In any business, any market, and any career, we all develop and hone our playbooks—a semi-unique set of processes that becomes the guideline for our repeatable success. However, any good process needs to evolve. And though we as humans are hardwired to adapt and overcome, we are also for the most part resistant to change.
So, when discussing the world of retail and how it must change to continue existing, on what side will the coin fall? Will retail adapt and overcome? Or will retail orchestrate its own demise?
To evolve and prolong its existence, retail must redefine the customer journey. As someone who has spent his life in the field of marketing, trust me when I say the customer journey is a hard and fast process and a buzzword—all rolled into one. A conceptual attribute for so many in my field, one where the mere mention of it strikes fear and anxiety into the hearts of all as its meaning and definition are contemplated around the boardroom table.
But at its core, the customer journey has greatly evolved—or should I say it needed to evolve as retail customer engagement is about to change forever. In the past, the so-called customer journey was a linear path that brought the customer from the beginning to the end of pre-calculated events designed to result in the desired customer experience.
However, a linear approach is now so obsolete that many bricks-and-mortar stores have already suffered their own demise—a case of being victims of this evolution and survival of the fittest. You see, the issue is the severance of the customer journey and the customer experience: they have become two distinct entities that still support one another, but are no longer one.
Furthermore, the linear aspects of customer engagement have also met their demise in the new millennium because control has been relinquished by the retailer and placed firmly into the hands of the customer. Our worldwide connectivity has resulted in a monumental leap forward in one crucial aspect: choice for everyone. And with choice comes a newfound power people can wield and use against the status quo.
Now, consumers want their own unique experience every time they engage. Not one predefined by the retailer as part of a one-size-fits-most approach, nor do they want a persona predefined to fit them. With so much choice, every transaction is about a unique individual—an experience built only for one. What does this mean? It means the customer journey is now a technical scenario: a learning system that must accommodate single-user-profile information as a data source, as well as a process that creates any required scenario.
This new world order means the customer experience is the single driving factor in all retail customer engagements. It means instantaneous choice paired with a never-ending supply of technology connects us to the world; therefore, leaving consumers fully in charge and dictating the way forward for retail. By engaging customers how they want, when they want, through whatever medium they choose—the essence of what has become omni-channel—the customer experience becomes the single most important attribute throughout every transaction.
With the customer journey redefined as a technological system, one that can react and interact, the customer experience is delivered solely on the customer’s terms. And with so many new technological innovations, data, connectivity, and more, all designed to make the individual the King or Queen of their own domain, retailers who fail to move forward have only one outcome: old habits die hard—bankrupt stores die harder.