How ‘New Retail’ Will Transform American Customer Service

By Elaina Ransford

‘New Retail’ is a term coined by Alibaba to describe the breakdown of the dichotomy between online and offline retail. In a 2017 letter to shareholders, Alibaba’s executive chairman Jack Ma said “’E-commerce is rapidly evolving into ‘New Retail.’ The boundary between offline and online commerce disappears as we focus on fulfilling the personalized needs of each customer.” Two years after Ma famously coined the term, ‘New Retail’ is starting to enter the US lexicon. From Amazon’s digitization of legacy grocery chain Whole Foods, to Starbucks’ partnership with Alibaba’a New Retail services in China, American companies are starting to break down the tired division between brick and mortar and online shopping.

This shift in shopping experiences has already hit the market: companies such as Walgreens, which is piloting targeted advertising on smart cooler doors, have experimented with in-store smart targeted advertising, in-store analytics, and connected sensors. Retailers are gaining a real-time understanding of their customers’ inventory flow between digital and physical stores, and are beginning to offer experiences based on this new data.

As retail experiences change, so too will customer expectations. If customers can move seamlessly between digital and physical brand experiences, they will expect this ease of access and continuity of experience from that same retail brand’s customer service.

Whatever you want, whenever you want: the promise of New Retail

A recent analysis of New Retail noted that Alibaba’s “Hema Supermarket is the first modern attempt at scale to say to consumers, ‘You can have whatever you want, however you want, and whenever you want, regardless of whether you are physically within a store or not.’” This is the promise of New Retail, and it’s also the promise that customer service organizations will need to live up to.

In order for this to happen, customer service for retail brands will need to do three things:

  1. Identify the channels that are best able to meet evolving customer expectations
  2. Enable continuous experiences on these channels across digital and physical purchases
  3. Leverage automation to deliver these experiences at scale

Consumers will increasingly expect personalized and available service wherever they are — in-store, online shopping, or on a mobile app. New Retail collapses channels into one continuous brand experience, an experience that definitely includes customer service.

The Answer to Customer Service for Retail: Asynchronous Messaging

Messaging is the customer service equivalent to New Retail: it’s available on all platforms, on the go, and doesn’t require customers to sit and wait around or be present at all times during the interaction. Importantly, messaging is different from live chat, which is expensive to staff and in fact has lower CSAT than asynchronous messaging. While messaging can be live, it also allows for time lapses on both the agent and the customer side, and allows for continuity in the conversation between those lapses (i.e. the chat window doesn’t just close out if the customer doesn’t respond for five minutes).

Let’s take a look at why this form of messaging is the answer to New Retail:

  • Messaging is available across channels
    Messaging is incredibly accessible, from our smartphones to our desktops. For instance, think about how you use Facebook Messenger: if you’re on the go and responding to someone, you’ll respond through the Messenger app. However, if you’re working on your computer, then you’ll respond through the Facebook website. The messaging history across both channels is continuous and the conversation is available in real-time. Using messaging to deliver customer service for retail brands offers this same capability — customers can access your brand from wherever they are, in the middle of whatever they’re doing. Remember, that’s the promise of New Retail: whatever you want, whenever you want.
  • Messaging is highly scalable with automation
    Having enough representatives available for live communication across channels can be expensive. Messaging, though, is able to leverage bots for standard information collection and routine workflows. This is a massive help to agents, because when an agent becomes available, he or she can simply look at the information that the bot collected and solve the customer’s issue efficiently. This not only saves agent time, but also reduces the number of tickets that need to be routed to an agent — as simple, common issues can be solved by the bot.

New Retail in the US will drive new customer expectations, and the only way to meet those expectations at scale is through asynchronous messaging. Learn more about customer preferences within the digital customer service landscape by downloading our latest Benchmark Report.

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