The UK high street has been a changing landscape for some time. Add in a pandemic, and you’ve got a recipe for potential disaster. Case in point, in May 2021, the British Retail Consortium reported a 77.8% year-on-year decline in footfall across the high street.
Since the COVID-19 outbreak began, many of the most beloved retailers have gone into administration; just over a year ago, the Arcadia Group – including Topshop, Topman, and Miss Selfridge – closed for good, and this shift has left the high street looking more and more desolate. However, while many physical shops have been forced to look at new and innovative ways to keep interest in an in-store experience, the e-commerce market has quickly adapted to the challenges, and demand continues to grow as a result.
On a further positive note, e-commerce first businesses are now looking at what impact can be made with a physical presence. Amazon, the world’s largest e-commerce site, continues to push on with the opening of physical stores around the globe. It’s a trend that seems to be catching on with the likes of Gymshark and The Boohoo Group joining the movement. It will be interesting to see the innovative approaches they take to a more traditional channel.
Online shopping has seen a 22% year-on-year increase since the pandemic started, so many UK consumers have evidently taken the transformation in their stride. Ordering products online — such as clothing, cosmetics, games, and homeware — has become the norm. This has created a gap in the market for new features and offerings in customer service: what can be done to handle the increased communication volumes driven by digital activity? How can we begin to replicate in-store experiences so that the customers leave with positive shopping experiences that go beyond a few clicks?
The Interactive Digital Experience
Most of us by now have used a chat bot or live chat, but could it be time to also make co-browsing, and virtual agents commonplace? Almost 40% of internet users prefer interacting with a chatbot instead of a virtual agent. Still, there are many ways to implement one of these systems into your online customer service setup.
When a customer is browsing on your website and has a question about your products or services, they may be able to seek support through a live chat/bot feature or hesitate to interact at all. However, retail firms have the opportunity to take this to the next level: “Hi there, are you looking for something specific today? Here’s something to match the jeans in your basket. Just let me know if you’d like to ask any questions or see some recommendations.” So now, through pro-active chat there can be an in-store experience online.
Whilst chatbots can deal with numerous customer concerns, co-browsing or virtual personal shopping is a tool that allows online agents to help consumers select the right products in real-time. For example, when a customer is searching for products on your site, a live agent will be able to see their active screen and look at products alongside them simultaneously.
One of the significant advantages is that it allows agents to play a vital role in the customer journey. During this process, the agent can offer technical support, recommendations, upselling options, and deal with customer onboarding (to membership schemes and the like). In addition, as a retailer, you can install co-browsing platforms or add-ons into your existing online offering to give customers an entirely new—more immersive—experience.
Further to co-browsing, we saw the rise of live video consultations. High-end purchases often require a more detailed shopping experience, which is often tricky online. Allowing customers to speak to an advisor “face to face” can make that daunting proposition easier. As highlighted by the Retail Times, “demand for live video consultations sees no let-up as physical retail reopens.” It is a great option where co-browsing may not be suitable, or the customer is looking for that next level of service.
These kinds of tools are enabling market “disruptors” to have an impact on traditional practice. Take the world of estate agents – video consultations for viewings and beyond are becoming standard with the likes of Strike and Purple Bricks. As well as making the UX as simple as possible, it also enables the organisations to grow and manage resources in markets previously out of reach.
Future Proof your Experienced Team
As many stores close, redundancies unfortunately follow, and brand-loyal and highly experienced staff members are lost, the value of which can be immense. Yet, the need for online customer service advisors still exists. Taking the time to reposition your talent elsewhere could be the answer; after all, customer-facing service roles have a plethora of skills ideal for delivering an in-store experience digitally. These individuals are well-versed in all your brand’s values, understand customers’ needs, and are comfortable sharing their expertise with the people who need it most.
Making these staff members brand ambassadors and allowing them to play a vital role in this new chapter of your company sounds great, right? As highlighted above, there are means in which to enhance your online customer support, an ideal place for such team members.
As Retail Week stated, “Those that get it right will secure the talent that can lead their business into an uncertain – but exciting – future.”