It’s no secret that the pandemic has radically altered the ways in which consumers shop, forcing brands to rethink how they can deliver a superior customer experience when sales are largely shifting to ecommerce. Across industries, retailers continue to experience increased demand through their online channels—a demand that’s expected to become the new norm.
PwC’s 2020 Global Consumer Insights Survey found that 86% of surveyed consumers intend to continue shopping online and by phone even once social distancing measures are removed.
Despite shopping in-store less and less, consumers maintain high expectations for the retailers they buy from. As they head into the new year, brands have the option of either evolving their online offerings in stride with consumers’ changing preferences or falling behind the competition.
The shift to online shopping may present some initial stumbling blocks to retail operations, but there are solutions for staying efficient, such as investing in automation and AI.
Automation technologies can help brands compensate for the in-person experience and effectively inspire greater customer loyalty than their digital channels had been able to achieve in the past.
Not only will the customer experience improve, but also that of employees who are hustling to keep up with influxes of customers’ ecommerce orders and service inquiries. When incorporated into retail operations, automation technologies deliver the following benefits to brands as they navigate the changing retail landscape for 2021 and beyond.
In the absence of in-store associates for consumers to discuss purchasing decisions with or talk through returns, retailers can expect the demand on call centers to be high, which can lead to long wait times that risk turning shoppers away if a representative is expected to be available for every request.
To avoid this risk, retailers can deploy an automation program equipped with chatbot technologies to field inbounds. Such technologies are capable of handling straightforward tasks like producing a return label based on a customer’s order information without the need for human intervention, and they can recognize when a situation needs to be elevated to employees.
With technology able to discern which scenarios warrant employees’ attention, customers receive attentive representatives who can resolve their issues sooner.
Deploying automation software to fulfill certain requests can also earn favor from customers; according to Windstream Enterprise, 68% of surveyed customers are more likely to shop at a retailer that offers automated returns versus ones that don’t.
Should an issue be elevated to a human representative, automation can still support the interaction to facilitate productivity. Based on the initial information fielded by the chatbot, automation software can create prompts for the employee to guide and expedite the conversation.
Then, to cut down on call time further, automation can work in the background to pull relevant customer information for the retail employee so that time isn’t wasted searching through files, giving both the customer and employee time back in their day to focus on other matters.
As customers shift their shopping to digital platforms, retailers need to ensure they have the internal tools in place for accommodating increased demand through those channels.
As orders flood in online, employees in fulfillment centers are tasked with processing accompanying influxes in paperwork, like invoice drafting and return processing, which can quickly become overwhelming. This is the exact type of process that automation can help with.
Capable of streamlining tedious processes such as fielding inbound inquiries and managing customer data, automation enables retail workers to work more productively in their roles.
For example, bots can work alongside employees to automatically input relevant customer information into an invoice, so that employees don’t need to fill out the forms manually.
By ensuring customer requests are handled in an organized, efficient manner, automating back-office retail processes also prevents employee burnout—a pressing issue given that, in a recent Monster survey, 69% of employees reported experiencing burnout symptoms (e.g., exhaustion, anxiety) while working from home.
Automation frees employees of tedious tasks so they can focus on the more strategic, creative, and customer-facing activities that keep individuals satisfied in their roles.
Especially while employees are away from traditional office resources, automated assistants can make it easier for employees to uphold standards of excellence despite disruption as their workloads will become more manageable.
With shopping largely online nowadays, brands have increased opportunity for collecting and actioning customer insights. With this data, retailers can finetune the online experience to accommodate consumers’ apparent preferences.
Automation and AI can be programed to comb through consumer feedback and identify common concerns, or those with demands that necessitate employee attention.
For example, with the right AI-enabled automation program in place, retailers will receive a notification from their platform to inform them of several customer issues regarding a specific product.
Using this data, the retailer can proactively address the issue before it becomes a larger customer service problem—thus driving loyalty and preventing brand erosion. This setup enables retailers to keep a pulse on customers’ and prospects’ attitudes of the brand without dedicating hours of employees’ time to the task.
Instead, employees will have the time to leverage those insights to fuel loyalty programs and personalization strategies.
As the shopping experience continues to remain predominantly online, retailers run the risk of becoming overwhelmed with meeting shoppers’ evolving demands.
However, with the right solutions—such as a combination of automation, chatbots, and AI—to support day-to-day operations, brands can remain agile and profitable in fluctuating retail landscapes, dedicating their energy and resources towards responding quickly and strategically to market changes instead of tedious tasks that only slow them down.
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