Being customer centric means letting people buy and shop the way they want to.
For different people, this means different things.
In marketing – we know that people react differently to the type of marketing. Some people prefer the ease of digital messaging on their phones. Others enjoy the tactical feel of opening a beautiful direct mail catalog. Especially, when its targeted to them.
The debate on customer centric does not only deal with the marketing method. It goes to online versus brick and mortar shopping. Being customer centric in customer service includes chat, do it yourself options watching you-tube, or my personal favorite: “I want to talk to someone now”.
When it comes to the actual shopping experience, being customer centric empowers a consumer to make the customer journey the way she or she sees fit.
For example, I love to shop. Online. In a store. By myself. With others. I don’t always buy, but when I shop for certain things, I totally love to see what’s out there. I like to imagine the possibilities. As a recent example, my husband and I were working together on a bathroom renovation. He told me to go pick out the tile. He had me at “go pick out.”
I looked online for inspiration, used a few design configurators, talked to friends and family, looked at home improvement videos on YouTube, then went to a store to look at a selection of options in real life. What kind of mood did I want for this bathroom? A luxurious spa-like retreat from the real world? A functional, ultra-modern aesthetic? The possibilities were endless. And because I don’t design bathrooms for a living, I needed to explore lots of options and alternatives to make my decision.
I ultimately selected the spa-like retreat and gave my hubby my selections so he could feel he participated in the decision making process.
Is the question really online vs offline?
As the shopper, I used multiple channels in my path to purchase and move along the buyer journey – both online and offline. This is not an unusual journey. This is simply how it’s done.
From the marketing method through the research phase through the actual purchase, being customer centric makes the difference.
As the buyers, we intuitively figure out where to go and what to do to inform our decisions and execute the transaction.
So why are pundits still debating online vs offline in the retail sector? It seems many want to declare digital the winner. Even prior to the pandemic, there were numerous predictions about the demise of the brick-and-mortar store. They talked about the so-called “retail apocalypse,” and the death of malls. Of course, the COVID-19 pandemic didn’t help matters. There were an estimated 130 flagship retailers shuttering their doors in the past two years. Add to that the increase and acceleration in digital shopping. With all that, it might be easy to think the predictions were true. That is until you look at the facts.
Growth in brick and mortar retail
It’s estimated that despite the pandemic’s impacts and the growth in ecommerce, 75.5% of retail sales still occur in stores. And annual in-store sales outpace ecommerce sales by more than $15 trillion. Yes, that’s trillion with a T.
While ecommerce sales are on the rise and estimated to grow 10 times faster than sales in brick-and-mortar sales over the next few years, in-store shopping and buying remain important and popular. For this reason, digitally native direct-to-consumer brands such as Warby Parker, Allbirds and others are opening hundreds of stores around the world.
The store plays an important role in the buyer journey. So does a customer-focused website. The people have spoken. We want both in-store and online shopping, and we want both on our terms. We love buy-online-pick-up-in-store-or-curbside. Personally, I am a huge fan of Target curbside. But for some things, I prefer home delivery. And our preferences change all the time. Please don’t make us choose. We want it all. And we want it friction-free.
Let’s not even talk about paying for it. Buy now, pay later, credit options. We want those too.
Empowered customers buy more
In marketing circles, we used to refer to this as “the customer experience.” I suggest we now think of it as the human experience. Brands that operationalize this connected customer experience will continue to outperform those that try to force people to buy a certain way. Empowered customers buy more, buy more often, and are less expensive to serve.
In my opinion, the debate is officially over. It’s time to get on board with a customer centric buying experience.