The 19th of July marked Freedom Day in the UK, and it was a highly anticipated day for retailers on the highstreet. No longer restricted by social distancing, queues and masks, it’s predicted that retailers will see an uplift in footfall.

Pent-up shopping demand has already helped retailers enjoy a period of growth during the summer months since reopening in April. In-store sales were slightly behind pre-pandemic levels, but still showed strong growth in June. 

Since the shops reopened it’s clear that despite the convenience of online shopping, some consumers have been drawn back to the highstreet. If you’re an online retailer, pinpointing exactly what these consumers are missing is going to be key to unlock the next stage of your growth. Those who are too slow to crack the code, risk losing the customer in-store, or to another online retailer that gets it. So what’s the secret?

What do customers want?

We’ve all been forced to buy things online during the pandemic that we traditionally would have bought in-store. That’s included items typically quite difficult to buy online. Think about those items you don’t necessarily buy every day like a new sofa, dishwasher or laptop. These are carefully considered purchases, which consumers like to research up on and shop around for before making a decision. They want help, advice and recommendations personalised to their needs to make the buying process as easy as possible. 

This is where some online retailers are falling short. Many brands have built up a loyal customer base on the high street thanks to this personalised customer service – think M&S or John Lewis – with well-trained and trusted sales assistants. The service they provide is a representation of their brand and is what draws customers back time and time again. Understanding how to reimagine these personalised interactions online is imperative to boost your ecommerce offering andbeat off the competition. 

How tech can help

The answer is guided selling – interacting or guiding the customer to help them complete their journey to purchase. You can throw heaps of money at attracting customers to your site, but it’s all a waste if customers can’t find what they need and their experience is terrible. Websites themselves are not the best mediums to provide tailored experiences. But there are plenty of additional technologies available to offer a guided selling experience. 

Understanding the intent of the visit is the first step and it’s as simple as asking the customer. Tools such as problem solvers and surveys can help online retailers to identify a customer’s needs in that individual visit. Using this information, brands can direct the customer towards relevant or recommended products and offer the necessary consultancy needed to complete their purchase. They can also utilise this data as part of their progressive profiling, to build a better picture of their customer base as a whole. 

The success of these tools always comes down to timing. Less is usually more. A pushy sales assistant in real life is always a turn off. Likewise, an unhelpful or absent one can result in the customer walking out of the store. Finding that balance in the virtual world is just as important. 

Consistency is key 

Providing a near-identical customer experience online isn’t just about clawing back shoppers that prefer to shop in-store. In fact, we’re starting to see a powerful trend at play where consumers are transcending between in-store and online throughout their journey. Physical stores are evolving to become a place where you go to browse and experience a brand, while the transaction itself often takes place online. 

If you’re a retailer with an online and in-store play, it’s important not to think about the customer experience for each in isolation. An effortless experience online and in-store will empower customers to investigate and purchase products across both with confidence.That migration is most likely to happen with considered purchases that you don’t make every day. 

If a customer isn’t met with the same superior customer experience when they transition online, you can bet they’ll end up trying a competitor’s site that’s got it nailed. Adaptable and forward-thinking retailers understand that increasingly the final decision will be made on digital channels, so your online experience better stand up. 

Though the shops have reopened and have seen some footfall return, there’s no denying that ultimately, online shopping is only set to steamroll ahead in the next few years. Guided selling is going to be essential if you want to give customers the confidence to purchase online – especially for those considered and difficult purchases. By investing in the right tools, you can level up your online offering so customers aren’t left pining for the highstreet or leaving for competitors.