In just a few short weeks we’ll be saying goodbye to 2021, and hello to 2022. The last couple of years have been life-changing for many people around the world, and when it comes to commerce this has inevitably changed what they expect from the stores and brands they shop with.
Today we’re going to look at three of the most influential trends that we expect will shape customer experience in 2022.
#1 - Flexible, fluid omnichannel experiences
Digitization has been an evolving and growing trend for the last few years as our lives have become more entwined with the technology we use on a daily basis. However this trend was massively accelerated by the Covid19 pandemic in 2020, and that momentum continued throughout 2021.
While the pandemic changed peoples’ lives in several ways, the most relevant to ecommerce is how it affected the way people shop and engage with brands. Stores that were previously only brick-and-mortar opened online stores to continue selling as restrictions tightened. As they eased, many merchants with both an offline and online store made it easier for customers to move between the two. Customers needed flexibility to enable them to continue life as normally as possible, and ecommerce became a big part of that, allowing them to order everyday necessities as well as at-home experiences and gifts for estranged friends and family members.
Fast forward to the end of 2021 and customers now expect these fluid experiences as a given rather than a temporary accommodation. Big brands are finding new ways to facilitate hyper flexible omnichannel experiences that span across several channels. We’ve seen a massive rise in mobile commerce, social commerce, and online-to-offline experiences. Omnichannel provides customers with maximum convenience, as it allows them to move between channels depending on where they are at any given moment. If they’re sitting on the train and see an item they want on Tiktok, they can visit that brand’s social commerce storefront and place an order for pick-up from their nearest store.
In 2022, omnichannel will become an even bigger part of the customer experience and customers will seek out and be loyal to those brands which make their shopping experience easier. In 2020 it was a novel accommodation, in 2021 it became a more widely accepted part of the commerce experience, and in 2022 it will be cemented as an expected norm.
What should merchants do?
The short answer is that merchants should do what they can to improve their omnichannel capabilities. Depending on the current structure for your store, this may be more or less complicated to implement.
The first port of call should be to outline the current structure for your different sales and marketing channels. Look for where these channels are connected, and how each facilitates purchasing. Map out the journey for a customer to get to checkout from a given channel, and how easy this is. Where the path is longer and more complex is an opportunity to improve omnichannel functionality. Outline how these paths could be improved and better connected, as this will greatly improve your customer experience. Also look at how each of your paths that start online lead to offline, if you have a brick-and-mortar store. If it’s difficult at any point for a local customer to complete their journey from online to offline, that’s another area to optimize.
As well as analyzing your customer journeys and sales channels, you should also look to conduct UX/UI testing as well as consumer research to better understand the experience your store currently delivers. This will help highlight where you may be missing the mark, for example if you could improve functionality that allows for in-store pickup. It will also ensure that you’re working to design the experience your specific customers are looking for, rather than simply following best practices and spending time on improving areas that aren’t as important as others to your individual audience.
#2 - Sustainability and corporate responsibility
Between the pandemic, supply chain issues, and recent climate change discussions at COP26, the environment and sustainability are very much in the spotlight at the moment globally. Conscious consumerism has been a growing trend over the past few years, and in 2022 it will become a prime focus for merchants and retailers as they look to better their customer experience. Some of the world’s biggest brands have had their commitment to sustainability and corporate responsibility questioned, as supply chain troubles have exposed areas where they are seriously lacking. With heightened awareness of the supply chain at the moment, consumers are now paying even closer attention to the businesses they choose to shop with.
There is plenty of opportunity to do more - consumers want brands to demonstrate sustainability, but many miss the mark. In one survey on sustainability in fashion, 55% said they are interested in purchasing ‘sustainable clothing,’ but 48% didn’t know how or where to find sustainable clothes. According to Deloitte, 1 in 3 consumers say they’ve stopped purchasing certain brands or products because they had ethical or sustainability concerns. However, customers don’t like being the only one to bear the burden of building sustainable habits; they want brands and businesses to help them consume in a more conscious way. Doing more to not only boost your business’ green credentials, but to educate and inform customers will be something that improves your customer experience in a very meaningful and positive way.
What should merchants do?
We all want to be more environmentally conscious, and this applies to customer experience also. In order to service consumer desire for greater sustainability in ecommerce, merchants should:
Start by assessing your supply chain.
If you outsource production, do you know the chain behind the materials involved in the production process? How are your materials sourced? Where are they sourced from?
Start taking action to improve your products’ green credentials.
Highlight areas in your business and supply chain that could be improved. Is there a more sustainably manufactured material you could use? Are there any parts of your packaging where you could reduce plastic waste?
Find additional solutions.
Are there any apps or businesses you could work with to reduce your business’ environmental impact or carbon footprint? Can you partner with any green charities or organizations?
Openly demonstrate change and commitment.
Saying you’ll make a change without demonstrable action won’t go down well with customers. Many brands and corporations are accused of “greenwashing” their brands when the question of the environment comes up. If your brand is taking real, meaningful actions then show that to your customers in an open and public forum.
Inform and educate.
Once you’ve made changes, it’s time to educate future customers. Let them know what goes into the production process, how you ensure ethical and sustainability standards, and what this means for their end product.
Corporate responsibility often goes beyond just environmental issues, but also extends to questions of ethics, human rights, and company culture. These are also areas that you should assess and evaluate to see where you could make improvements. How people are treated within your organization and supply chain are equally as important.
Ultimately, if a customer knows a product is more sustainable, how it was made, and what your brand is doing to make a real difference in how you conduct your business, this will provide them a much better customer experience.
#3 - Personalization and privacy
The worlds of offline and online are merging more than ever, between omnichannel commerce, further digitization of communication, remote working, and more. Never before have our lives been so entwined with technology and the internet. This however creates two seemingly opposing desires within consumers. The first is the desire for greater personalization, and the second is, at the same time, for greater privacy.
Personalization has been a big trend in ecommerce especially in the last couple of years. 71% of consumers feel frustrated when their experience is impersonal, and 47% will simply leave a site and go to Amazon if they don’t get relevant product recommendations. When there are so many brands to choose from, consumers want to shop with those that treat them as an individual with their own unique preferences. When there is so much digital media in their life, they will simply scroll past or click off anything they deem irrelevant to their interests. If your brand can’t provide them with a personalized experience, they’ll easily find a competitor who can.
However the contrast here is that consumers also want more privacy. We’ve seen companies like Google respond to this desire, by announcing it plans to phase out third-party cookies by 2023, with other browsers already doing more to bolster their privacy options for users as they navigate around the internet. The key there is that they’re preventing “third-party” data; customers don’t want to be followed and tracked around the web and their data sold to other companies. It’s invasive, and heightens anxieties over data protection. They want to know that their data is safe, and isn’t being used in a covert or malicious way.
What should merchants do?
The first issue to address is how to deliver more personalization without impeding on customers’ need for privacy. To do this, merchants should rely on their first-party data i.e. that which they collect from their own site and other sales/marketing channels. This is data that your customers are happy for you to use, and it has been collected in a non-invasive way. Recent surveys have shown that as many as 7 out of 10 customers appreciate personalization so long as it uses data they’ve shared with the business directly. Between store data and analytics on other platforms such as Google Analytics and social media, merchants have a wealth of first-party data that is invaluable in delivering personalized experiences to their customers.
Here are key areas you should personalize to deliver a better customer experience:
There are a number of ways in which you can personalize recommended products for your customers. Show them not only products which other customers also liked based on their purchases, but items which may complement what they’ve already bought in the past. If there’s an updated version/model/style of a product they purchased in the past, let them know about it. You should also offer continuous browsing, i.e. “Continue where you left off”, so they can return to products they were previously looking at next time they visit your store.
Discounts and promotions
Not every promotion will be relevant to every customer, and relevancy in messaging is a big part of providing a personalized experience. 91% of consumers say they’re more likely to shop with brands that provide personalized offers. Use your store and marketing platform data to determine the kind of promotions and discounts each customer will be interested in. For example if you sell apparel and a customer only ever buys women’s clothes then they most likely won’t be interested in a promotion on men’s clothes. The more irrelevant promotions you send them, the less likely they’ll be to look at the promotions that are actually relevant to them.
Customers receive a huge amount of marketing material on a daily basis from email to social media and more. The messaging that will stand out from the rest will be that which is tailored and personalized to that customer based on their preferences and behaviors. To tailor your content, use your data to determine whether or not a customer is sent or shown a specific campaign. If they don’t typically engage with email, but they do on Instagram, then show them the campaign where they’re most likely to actually engage with it. Use personalized product recommendations so they only see products they actually want to buy.
Once you’ve improved personalization, it’s important to then strengthen your commitment to privacy. Trust is a huge factor in the customer experience throughout their journey with your brand, and if you can demonstrate trust in how you handle their data this will build even greater confidence. To do this, ensure you include clear messaging on how you use customer data and how you personalize experiences on your website either in an FAQ or on its own page. Communicate this also when you ask for any kind of customer data such as their email address, home address, phone number etc either in marketing promotions such as email collection or in the order process. They want to know how you use their data, and a commitment that it won’t be sold on to a third party.
The merchants who adapt their store strategies to suit these trends will be a step ahead of their competitors in delivering the best customer experience based on what their customers are actually looking for. In fact, while we say “trends”, it may not be an entirely accurate term to use; these aren’t simply fleeting ideas that will look relevance over time, but concepts which will shape and influence customer behavior and expectations.