It feels like a long time since the beginning of the pandemic, where once malls and city centers were alive with the footfall of customers and any service could be found across a counter. The landscape of consumer services has now changed irreparably. Online marketplaces, which have increasingly dominated much of consumer purchasing habits since the 2000s, became increasingly monopolistic. Amazon, eBay and other e-commerce platforms are now a one-stop shop for pretty much everything—made possible by the creation of complex global supply chains and unmatched economies of scale, in combination with nationwide distribution centers and an army of delivery drivers.
But these tech-enabled big retailers cannot offer everything to a customer. In many cases, they lack the expertise that smaller, independent vendors can offer—and this is where an advantage can be found.
A USP for Specialists on Par With UPS
Amazon, as large as they are, cannot offer someone to, say, fix your car or mow your lawn and eBay cannot offer a service to unblock your sink or walk your dog. These tasks require skills and services that are still vital in the post-internet age. On my last getaway, I experienced this when renting sports equipment from a waterfront shopkeeper at a remote beach resort. His experience and know-how was first-class. So, the challenge these specialists face is how to offer bespoke services to customers in a convenient, substantial and scalable way.
Technology Takes Services to Customers Like Never Before
And now, prompted by the effects of the pandemic lockdown, an increasing number of retailers are realizing the benefits of augmenting their physical estate with services that bring the shop to the customer’s front door. This is where the rise of mobile retail services has taken hold, providing pre-booked services with minimal contact and disruption to the customer. There are multiple benefits to the customer: Professional services delivered at their convenience, backed up by digital communications to keep them looped in on slot times, stock levels and arrival expectations.
But Mobile Services Need to be Able to Service!
From a retailer’s perspective, a move to mobile services can be as simple as procuring a fleet of vehicles and putting their experts on the road. But on the back end, they must ensure their software infrastructure is up to the challenge. When slots are promised and services are often vital for the customer, missing an appointment is not an option.
This means making sure they have a software system to match the end-to-end mobile customer journey and expectations. That means taking data and putting this journey together, from offering available slots online through to order processing, stocking vans, route optimization and last-mile delivery.
With a robust software system in place, scale and efficiencies can be quickly realized.
Stores Need a Digital Makeover to Ensure Service Delivery
Back in the physical store, manual spreadsheets and creaking retail platforms for ePOS, stock management and appointment bookings cannot provide the level of consistent service and support required by both employees and customers in today’s ultra-competitive retail environment.
Retailers must augment colleagues’ personal expertise with digital means to ensure a more consistent and customer-centric shopping experience. Tablets and mobile devices should be on the shop floor to allow employees to quickly answer customer queries, check stock levels and even execute a purchase.
Even when employees are carrying out services on a customer’s equipment, they can use tablets to photograph or film work done and deliver this straight to the customer to ensure the highest possible standards of quality and safety.
This assisted selling model makes sure employees across the retail business, regardless of their location or skill level, have access to the information they need to ensure a customer-centric interaction.
Adopting Online Innovation to Satisfy Customer Needs
A recent PwC report underlines the vital role technology will play in driving a more customer-centric retail future as consumer expectations continue to rise. The report found that speed, convenience, knowledgeable help and friendly service are prioritized by consumers. These qualities were highlighted by nearly 80% of all survey respondents as being the most important elements to ensure a positive customer experience.
The report states: “Those who get it right prioritize technologies that foster or provide these benefits over adopting technology for the sake of being cutting edge.” It continues: “[C]ustomers expect technology to always work (and are unlikely to take note of new technology unless it malfunctions or interrupts the seamless, friendly experience). They want the design of websites and mobile apps to be elegant and user-friendly; they want automation to ease experience. But these advances are not meaningful if speed, convenience and the right information at the right time are lacking.”
Retailers Can Keep Their Digital Hands on the Customer
In a volatile post-pandemic world where more transactions will become digitized, specialist retailers still have an exciting opportunity to interact with a customer base that no longer frequents their stores on a daily basis. They can tap into ever-expanding technology to not only retain customers but truly grow and prosper in ways that were previously not feasible. To do this, they need to shed traditional practices and embrace the new dawn of the customer-focused digital age—in a way that Amazon and eBay can’t!