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A few years ago, trade publications were plastered with phrases like “the retail apocalypse” and “the end is near for retail.” The reality is, retailers aren’t going anywhere.

Big players like Target are experimenting with both digital channels and in-store formats. They’re building seamless, unforgettable customer experiences that consumers feel every time they walk into a store or open the app.

However, the future isn’t so bright for companies like WalMart, who rely on can-you-believe-this-low-price tactics instead of focusing on elements of the customer experience such as customer service and social impact.

So what’s the difference? It’s not enough to sell products; retailers must sell experiences too.

Online retailers and brick-and-mortars that embrace developing technology have been able to create customer experiences that keep consumers coming back for more. And you can, too.

The State of CX in Retail

With the ever-evolving technological landscape, brands can reach customers unlike ever before. But with this changing landscape comes a set of new expectations from customers.

According to Forrester’s Customer Experience Index, a third of companies will see declines in customer experience performance this year as consumers’ expectations will outpace companies’ ability to deliver meaningful experiences.

And companies that are historically brick-and-mortar are fighting to bring innovation into the retail space, too. Trends that can be seen across the retail space include everything from testing small format stores to service-focused concepts.

Powerplay acquisitions by companies like Amazon are also changing how customers experience brands in their everyday lives. Amazon Prime members can shop at their local Whole Foods and collect various discounts, cementing the two companies as an integral part of how they buy and save money.

So what does all of this point to? It’s not enough to sell people products anymore; you must sell them an experience using a series of integrated digital and physical touchpoints.

How Retailers Are Harnessing New Technology

Due to developing technology, retailers are having to find ways to not only reach their potential and existing customers, but they must also figure out how different technology fits into their brands.

It’s estimated that by 2020, 80% of companies will have chatbots on their websites or social channels so customers can get in touch whenever they want or need.

But the tech trends don’t stop there. Let’s take a look at some of the emerging technology that is dominating customer experience in retail.


Artificial intelligence (AI) is being used within different components of retail such as logistics and delivery, manufacturing, payment services, and CRM.

AI helps companies grow by assisting with customer engagement and management, as well as improving ROI.

For example, 1-800-Flowers uses AI, powered by IBM Watson, to help with order fulfillment and management as well as customer engagement. The floral and gourmet food distributor uses this technology, better known as Gifts When You Need (GWYN), like a concierge service to help customers select gifts for recipients and provide recommendations based on machine-learning.

A whopping 70% of all online orders have been completed through GWYN just shortly after launching.

Voice Technology

The rising popularity of technology like Amazon’s Alexa and Google Home have entirely changed the way people shop. Consumers can now connect with customer service in seconds or order their favorite products by speaking into their smart speakers.

44% of customers with voice-activated speakers report that they use the device to order household goods and buy groceries at least once a week. The ease of being able to use your voice to purchase items is a luxury that continues to sweep households everywhere.


E-commerce platforms such as Etsy and Shopify give customers the ability to shop seamlessly online and discover new brands, artists, and retailers from anywhere.

This year, Etsy reported $132 million in revenue in Q2 and Shopify reported $245 million in revenue in Q2, meaning these platforms are indicative of a growing e-commerce space.

Additionally, these platforms enable artists, and makers to grow without the overhead cost of running a brick and mortar shop, paving the future for these types of businesses. Collectively, these technologies can create an experience for customers that is not only individualized, but curated, too.

Differentiating on Customer Experience in Retail

With all this new technology available at retailers’ fingertips comes ample opportunity to stand out from the competition.

Leveraging multiple technologies and creating a smooth customer experience will not only highlight your brand, but it will also demonstrate your ability to move with the tide.

Omni-channel strategies ensure you are reaching your key customers at multiple touchpoints. More often than not, your customers will have a preference of how they interact with their favorite brands, so being where they are is essential.

How Innovative Retailers Are Standing Out

Companies like Trader Joe’s are an excellent example of simplicity at work. Despite not having much of a digital presence, Trader Joe’s has created a one-of-a-kind customer experience.

From easy-to-navigate store formats and quirky labels to the store aesthetic and friendly team, these elements work together to deliver a “neighborhood grocery store” customer experience every time.

Barnes & Noble is another company that has the customer experience fine-tuned. Despite the rise of digital bookstores, it has managed to maintain the magical feeling of walking into a bookstore. They are by no means stuck in the past; with pickup in-store options, physical locations, digital content, and knowledgeable staff, Barnes & Noble recognizes the need to integrate technology into their customer experience.

But new technology also comes with the risk of complication.

Customer Experience Pitfalls to Avoid:

  • Customer neglect: To prevent converting customers into detractors, be sure to not only acknowledge your customers, but to be there for them as well. Answer their questions, send them product updates, and keep them informed.
  • Not selling customers an experience: It’s not enough to sell customers products anymore; you must give them an experience too. From omni-channel capabilities to honing in on what sets you apart from the rest, creating an unforgettable customer experience will ultimately keep customers loyal.
  • Ignoring customer feedback: A study from Maritz Research and Evolve24 reported that the company responsible for the complaint ignores 70% of customer complaints on Twitter. To grow and improve your customer experience, start with the feedback.


Let’s review what we just covered:

  • It’s not enough to sell customers products anymore; you need to give them a positive experience to build a relationship and brand loyalty.
  • With emerging technology making it easier to not only reach your customers but to learn as much as you can about them, omni-channel retail is the future.
  • To keep up with your customers, you must keep up with technology. Keep in mind that you don’t have to be everywhere at once; figure out what works best for your brand and leverage that.

Over the next few years, retailers can anticipate consumers’ expectations to shift toward more innovation from their favorite brands. This emerging technology grants retailers access to more powerful forms of customer data, which will completely change how brands market to, sell to, and engage with customers.