Online shopping has never been more popular — and with the advent of COVID-19, it’s never been more necessary. Since the inception of e-commerce, consumers have been purchasing everything from books to automobiles across a wide variety of online retailers. But with mandated stay-at-home orders across the world, even the holdouts who have long resisted purchasing products online have adopted e-commerce to get daily essentials and other products safely delivered to the home.
36% of consumers have reported shopping online since the rise of COVID-19, an increase from 28% before the pandemic started. As consumers continue to get accustomed to working from home, receiving grocery deliveries, and conducting more of their lives online than ever before, it’s no surprise that e-commerce is projected to grow nearly 20% in 2020. The very need for online shopping throughout the pandemic is said to have even accelerated anticipated shifts in e-commerce by a full five years.
Despite the growing popularity of online shopping, consumers still desire shopping experiences that offer human connections. Over 8 out of 10 people prefer interactions with real people, with more than 70% preferring human representatives over chatbots. Even though technology has made it easier than ever before to help provide consumers with solutions as quickly as possible, individuals nevertheless want to be able to have human interactions in certain circumstances.
Considering that 96% of consumers believe that customer service is a crucial factor in brand loyalty, brands operating in the post-COVID-19 world must be equipped to balance the desire for human interaction with the progress offered by retail technology. By providing the right mix of technological solutions with the right amount of personal touches, consumers can enjoy the best of both the physical and virtual shopping experiences.
Here are four technological solutions that are bringing better human interactions to retail experiences:
Mobile ordering, delivery, and pickup
Delivery and click-and-collect retail experiences have been greatly expanded throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Nearly two-thirds of today’s shoppers want mobile and contactless pickup options for purchases, with 90% of consumers preferring home delivery options over store visits. Services like these, which have reduced the need for traditional human interaction, have been strictly necessary throughout the pandemic but can leave shoppers without the personal level of communication they desire.
Our potential customers want to feel included in the conversation and to always be in touch. The client has changed and if we want to gain and keep their attention, we need to take into account new patterns of perception.Irina Vasilenko, Product Manager, Retail and eCommerce, Ciklum
Combining the seamless experience of online shopping with the personalised touch of in-person retail, AT&T provides its customers with video-based remote setup options. After a customer receives a contactless delivery, a customer service representative remains available nearby to assist with the product setup over a live video chat.
Not only do experiences like these help ensure that a customer is satisfied with a purchase, but they also allow customers to put a human face to a product. And because video chat can be integrated into nearly any product or service, brands offering physical or digital products can extend the same type of service to its customers anywhere on earth.
Always on and always available, chatbots are among the most popular forms of retail automation. As of 2019, 23% of service organisations relied on chatbots to greet customers as they call, provide a certain level of self-service, or gather information before moving to a human agent. COVID-19 has served as an accelerant towards chatbot adoption, with more brands seeking to invest in chatbot technology as a result of the pandemic.
Just because a chatbot is a product of automation doesn’t mean it has to sound like a robot. Just a few small tweaks to a chatbot can help it sound or behave like an average human.
Selecting a human voice for a chatbot, much like the ones used by Alexa or Siri, can help make it seem as if a user is interacting with a real person. Integrating displays of emotion or slang can also allow bridging the gap between the uncanny valley by having the software speak in the common vernacular.
One of the best ways of building brand loyalty is through providing a highly-personalized shopping experience. Considering the sheer number of brands competing for a consumer’s attention, it’s more important than ever before to leave customers with a positive impression. It’s no wonder that 70% of millennials are willing to let retail brands track their shopping behaviours to deliver an improved shopping experience.
Providing consumers with a highly-personalized retail experience can help deliver a more human experience, building upon an individual’s tastes or interests. Beauty retailer Sephora, for instance, combines its mobile shopping app with an in-store companion to help users check the stock of a retail location and book reservations for fashion consultations. By making it easy and convenient for users to get personalised product recommendations that translate to both the real and virtual worlds, consumers can experience the human touch in a mostly digital setting.
AI modelling works by knowing the consumer better than they know themselves. The most conscious of us are well aware of how conditioned our behaviour is, and how many unconscious influences there are on our decision-making. But AI acts completely without bias. Moreover, it can predict your desire to buy before you even realise it yourself.Irina Vasilenko, Product Manager, Retail and eCommerce, Ciklum
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown a bright light on the need for stringent safety measures to maintain public health. Whether it’s through social distancing, handwashing, or in-store capacity limits, retailers have adapted to challenging situations to provide customers with safe and trustworthy services.
Even after the pandemic subsides, public health measures will remain in the mind of the consumer. Considering that consumers are more mindful than ever before about shopping health consciously, delivering an experience that emphasises health and safety can help consumers feel better about engaging with a particular retailer.
When combined with AI, intelligent payment systems make it possible for customers to purchase goods without ever interacting with a traditional checkout automatically. Machine learning also helps reduce the threat of retail fraud, ensuring that transactions are approved and legitimate before posting.James Lennon, Product Director, Ciklum
In physical retail environments, humans should be expected to continue carrying out high levels of hygienic maintenance and other public health measures such as electronic temperature checks. Even though some of these activities can be automated through body scanners or disinfecting robots, they can nevertheless lend a human touch to the retail experience by demonstrating a commitment to providing a safe and healthy shopping environment.
Contactless operations can also continue to provide human-level customer service. In addition to physical barriers such as plexiglass shields, wireless payment options allow consumers to avoid interacting with high-touch surfaces. By augmenting the shopping experience with a process that’s both safe and convenient, customers can enjoy human interactions without having to worry about taking unnecessary risks.
Retail technology with the human touch
Technology may not replace each human interaction. Still, many of today’s most popular retail technology solutions make it easy to foster personalised experiences before a customer interacts with a person. From chatbots to wireless payments, shopping experiences, both in-store and online can provide consumers with the level of comfort, care, and attention they’ve come to expect from their favourite brands. By using technology to personalise the retail experience, consumers will be delighted by both the efficiency of retail tech and the individual attention that can only be gained through a more human experience.
Ciklum’s digital commerce experts deliver innovative and highly personalised e-commerce solutions. For an in-store or digital retail experience with the right level of human touch, contact Ciklum today!