The real value of a unified customer experience (and why it’s actually across channels)

Published March 2, 2021


There was a time when a consumer would go into a store and impulsively buy an expensive dress or new TV. There was no smartphone to do a price comparison, no Instagram for marketing. The entire buying experience depended on what consumers saw in the store and the staff they interacted with. Unreal, right?

Today, consumers research online, price-match on smartphones while shopping in-store, and subscribe to email lists for deal offers and more. In other words, they use multiple channels to research, compare and purchase. According to a study from Harvard Business Review, 73 percent of shoppers use multiple channels in their purchasing journey.

As a retailer, if you’re not evolving and adapting to the blended online and offline touch points with your customers, you’re losing out on the majority of today’s shoppers.

What is unified customer experience retail? (And why is it actually across channels?)

The unified customer experience has become trendy in the last few years because it’s about creating experiences across “all channels” for “connected and consistent customer interactions.” And a lot of marketers have taken it to mean that you should be everywhere, at all times, for everyone—but most successful marketers will tell you that’s not possible.

A successful retail strategy isn’t about being everywhere, it’s about being where your unique customer is, identifying that mix of channels and touch points and offering the right solutions at the right time to engage with your customers.

Those interactions across your business channels—from inspiration to purchase—are called touch points, defined by SurveyMonkey as “your brand’s points of customer contact, from start to finish.” Examples of touch points include search listings, paid ads, social media, ratings and reviews, and both online and physical visits to your business. And according to a Digital Commerce 360 and Bizrate Insights survey conducted in February 2020, 78 percent of online shoppers have had a unified customer experience touch point in the last six months.

Customers no longer purchase in one single channel and they often have multiple touch points per channel before they make a purchase. Take, for example, a TV purchase. Before a customer ever walks into your store, their journey might start with a Google search for “best smart TVs 2021.” They’ll scan a few different lists online reading reviews before visiting a single retailer’s website. After they’ve decided which TV is right for them, they might sign up for a loyalty e-newsletter on the retailer’s website for a discount on a future purchase and check to see if the TV is in stock at a store near them. Finally, they pay that store a visit, speak to someone on the floor, get set up with their new TV, and use their loyalty discount at checkout. 

On that path to purchasing, this customer has had four touch points across channels: 

  1. Online (search): The Google search that showed your product in results

  2. Online (website): The visit to your website, where they sign up for a loyalty program

  3. Online (competitor research): Research to check the stock of products for local stores

  4. Offline (in-store): The visit to your store, where the in-store research, discussion and purchase take place

The value of successful unified customer experience retail strategies

Consumers who use more than one touch point in their retail journey will likely spend more, and they have a higher lifetime value.

According to an HBR study of 46,000 shoppers, “customers who used 4+ channels spent 9 percent more in the store, on average, when compared to those who used just one channel.” Another 2019 report from Ayden research revealed that, globally, cross-channel shoppers spent 30 percent more per purchase. Not only are the majority of consumers now shopping using multiple channels, but the more channels used, the higher the value of that customer (both short term and long term). Read more: Learn how Northgate Market unified their operations, creating a seamless customer experience and doubling their transaction speed.

How to create a successful unified customer experience retail strategy

Building a successful retail strategy across all of your different channels is not an easy task. Here are three steps to help simplify the complexity of retail strategy:

1. Map every touchpoint across the customer journey

According to Cisco’s The Future of Retail  report, consumers “touch” a brand an average of 56 times throughout the customer journey—from inspiration, like social media or through a paid ad, to transactions either in-store or online. In order to create a successful multichannel retail strategy, the first step is to identify those touch points across all channels used in the ideal customer journey. Start this identification and mapping process by surveying customers en masse, or by surveying your ideal customers about how they found you, how they prefer to buy from you and more.

2. Focus on digital to enhance the customer experience

The majority of the customer journey takes place online, and even more so now, as COVID-19 forces brick-and-mortar retailers to close storefronts. In addition, the more customers engage online, the more frequent their purchases become. A survey from Fluent shows that “47 percent of shoppers who engage with retailers across ten or more channels make purchases from their favorite retailer’s website at least once a week.” Asad Khosa, EMEA digital lead at NCR says, “Safety is paramount, but putting antimicrobial wash in your store isn’t going to make your customers come back. Businesses need to be bold in their transformation and shift their focus from physical to digital.”

3. Create fast, consistent, and personalized experiences

We’ve been trained by the Amazons and the Targets of the world that speed, one-click checkout and buy-online-pickup-in-store (BOPIS) are all possible from any location. It’s that expectation of a fast, consistent and personalized experience across channels that retailers need to satisfy, which takes time and technology to develop.

Possibly the hardest to achieve—but highly valuable—is the ability to effectively track a multichannel customer journey. Hardware and software, underpinned by one business service platform, can identify a customer across online and offline activity.

“Personalization is more than delivering the right results according to what users are typing into the search bar. A connected experience applies insights to deliver what users need, in real time across every channel. Customers receive relevant product recommendations, support agents help customers in their moment of need, and employees see the bigger picture to make strategic decisions.” Will Hayes, CEO, Lucidworks

BOPIS is a great example of a customer experience that spans a variety of channels. From purchase to in-store pickup, the customer is communicated with using website, email, mobile push notifications, as well as in-store at a P.O.S. Survey findings published by Doddle, revealed that “85 percent of shoppers surveyed said they made additional in-store purchases while visiting stores to pick up what they already bought online.”

Be agile, and adapt to your customer—wherever they may be

Last year was a hard year for most businesses, but it was exceptionally devastating for retailers, restaurants and small businesses. Brick-and-mortar merchants are still living in a state of limbo because of restrictions, and it’s nearly impossible to drive any meaningful business forecasting. But, what this means for retailers is that it’s more important than ever to build unified customer experiences that reach customers wherever they may be and to be agile in the ways you communicate with them.

Like any marketing, sales or business activity, whoever can build the best relationship with their customer will always win. And, as technology evolves, businesses that are adaptable and can leverage technology to better identify and communicate with their customers will be the most successful.

Loyalty points are only the tip of the iceberg.

See 6 little-known factors keeping today's consumers loyal.

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