A very merry customer experience

Behind the scenes, retailers have been working tirelessly in a bid to win big this Christmas

Christmas – a time of joy, celebration and, if you’re in the retail industry, probably the most important time of the year for sales (though this year, that’s looking uncertain).

While most of us wonder in awe at the opulent displays; behind the scenes, most companies have been working tirelessly to create the most magical Christmas shopping experience in the hope of outdoing their competitors and getting a slice of a very lucrative pie.

Research has shown that during nostalgic and emotional times, like Christmas, we are more likely to derive happiness from an experience rather than products themselves. It could in fact by implied that Christmas shopping, for many, is more fun than getting presents!

Engage Employees

This year, John Lewis has created an entire Christmas eco-system comprising of an ice rink and rooftop bar. But before thinking about competing with this kind of spectacle, first and foremost, retailers must meet basic customer demands, and this should start with staff.

There is a strong correlation between employee engagement and CX. Training and valuing your employees will not only ensure that they are fully equipped to offer a great experience but will spread enthusiasm and dedication to providing the best possible service.

Harrods offer an excellent case study for ‘engaging for success’ following their employee survey, employees noted that they felt ‘listened to’. Commitment to the brand and a sense of pride was instilled amongst staff who are now better equipped and excited to offer an outstanding luxury service.

Plan effectively

Christmas should be one of the busiest times of the year for retailers. This can cause a number of problems such as queues, crowds and stock shortages.

Product availability, replenishment and staffing are three important areas to plan for, but as experience expectations continue to rise, even prestige brands have struggled, at times to live up to their reputations when planning goes awry.

Last Christmas, supermarkets including Morrisons, Asda and Tesco’s warned customers of limited or no availability for food deliveries due to demand.

With one unhappy customer tweeting: ‘@waitrose Trying to make an order from Altrincham store; every Click & Collect slot is full until after Christmas. Ditto home delivery. So can’t buy anything from you unless in person?”

Environment

In a recent experiment, customers found the Christmas shopping experience preferable when there was a festive scent and music, but as innovations like this become mainstream environmental cues will not be enough to create a stand-out experience for long.

So, how can retailers stand out from the crowd?

Technology is increasingly being leveraged by retailers and has allowed some to push the boundaries of what it means to be a retailer at Christmas.

We have seen John Lewis create a VR experience as a part of its ‘Buster the Boxer’ Christmas campaign. Using a virtual reality system called Oculus Rift, its customers can interact with animals from one of its famed Christmas adverts.

VR at John Lewis

Photo Credit: Scene2

This is even more challenging for online stores. The absence of a physical and environmental experience means that is a disconnect from Christmas magic, but this doesn’t mean the experience can’t be improved. Gamification and even less glamourous add-ons like last minute shipping and gift wrapping can all contribute to a special experience.

Personalisation

A recent survey suggested that 59% of shoppers believe personalisation to have a noticeable influence on purchasing, with 25% saying personalisation influences what they purchase.

It’s more important than ever to cut through the noise and deliver an engaging and seamless journey to customers; customers value being identified as an individual rather than a mass entity.

Several retailers, including Harrods and Topshop, have made significant moves in personalisation in their in-store offers this year, allowing customers to purchase gifts with personalisable features. It remains surprising that, despite the much vaunted ability of digital to offer personalisation at scale, we have seen relatively few successful examples of retailers enabling a genuinely personalised online shopping experiences.

A merry CXmas

While competing with John Lewis’ ice rink is beyond the means of most of the UK’s retailers, there are some honourable mentions that caught our eye.

Harrods has shown true dedication this year – from in-store shows and grottos to the personalisation of gifts.

Topshop, is offering a range of festive experiences for customers to get stuck into, including handcrafted cracker workshops and festive makeup tutorials – their snowy grotto offers services such as bespoke wrapping and personalisation of gifts to add that final touch.

Most of us not only expect a special shopping experience at Christmas, we crave it – those who can satisfy our excessive festive wants and needs will attract the crowds, and with fierce competition the spotlight really is on to perform this season.

The success of retailers’ customer experience activities will be revealed by Christmas sales data. But before we get too hung up on festive extravagance, we must remember that good customer experience is not just for Christmas…