Seventy-six percent of retail customers expect companies to understand their needs and expectations – not just in the moment, but at all times, across all channels and every interaction point.

This may be when a consumer is browsing a website, a mobile app, dealing with a service center, or visiting a store. Loyalty is constantly tested in a digital world, where consumers have much choice at the tap of the screen.

Consumers are also very comfortable with new technologies:

  • Smartphones have become the go-to technology for online shopping
  • Mobile payment services are gaining widespread acceptance
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) in form of digital voice assistants and chatbots helps to deliver a seamless experience in the customer journey
  • Studies show consumers today have up to three healthcare, wellness, or fitness apps on their smart devices

Technology and Brand Purpose Drive Successful Commerce

Ultimately, commerce success is increasingly driven by technology and brand purpose.

Today’s shoppers are choosing sustainable products and services to help protect the environment, have a higher consideration for environmentally friendly packaging, avoid use of plastic, and are willing to pay for locally produced food.

For brands and retailers, it is important to know what customers care about; reciprocally, they need to communicate their values. Identifying shared values creates opportunities for meaningful engagement with both internal and external audiences.

Consumers believe retailers have a responsibility to address social issues through their business practices, for example, through alternative, greener delivery options to same-day delivery, such as buy online pick up in-store (BOPIS). An increasing number of consumers also expect retailers to take an active role in waste reduction and offer recycling services. Retailers are hearing the call for more accountability and at the same time are facing increased competition to achieve faster fulfillment to customers. More companies are adopting a direct-to-consumer business model.  Accordingly, these trends are putting pressure on businesses to adopt new strategies for their global supply chain.

In other words, the supply chain is quickly becoming a way for retailers to offer consumers a differentiated service by making it faster, more predictable, and cheaper.

Above all, and despite the proliferation of chatbots and increased automation of processes, the human factor remains most important for creating positive experiences. Consumers still need to interact with their choice of brands through employees. Businesses must make sure that their front line is up to the challenges by providing the information to understand their customers.

No Return of Experience without Humans

Successful businesses have the ability to fuse the employee experience with the customer experience. Experience is everything. So businesses need the ability to listen to the customers, act, and engage with them. Customers demand personalized information, recommendations, service at the point of demand.  Retailers can only deliver superior experiences to consumers if they truly know their customers. While data is key, collecting it is a challenge. Customers want the companies they interact with to protect their personal data. Trust is difficult to establish, and if businesses fail to safeguard their personal data, they will lose their business.

Bottom line: The retail industry is adapting to a digitized commercial model in an experience economy. Here, emotional connections to a brand are decisive in forming positive experiences around their offerings, such as excitement, triumph, or admiration. Those companies that invest in their technology and their employees will show a higher return of experience.

SAP Brings It Together at NRF

Next week at NRF 2020, Retail’s Big Show, SAP aims to show how retailers can adopt to trends like circular economy, global supply chains, and developing trusted relationships with conscious consumers, with industry-specific solutions – from first demand, contact to fulfillment.

At the SAP booth, attendees can get a glimpse of a “Best Run Grocery” showcase, where grocers can leverage experience data into operations, responding to consumer needs wants and desires, and positively impacting top- and bottom-line performance.

In a demo area, SAP will show the “Art of the Possible,” or how businesses can innovate faster with technologies like eye gazing, drones, and robotics. Showcases from customers like Valora, Pentland, and Badgley Mischka will demonstrate a futuristic view of retail — only it is already available today. Another showcase is dedicated to the new business models being shaped with a mobile-first, commerce-everywhere approach and cloud innovation.

At NRF, SAP will show how retail technologies can help businesses listen, understand, and act on customer needs and demands to:

  • Compete in the experience economy with experience management for direct-to-consumer use cases, driving personalization and product innovation with customer data management and experience management
  • Personalize trusted experiences with AI use cases for commerce, marketing, and specifically merchandizing and headless commerce, or project “Spartacus
  • Execute on fulfillment with an omnichannel approach and customer order service
  • Deliver service excellence with chatbots and conversational AI, ticket intelligence, and post-sale services extending the superior shopping experience beyond the purchase
  • Innovate on the basis of an extendible, agile platform with API, microservices, mobile-first approach, and an industry ecosystem enabled by SAP Cloud Platform Extension Factory.

When brands understand what shoppers are feeling and how to act on it, then the democratization of retail becomes a reality.

Chris Hauca is general manager of SAP Commerce Cloud in the SAP Customer Experience organization.