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Festive Season Shopping: The light amidst the COVID-19 darkness   

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Excitement is in the air with the festive season around the corner! In India the festive season which starts from August extends until January and holds much promise and hope. The big difference this year is that it is the first after the pandemic struck and is expected to define how successfully we can gear up to cope with this new normal and hopefully come out tops. Around us while we see a buildup in momentum where customers take their tentative steps into the outside world and physical social watering holes are slowly opening up, the world of retail has been innovating and creating a host of solutions to draw customers out, reward loyalists and build positive equity for their brands. What holds promise is that the slew of initiatives being launched or in the offing can be not only relevant for this festive season but will serve as building blocks to being future fit for our customers!
This feature covers some of the initiatives triggered by post-COVID realities which focus on increasing customer walk-ins and building a special place for the brand in the customer’s heart. What’s heartening is while assuredly many initiatives do integrate technology, they are definitely rooted in a customer-centric mindset as they aim to address need gaps for customer delight and bring closer connect with the brand.
Let’s start with the opportunity that you have to reinforce your brand image as one who cares. Today it is important to first understand and address customer’s apprehensions before inducing them with month watering deals. In response to the customer’s silent query, “sure you have a great product but, tell me how will your company make my buying experience safer?” To enable this many organisations have now redesigned their go-to-market strategies. The results are visible as the world of shopping now includes services like ‘shop by appointment’ where you can call in, chat or message and book your time of visit.
Remember pre-COVID, this personalised service only reserved for high billers has now been extended to every potential visitor. Furthermore, brands that operated both e-commerce as well as physical stores are encouraged to move from a multi-channel to Omnichannel strategy by fast tracking technology initiatives they can integrate and present a ‘phygital’ option. It allows their customers the choice of shop- online-pick up-instore, shop online and exchange or return in store besides of course curb-side pick-up, or exchange service at special counters where a physical space is demarcated to those online customers who would like to complete their journey in a physical space and, at every step in the journey the customer is in control and connected. Many are also leveraging the advantage that their physical stores bring to build local relationships and offer personalisation to meet their customers’ needs. As industry players reveal, this local level relationship building has yielded attractive results.
Platforms of Engagement
Today, organisations also have to address the aspect of treating marketing channels as platforms of engagement. For instance, how do we respond to the buying journey peculiar to fashion apparel, jewelry, eye wear or even cosmetics? These are products which customers ideally like to try on, evaluate how it looks, fits their body structure, face or skin tone after getting the opinion of their family or friends. These were very real needs of the physical world that we knew, and can’t wish away as those remain deep-rooted needs relevant even today. For a fact, many customers who otherwise embrace online shopping are not so enthusiastic with online shopping for these categories thus postponing purchase decisions. So how can marketers and customer experience practitioners capitalise on this need gap? Apart from the assurance of frequent sanitization and rigorous social distancing norms, how do they address the worry of enclosed social physical spaces.
Creative solutions abound here too and, retailers are working around this limitation by experimenting with catchment area deliveries, virtual trial rooms and video calling. What was considered a fad introduced and discarded some time ago has made a comeback and the virtual mirror or virtual trail room which is gesture controlled is making its way back in.
While some brands had already launched solutions using AR and VR especially in cosmetics and jewellery other categories like apparel have seen value in this integration and are in advanced stages of adoption. And, for those who have been hitherto operated in the predominantly offline space with perhaps a half-hearted online presence, the time is now to kickstart developing capabilities of their webstore not only to improve customer experience but also to capitalise on its revenue opportunity.
In this regard, an important consideration arises for those organisations who had built their websites primarily as sales channels to now reassess this strategy and take serious note. Broad basing the services delivered have shown to bring in higher levels of returns.
Gifting: A CX Opportunity
Gifting presents a wonderful CX opportunity for customer centric organisations. Gifting in the months ahead will be a big driver of sales considering the many Indian festivals and occasions prompt us to share our happiness with friends, families through gifts. While gifting through gift vouchers gets the lion share of attention, a much larger opportunity exists as customers acknowledge that they use discounted sales and promotions which abound at this time of the year, to splurge, bulk buy and stock up. The reason is easy to understand; customers get more bang for their buck and the gift has a higher perceived value.
Retailers have not adequately recognized the fact that the recipient of the gift may want to exchange the gift and this journey should be made simple and easy. Apart from poor customer experience it also misses an opportunity to convert the recipient to a new customer. Ironic since research has also showed that 80 percent of customers who visit to exchange or return purchase a minimum of one more item. Companies are now waking up to the potential of this opportunity as well as architecting Omnichannel journeys for a seamless experience while collecting precious data from such customers, making it a win- win for both.
Data: Valuable Retail Currency
Finally on the relationship aspect and its impact on CX and revenue. For years, companies have been collecting data in some from or the other from their customers. Some companies do it formally within what they call their ‘loyalty’ program while others do it informally but, since this activity promises some customer value it prompts them to part with profile information.
Companies are waking up to the value of data for rekindling conversations and building relationships leading to revenue opportunities. A good example is an eye-care player who leveraged both the data available and staff who were idle during the lockdown months to connect and enquire from senior citizens if they needed any assistance while bundling in an offer to do eye testing and free consultancy. The impact on NPS and sales that followed had been better than expectations!
In sum, the world has changed and with it the traditional ways of engagement. The new normal had surely taught us that even in tough times, a customer first mindset can drive innovation to make the world work for us.

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