4 Trends in Retail Marketing and Customer Relationship Management

There has never been a more promising time to rethink assumptions and get ahead of the competition. 

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The retail industry is changing faster than anyone has ever seen before. Not only are there more shoppers than ever—but there are also more ways to shop and more shopper "touchpoints" than ever before, too.

As a result, shopper trends, which used to last for decades — are now in one day and out the next. But with such volatile change comes more frequent opportunities.

The good news is that, for some forward-thinking retail brands, there has never been a more promising time to rethink assumptions and get ahead of the competition. 

Related: The Do's and Don'ts for Opening and Operating a Successful Retail Business

To get an edge, you need to stay on top of the latest trends and best practices. See how leading brands are driving innovation by reskilling employees, redefining customer engagement, removing friction from the shopper journey, and embedding AI everywhere for smarter interactions.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at some of the top trends in retail:

1. Figure out what’s most convenient for your customers

Assuming you already know who your target audience is (or should be), you should really take the time to ask yourself whether you’ve figured out what’s most convenient for them. In my experience, this is such an important differentiator between the industry leaders and laggards.

That’s why Siegel + Gale tracks the most convenient companies in the world with its World’s Simplest Brands index. Since 2009, a stock portfolio of these simplest brands would have outperformed all the major indexes (+830% over 10 years, compared to +207% for the S&P 500 over the same timeframe).

How do consumers define ‘simple’? Well, 64% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand because it provides simpler experiences and communications. And 55% of consumers are willing to pay more for simpler experiences in general.

Related: How to Remain Competitive in a Saturated Online Retail Market

Just look at Amazon, the biggest retailer in the world. Their entire business model is grounded in making buyer experiences as simple and pleasant as possible for their customers.

2. Figure out where your customers spend their time

There’s more data out there than ever before for retailers to do their homework and figure out where their customers are when they’re online.

Yet for whatever reason, most retailers don’t push the envelope enough. Once they’re profitable, they stop being as granular. They tend to deprioritize segmentation and personalization in favor of scaling within the target audience they’ve already identified.

But according to the Salesforce 2018 Trends in Retail and Consumer Goods Marketing report, most shoppers now use up to 13 different channels, ranging from websites to ads to voice search. Because audience appetites are constantly changing, this type of complacency can be deadly. 

For example, the difference between Millennial and Baby Boomer preferences is vast. According to the 2017 Connected Shoppers Report, Millenials (born between 1981 and 1996) are more likely than Baby Boomers (born between 1944 to 1964) to research products using:

  • Video chat research (2.6x more likely)

  • Voice-enabled digital assistant research (2.2x)

  • Messaging app research (2x)

Millennials are also more likely to buy products than Baby Boomers using:

  • Video chat (3.1x)

  • Messaging app (2.7x)

  • Social media (2.4x)

And, compared to Boomers, Millennials prefer to get their customer service from:

  • Messaging app (2.9x)

  • Video chat (2.8x)

  • Social media (2.6x)

3. Unify your marketing efforts

With brick and mortar dying by inches and less face-to-face interaction with customers, the entire customer journey has to become hyper-personalized. That means you shouldn’t leave any part of the journey up to chance.

But according to Salesforce, only 51% of retail and consumer goods marketers are actively mapping the customer journey across the company. That means up to 49% of retail marketers aren’t mapping out their customer journeys as well as they could be.

Related: More Is Not Better: How to Effectively Target Retail Promotions

Even worse, only 13% of Retail marketers actually think they’re doing a good job. The good news is that 44% of consumer and retail goods markers have put customer experience initiatives in place across their organization (up from 24% in 2017).

One way to make personalization easier is to unify all your data sources and channels using a hub like a retail-specific CRM or marketing cloud. This increases transparency across your organization, and ensures that no one is working in a silo. When done right:

  • 62% of marketers actively share goals with advertising teams.

  • 53% share goals with service teams.

  • 51% share goals with commerce teams.

And that’s a beautiful thing.

4. Sometimes, you just have to learn from the best

The funny thing about data and trends is that they tend to focus on macro trends, not case-by-case success stories. That’s a lot harder to generalize. This is exactly why it’s so important to stay on top of Retail leaders and what they’re up to.
The thing about leaders is that they think outside the box. They’re resourceful, creative, and often do unexpected things that end up working. Here’s what some of the most successful Retail brands in the country were doing in 2019:

  • Trader Joe’s: Want to know why Trader Joe’s has the second-highest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) score? Probably because, like Amazon, they are so hyper-focused on customer satisfaction. Employees will do anything, including opening products to give out samples, to make customers happy.

  • Sephora: The old guard beauty brand has breathed new life into its business by creating more personalized experiences with an easy-to-use app, virtual ‘try-on’ for products, and seamless online customer experience.

  • Casper: There’s nothing less exciting than mattress shopping. Yet Casper made mattresses exciting again with witty advertising and out-of-the-box customer engagement experiments (like physical nap rooms) that allow customers to better experience the brand before making a purchase.

  • Target: One of the few brick-and-mortar retailers to still enjoy a loyal customer base, Target stays relevant by blurring the line between physical and e-commerce by offering a seamless shopping experience on any channel. Consequently, they enjoyed healthy profits during last year's holiday season.

You have to keep up with your customers

As a management consultant for the Fortune 500, I see Retailers constantly misspending money on the latest SaaS products or rushed marketing campaigns that seem more a gesture of goodwill to stakeholders than a real attempt at experimentation or innovation.

This might have worked out well enough before the Internet era we live in today. Back then, things were much more predictable. Marketing and customer service changed glacially compared to how fast they evolve today.

In 2020 and beyond, if you want to stay relevant with your customers — who are increasingly becoming digital natives — you need to try harder. And that means watching the trends and learning from them every day. 

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