NRF, one of the first big retail shows of the year, always marks a kind of new beginning. The show collects the insights from the past year, and reframes them with an eye on the future. As we know, this past year marked a particularly turbulent time for retailers. There were companies that were forced to shut their doors while others saw huge spikes in sales. Attending NRF 2021, Kibo was reminded that the changes we’ve seen take effect recently won’t all last forever, and that the smart brands are balancing how to survive now with how to thrive in the future.
The accelerated online shopping of 2020 is here to stay, but that doesn’t mean the pace of growth will stay the same. Rather, shoppers in 2021 will want a good omnichannel experience that’s streamlined and seamless.
Here are a few other things we learned at NRF that will help you in the coming year.
Live Your Values End to End
During NRF 2021, we were reminded that consumers are shopping with their values top of mind. As a result, brands are focused on their corporate mission and brand values more than ever. What used to feel like a side project for many brand marketing teams, must now be a core component of the customer experience.
Recent news that touched upon how certain brand advertising might be funding hate speech showcases just how pertinent it is for all companies to focus on values across every channel. Although those brands surely have a firm stance against hate speech, their larger teams were not diligent enough in upholding that value in their everyday operations. Legacy brands must live up to the value-driven practices followed by Tom’s, Warby Parker, and Kenneth Cole, who, along with a number of startups, keep diversity, inclusion, sustainability, and charity at the top of their values list.
Trust Is Earned Over Time and Across Touchpoints
This concept of living your values as a brand intertwined with another big theme at NRF 2021: the idea of creating a trusting relationship with consumers. From collecting data to personalizing experiences, people will engage much more openly with brands when trust is earned over time and when communication is made clear.
Janey Whiteside, the Chief Customer Officer at Walmart, spoke about new solutions like Express Delivery that many other retailers may launch in 2021 as an example. By extension, simply adding BOPIS to a website without any explanation might reduce uptake. Or worse, many brands with closed storefronts suddenly had BOPIS as their only option, but didn’t provide enough information to consumers to deliver a truly good fulfillment experience.
The lack of connection between each customer touchpoint hurt some brands, while others, like Dick’s Sporting Goods, gained new fans for their excellent planning and execution.
Use Data to Reduce In-Store Hurdles
On one NRF 2021 panel, the CTO and Cofounder of Scentbird, an online-only fragrance subscription box company, shared their heartening story of the pandemic. With no stores open for people to try their fragrances, they had to ensure that people would feel comfortable buying perfume that they hadn’t tried before online. The task required a rethink of their sales and returns process, in order to ensure that it was very easy to test fragrances and return them with no cost and little hassle.
Consumers will expect that same ease of engagement when stores do reopen so brands will need to think about what they can do with the data they collected online these past few months. Namely, how they can leverage it to speed up the customer journey in store. Sephora, for example, installed kiosks in their stores so loyalty members can access their favorite products and points while shopping. Fleet Feet, a sneaker retailer, scans a person’s feet to find their perfect shoe, but also creates a reason for someone to always be “logged-in,” helping form a better connection between offline and online experiences.
Get Personal With Exclusivity
All companies know that a logged-in customer is far more valuable than the typical unidentified customer. But on many sites, people don’t log in right away, and so personalization can be limited in its functionality. Several panels during NRF 2021 talked about better ways to make that logged-in connection with customers early and often.
One example concerned B2B companies, where the value to logging in is clear, as many online sites for B2B buyers offer specialized pricing for current and past customers. Incentivizing logging in shows up in its own way in the B2C space through things like exclusive pricing and premium products. Travel and hotel sites too often did the same for their loyalty members pre-pandemic.
Essentially, offering elements related to exclusivity—from early buying opportunities to extra loyalty points—is the key to better personalization, and ultimately higher lifetime value.
Your Omnichannel Experiences Should Drive Value
We need to all remember that despite the pandemic, it’s not just about digital. In Q3 2020, digital sales accounted for only 14.3% of all sales in the United States. That means that four out of every five dollars spent in the United States last year did not happen on digital channels. For any digital sophistication to really move the needle, it will need to change the store experience as much as it’s changed the online one.
While omnichannel used to mean “all digital channels,” more and more it will also include the offline, in-store experience. Here, the message at NRF 2021 was clear: 2021 is the year to merge the online and offline into one. There were many interesting concepts discussed in different NRF sessions that touched upon this. For example, big box stores could use mobile push promotions to move shoppers to new parts of the store that they often skipped over before. Suddenly a father shopping for tools sees that the store also sells lamps and rugs, and brings his family in the next time he goes to the store. The goal here is not just to drive behavior, but to drive value—to ensure that each interaction gives as much to the consumer as it does to the brand.
To that end, one exciting element in the “new normal” that we’ll start to experience later this year is the return to real interaction with associates in stores. Places like Trader Joe’s and Soul Cycle, often praised for their excellent in-person experiences, can serve as models for other businesses that look to make connections with consumers that are excited to be back in store. From in-person concierges to help with shopping needs to in-store events to bring shoppers together, the options will be nearly as varied as the stores we’ll be shopping at.
Delivering a Great Customer Experience in 2021
Putting these puzzle pieces together may sound like a lot of upfront work, but they are all connected. When brands think about their marketing and commerce approach from the customer perspective, they can see how the above elements can merge with added clarity. Living your values, connecting the digital and in store, focusing on data-driven personalization, and delivering a great customer experience are all best practices that have been around for a long time, and that can serve you doubly in the coming months.
Written by Malay Sapra, Digital Experience Consultant, Kibo Commerce