The key to retail success? Creating unforgettable experiences that keep customers coming back

The world of retail is in the midst of a massive upheaval: people are researching and shopping on their smartphones, brand loyalty is in flux and mobile technology has opened up a whole universe of new options for making instant purchases.

Retailers know that this generation of customers wants quick, seamless shopping experiences, and they are eager to understand what the future holds. But are they prepared?

Most of them do understand that the tide is shifting when it comes to the scope of industry change. According to the sixth annual Canadian Retail Insights Report released by American Express Canada, 87% of retailers agree their customers are becoming more selective about where they shop.

But retailers don’t want to stand idly by. They want to hold on to their competitive edge and enhance customer loyalty by ramping up in-store experiences, investing in new technologies and adopting a “payments everywhere” approach.

Improve the in-store experience

Nine in 10 Canadian retailers say improving the in-store experience– giving customers compelling reasons to come to a bricks-and- mortar store to shop – is crucial to the success of their business. They want to stand out from the rest of the pack and deliver value to their customers.

“The retail industry today is more competitive than ever,” says Kerri- Ann Santaguida, vice-president and general manager, merchant services, at American Express Canada. “Simply providing high-Quality products is no longer enough to stand out from the competition; providing an experience is what sets retailers apart.”

Canadian grocery retailers are a great example: they are investing in activities such as cooking and nutrition workshops, expanding into emerging categories such as health and wellness and offering personalized shopping guides. In fact, 79% of grocery retailers have said they are making investments to improve customer service, and 71% plan to invest more into bricks-and- mortar stores this year.

Keep an eye on emerging technologies

Tech-savvy customers are on top of the latest technologies, and retailers know that they have to meet them there. Sixty-nine per cent of retailers agree that investing in new technology is important to drive the success of their business. As a result, 45% of Canadian retailers are investing in online fulfilment solutions such as “buy online, pick up in store.”

Retailers also want to make the most of data and in-store technology that stokes customers’ imagination: 29% of retailers say they are considering automation or data personalization and 10% are interested in implementing artificial intelligence. In all categories, the fast-food industry leads, which demonstrates that this industry is more open to trying out new technologies to better the in-store experience.

But it’s not just fast-food retailers getting into the spirit – household and furniture retailers are implementing augmented reality apps for consumers that help bring to life what’s on the shelves to kitchens and living rooms without ever having to leave the house.

“Modern-day retailers understand how critical it is to meet their customers where they want to transact, which is why many retailers are leveraging new digital solutions to deliver a fully integrated customer experience,” says Santaguida.

Invest in a “payments everywhere” approach

Retailers are particularly on the ball when it comes to investing in payments technology.

The “payments everywhere” approach sees retailers provide seamless payment options to customers at every step of their shopping journey – from social media purchases to in- store and in-app. Today, retailers are leveraging new automated technologies to improve the point-of-sale experience, and this trend is only continuing to grow as more industries get on board. As a matter of fact, the survey showed 44% of general retailers – from department to specialty to discount store – said they’re planning to rely on social media marketplaces as a step towards moving more of their businesses online.

Tellingly, 82% of retailers who have already integrated new payment technologies into their point-of-sale (POS) systems said they did so to improve customer experiences. In fact, the most prominent payment technology adopted by Canadian retailers this year was the mobile wallet (66%), followed by in-app payments (49%), tablet POS (45%) and web portal payments (28%). It’s just a preview of what could lie ahead as we move towards a potential cashless society. Even the most innovative retailers have started using apps to track in-store customer movements in a way that lets them bypass the checkout counter completely – providing convenient, fast and seamless experiences customers crave.

“New payment technologies are not only improving customer experiences, they’re fuelling fully integrated omni-channel strategies that bring new opportunities for data capture and loyalty program integration,” says Santaguida.

Forward-looking retailers will keep disrupting the industry through enhanced in-store experiences, emerging technologies and innovative payment approaches. “Customer expectations have never been higher, and while some customers are waiting for retailers to catch up with their demands, it’s important for retailers to think one, two and sometimes even three steps ahead of what is expected,” says Santaguida.

Retailers want to stay competitive and keep their customers engaged and loyal – and an integrated, tech- savvy approach is key to crafting the unforgettable experiences that will keep them coming back.