Retail has been challenged on every front over the last 12 plus months, resulting in several changes within the customer experience (CX) industry – livestream shopping, social commerce, and supply chain disruptions are just a few examples that have forced a dramatic pivot towards digital transformation.
Once change has started, there’s no stopping it from snowballing into even more change. 2022 will be the year where many of the predictions we’ve long had, become reality. COVID-19 sped up large-scale digitization, forcing people to immerse themselves into the digital world. And though the pandemic is hopefully near the end, our new way of life is here to stay.
Though customers have adapted to new digital models, it’s important to note that offline shopping isn’t going anywhere. In fact, the future of retail will embrace both online and offline shopping, creating a hybrid experience that will provide the customer with even more value. In fact, Forrester predicts that the vast majority of retail — 72% — will still take place offline as far out as 2024. Foot traffic will still be just as desirable then as it is now. But what will take center stage is the overall customer experience.
Meet the metaverse
In late 2021, Facebook the company changed its name to Meta to reflect its growing focus on the metaverse. But what exactly is the metaverse? According to USA Today, it’s an online virtual world which incorporates augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR), 3D holographic avatars, video, and other means of communication. Sounds sophisticated. So sophisticated that Bloomberg Intelligence forecasts that the market size for the metaverse could reach up to $800 billion by 2024. But how will it impact retail in the next year?
Online shopping and deliveries quickly became the new standard throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, a trend that will be accelerated by the metaverse. With AR and VR experiences, consumers will be able to explore brands and products from the comfort of their own homes. Consumers will no longer need to frequent physical stores to try new products before purchasing.
The metaverse will also enable more interactive-in store experiences as well. The New York Times reported that Facebook plans to open brick-and-mortar stores around the world to get people excited about its metaverse where people could try out metaverse hardware such as VR headsets.
AR and VR roles
VR has the potential to generate as much as $1.8 billion for retail and marketing companies in 2022. Why? Because AR and VR have the power to attract new customers, increase sales, and reduce the number of product returns. Just imagine being able to see how a product looks on you or in your home before you hit that purchase button.
With 3D products, customers can gain first-hand, contextual knowledge of the product’s quality and performance, order it, and have it delivered with confidence. AR and VR induce the social aspect of shopping in real-time. Consumers can interact with friends, and even ask a virtual member of staff for support if necessary.
Surge in social commerce
In 2022, social commerce will continue to bring fun back into the digital shopping experience. Nearly 80 million U.S. consumers purchased a product or service directly within a social media post in 2020, according to Statista. That number is projected to grow to over 100 million by 2023, especially as features such as livestream shopping allow consumers to complete a sale without leaving their house.
B2C social commerce investments are paying off big: 86% of leaders say they expect or have achieved a return on their social commerce investment within one year. As a result, we can expect that Live video will have a direct impact on engagement. Emplifi data shows that, in Q3 2021, fans and followers interacted significantly more with live videos (42 median post interactions) than with other types of posts.
Moving forward, brands investing in social commerce must provide more personalized customer interactions and care, such as virtual agents who can instantly answer questions, share the latest offers, or recommend additional products with the consumer. We’ll see more brands providing a connection throughout the customer social journey. They will begin employing one-to-one video shopping, implementing conversational commerce, and launching virtual video boutiques. Above all, brands must provide excellent care on social channels, using the right technology combined with the human touch.
Advanced conversational technology will be key to providing such experiences at scale. Chatbots will play a key role in the next year, as more and more brands deploy advanced chatbots in their social shops that can handle sophisticated queries — and escalate to human agents when needed.
Most brands, now, are employing bots that can provide routine answers to basic questions. However, they cannot respond to more complex customer queries. This will change as more companies add AI-powered bots with advanced contextual and consultative abilities.
In the next 12 to 24 months, Forrester reports that the vast majority of B2C brands plan to implement or are interested in developing advanced social bots that can provide a higher level of assistance.
Such advances in automation will enable more effective and satisfying care throughout the customer journey — before, during, and after the purchase. In many cases, social bots will respond to queries that used to require a human agent. More and more, shoppers on social channels will be able to access personalized answers, recommendations, and resolutions to their problems, whenever they need help.
Chatbots will play an important role in the coming months by going beyond customer service experience and incorporating payment options like Paypal and digital wallets without leaving the messenger platform.
Over the next year, brands will take what they learned during the pandemic and leverage technology-driven solutions that help build deeper connections and relationships with their customers. By creating immersive, personalized and hybrid experiences, and always keeping CX at the heart of everything, retailers can excel in 2022.