3 ways to deliver future-focused customer experiences

Key learnings from NRF Nexus
Director, Social Media & Digital Communications

A change of scenery can provide the perfect setting to reexamine, refocus and reframe ideas. That’s exactly what senior leaders in retail marketing, technology and digital innovation did when they met at the Terranea Resort in Rancho Palos Verdes, Calif., July 26-28 for NRF Nexus, a new three-day event for those specialties to advance cutting-edge ideas for retail.

Developing the best customer experiences requires mindful leadership to effectively transform teams, scale tech and leverage new ecommerce streams that work best for a brand. Consider these three perspectives from the event on how to deliver future-focused customer experiences.

NRF Nexus 2022 recap

Take a look at more content from this year’s event in Southern California.

Disrupt ideas about tech’s capabilities

The customer that retailers meet for the first time is often a digital customer, said Tom Ward, EVP and chief ecommerce officer at Walmart U.S. While retailers pivoted to cater to their digitally savvy customers at the start of the pandemic, they now understand the digital customer is everyone with digital access, said Six Pixels Group Inc. founder Mitch Joel. As digital innovation and IT teams intersect, they’ll need to align on why new tech adoptions are best for the customer.

“The tech can oftentimes be the easiest thing,” said Gap CIO Heather Mickman. “It's the change management, adoption and using those new capabilities and extracting the value that often is the hard part.”

And depending on the retailer and its business model, there is value in a human touch from associates, said Lyle Tick, president of Buffalo Wild Wings. He believes team members are still the heroes of the dining experience, and tech helps them by freeing up their time so they can add more value for customers. But understanding new tech should not only be the IT team's job.

“If it’s not simple for the team member, it won’t be brought to life for the guest,” Tick said. Accuracy is the biggest driving factor in why customers return; BWW loyalty members are worth twice as much as non-loyalty members because their experiences can be personalized and automated to save time and create a consistent loop of service.

Publicis Groupe Chief Commerce Strategy Officer Jason Goldberg also considers the ethics of integrated technology, which he emphasized should be used as tools, not outcomes for experiences. Artificial intelligence should help drive future business strategy but retailers have a responsibility to consider the integrity of machine learning tech that might produce racial, gender or other biases. “Think about your AI governance proactively,” Goldberg said.

The customer of the future is here now

Dan Frommer, founder and editor-in-chief of The New Consumer, provided research on why the future of retail is hybrid — digital and physical retail will work in tandem because consumer habits tell us so. Consumers have hybrid work lives; according to a June 2022 consumer trends survey of more than 3,000 U.S. consumers by The New Consumer, they’re also eating plant-based alternatives, and sustainable products are a top three purchasing category for them.

“The grocery shopper of the future plans to spend more than half of their grocery shopping online,” Frommer said, leading retailers to now ask what exactly a grocery store is. What is the store’s responsibility? Do digital grocers have a responsibility to recommend healthy food? According to the consumer survey, two-thirds of Millennials believe so.

Consumers expect more accessible products, and Walmart is exploring creative ways to help customers live better and redefining convenience through offerings like the Zipline drone that drops packages at homes via parachute. The company is also rolling out an in-home delivery service expected to reach 31 million homes, where highly trained associates deliver groceries directly to customer refrigerators and pantries. Offering customers this kind of proximity and access means the same customer can be a different use case several days of the week. Walmart hopes these implementations mean customers will no longer need to choose between speed or cost.

Retail technology

Learn more about the latest innovations and consumer trends within the retail industry.

Personalization keeps customers coming back. Retailers should continue to cater to them on their preferred platform at the preferred times they are likely to take action throughout the day, whether it’s voice, social, SMS, email or something else. That level of catered service will likely stay consistent for brands, despite who their audiences are and regardless of the products and services they roll out in the future.

“You already know what your customer looks like 10 years from now,” said be radical co-founder Pascal Finette. “They’re the same, just younger.”

The metaverse is an avenue for commerce experiences

Tommaso Di Bartolo, founding partner of Awesm Ventures, said the best way to think about the metaverse is as a connection and convergence between the physical and the digital world, with experiences that can run an entire digital economy.

“You don’t play in the metaverse, you live in the metaverse,” he said. Consumers can experience a brand in the metaverse rather than being sold something; doing business in the space provides a perpetual revenue stream. Consumers are likely to pay for access over ownership and retailers can now give assets physicalness through NFTs, which provide provenance and scarcity — that’s where the value lies.

Consumer interest in owning NFTs or digital assets that can be authenticated via blockchains is growing, but Vayner3 President Avery Akkineni cautioned retailers to find where their customers are first and then build digital products around them, as experiences are not one-size-fits-all for every retailer. Akkineni believes all NFTs should be utility-based, providing some kind of practical service in the future.

Leveraging the metaverse as a platform for wellness enthusiasts made sense for Alo Yoga, a social and digital-first brand with tech-savvy customers. “If your goals and KPIs are tied to driving revenue, then your experience will be tied to that as well,” said Angelic Vendette, VP and head of marketing. “Thus, the platform you choose and the partner you choose will be tired to that.” Alo Yoga’s Roblox immersive wellness experience, Alo Sanctuary, mimics an environment where one can practice yoga with meditation and positive affirmations.

PacSun co-CEO Alfred Chang said retailers should ask themselves if the experience they’re providing is expected from the customer. Because Gen Z socializes with friends twice as much in VR as they do in physical spaces, PacSun has developed metaverse and crypto experiences that their customers are already accustomed to in real life and that allow them to express their gender identity. Chang says these offerings prove why PacSun is the lifestyle brand for them; the more time spent in those virtual spaces means the more impactful the physical store experiences will be for them.

Innovations that enhance consumer lives seamlessly don’t always have to be deployed at a large scale and can still provide value to the retailer when they are a right fit for the end user, said Mitch Joel. When creating omnichannel services, retailers should remember that people don’t buy things, they buy experiences. Delivering those memorable moments builds loyalty. “Experiences keep customers closer to us and away from competition,” Joel said.

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