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The changing dynamics of customer experience

The pandemic has altered the way consumers shop. While e-commerce was rising in popularity, it largely served a transactional role and stores remained the primary avenue for experiencing a brand or interacting with a product. A recent report by Euromonitor highlights the changing dimensions of customer experience. It mentions that the purpose of these two channels was evolving, but the crisis gave a temporary preview of a world where the purposes of the digital and physical channels swapped positions. While stores will continue to be a key channel for shopping in the future, this period showed the potential for the digital channel to play a bigger role in the future shopping experience.

Evolving customer behaviour
Being able to connect virtually with consumers on digital platforms turned the static online experience into a multisensory one, conjuring up the emotions most often associated with in-person interactions. Retailers and brands leveraged digital platforms, technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) as well as emerging content mediums like livestreaming to mimic elements of the in-person shopping experience.

According to the findings of the report, one way to recreate the physical experience in the digital channel is through virtual try-on features. In Euromonitor’s Voice of the Consumer: Digital Survey, which is an annual survey of internet-connected consumers in 20 countries, almost 30% thought the ability to virtually try on was an important online feature.

Globally, this sentiment is highest among millennials and emerging market consumers. Increased use of technologies like augmented and virtual realities have potential to improve the visual cues of the online shopping experience. Although these technologies have been commercially available for years, 58% of connected consumers globally report not having used either.

From a consumer perspective, gaming remains the main avenue for exploration. Of those that have used AR / VR in the past year, 30% utilised it to shop for household items and furniture as well as clothes. In fact, both figures are up from the 2020 survey fielding as more consumers turned to these technologies to enhance the online experience for these more visual products.

Getting live to shop
Livestreaming, which gained popularity in recent years as a content medium, made inroads during the crisis due to its ability to create the emotional connection more associated with in-person shopping. Combining elements of streaming video, social media and celebrity into a shopping experience, live selling started to gain traction around the globe as a way for brands to connect with shut-in consumers.

Digital boom
For companies, digital emerged as the default channel for all aspects of life and the key one for engaging with consumers. In fact, 57% of retail professionals viewed digital engagement as the top trend influencing digital commerce development, ahead of other headline-grabbing topics like delivery and fulfilment or robotics and automation. While going virtual is still in its relative infancy, businesses are experimenting by offering immersive virtual experiences to sell products from clothes to make-up to furniture with the goal of increasing conversions and reducing return rates. These virtual experiences range in level of sophistication. Some, such as online consultations, virtual classes and commerce livestreams, merely connect consumers with a brand via digital platforms. Others go so far as to mimic the experience of physically touching and trying on a product through the use of technologies like augmented and virtual realities.

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