Concentrix + Webhelp recently hosted a webinar on global consumer trends in retail and their impact on customer experience. We heard from Jack Stratten, Head of Insights at Insider Trends, alongside Mélanie Hentgès, Managing Director of Gobeyond Partners France, a Concentrix + Webhelp Group company.

If you were there you’ll know they covered a lot. So we’ve collected together some of the key takeaways for you from what was a fascinating session, everything from why retail customers are more polarized than ever (and what that means for retailers) to how to get the most bang for buck from your sales mix.

Why We All Need To Understand ‘The Polarized Customer’.

I thought a good place for us to start is this polarized customer. They’re very fickle, very complex. It’s hard to get their loyalty, it’s hard to make them sticky. They’re so, so demanding.” Jack

Jack Stratten opened the session with his thoughts about the contradictions inherent in today’s consumer, which he captured through the prism of various retail challenges.

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Take budgeting. All over the world, shoppers are very cost conscious. Not particularly surprising perhaps, given rising inflation and stagnant wages. But, at the same time there’s lots of evidence that in many cases, the same cost-conscious shopper is also splashing out on luxury items. Perhaps there’s something in the idea of when we’re spending less, we feel we have to treat ourselves?

Look at all the trends that show a real consumer hunger for personalization online and offline, in all retail sectors. Nothing surprising there. But at the same time, there is consistent evidence that customers in almost every part of the world aren’t happy sharing their data. They’re not happy doing a lot of the things they need to do in order to personalize the shopping experience.

Or take sustainability. Surveys show that consumers are keen to spend more money on items that are responsibly sourced. At the same time, fast fashion as an industry is growing by 15% every single year. Look at the growth of fast delivery brands and companies. 

Super-fast delivery has exploded all around the world and consumers are paying money to be delivered shopping (that they could probably walk to their local shop and get in 10 minutes). It’s the same customers that are supposed to want sustainability who are making non-sustainable decisions.

“In all of these areas, there’s a massive gap between what consumers say they want – and what they actually want.” Jack

Why Mainstream Brands Are Positioning Themselves as Premium as a Result.

“Go to a Zara flagship store in pretty much any major city across Europe at the moment, and you’ll see just as you walk around the store, how…it feels like walking into a luxury store.” Jack

Next up we discussed why this type of ‘premiumization’ of a mainstream brand is increasingly common, and why it’s an effect of the polarized customer in the retail world we live in.

There are fast fashion brands where previously, in the physical stores, everything was about piling the stock high. Nowadays though, there’s lots of space, with beautiful visual merchandising, personal styling, nail bars, coffee and more. We heard how Primark do personal styling at their flagship in Manchester now, for example.

Online and offline, we are seeing more luxury experiences offered for a mainstream audience. We discussed how that shift is reflective of the polarization, because today’s customer wants more than just ‘cheap stuff’.

How Consumer Trends Have Changed Following The Pandemic (Which Somehow Feels Both Very Recent as Well as The Distant Past).

“What I definitely think happened is that consumers learnt a lot more about online shopping during the pandemic and their understanding, their knowledge and their preferences really evolved.” Jack

The pandemic feels like the distant past now in many ways to a lot of us. We talked about which consumer trends that changed during the pandemic have become permanent.

The simplistic answer of course, is the argument that footfall in physical stores has come back post-pandemic, which is now showing up the ‘weakness’ of online. But of course, there are plenty of brands still doing brilliantly online. Consumers themselves learned a lot more about online shopping during the pandemic – and their understanding, their knowledge and their preferences really evolved.

As a result, are we about to experience a time where online retail and all its aspects, like the service element and the quality and the delivery all have to be fantastic in order to meet those customer expectations?

One great example is delivery. Post pandemic, so many retailers give customers the choice of which logistics provider they want to deliver their items. Pre-pandemic that wasn’t really a choice being requested, but when our only way of shopping was online, many consumers became so much more sophisticated.

Don’t Overlook The Role That Pleasure Plays in Retail.

During the pandemic where online retail exploded, obviously there were fulfillment problems: a lot of people had bad online experiences.

Customers really get online now. It’s not just that we shopped online during the pandemic, it’s that we got better at online shopping, we got smarter. We learned more about it and our preferences really evolved. And so brands need to step up – and the best already are. Mélanie spoke about brands who are focusing on the pleasure of shopping – of fulfilling a need.

“Retailers are offering the pleasure of choice, the pleasure of discovering new products and new services and finding them by chatting to a customer service agent. At Concentrix + Webhelp for example, we have worked with a luxury car manufacturer to enrich the pleasure of conversation in its remote customer experience and training, empowering its agents to be really open and friendly with the customer.”  Mélanie

Why Video Can Be The Secret Sauce to Unlocking The Art of Conversation

Following on from our post-pandemic chat, Jack and Mélanie also discussed the role of video, a channel that experienced a surge in popularity (for obvious reasons) during lockdown but is now firmly embedded in the customer experience mix.

“We saw a lot of retailers in France during the pandemic trying to translate the art of conversation from the physical to a great online experience – you can have a really good experience and relationship in the after-sales process thanks to video chat.” Mélanie

The actual idea of using video is super-simple. The idea that you can talk with a product expert who can help you visualize that 2-dimensional online product into three dimensions – along with all the face-to-face warmth of being in-store is obviously a winner – but Jack and Mélanie agreed that the ‘secret sauce’ lies in synchronizing your channels in a way that makes sense.

That means brands need to understand what makes sense for their customers, and drive growth through hard economic times. Ultimately businesses know that they can’t just keep investing in everything. What is going to give them the most bang for buck in their business?

How The Best Brands Are Getting Much Better at Harmonizing Physical With Digital

Jack and Mélanie discussed an example of retailers can get that bang-per-buck in the form of Target, the US discount retailer in the US that has been seeing great results. Jack talked about why it’s a great example of a brand that has maximized its impact by bringing together its channels into something really appealing for its customers.

Its online offer was already pretty healthy but the brand recognized that a big potential for its business wasn’t just click and collect, but could also be all the benefits that could come from connecting up all the ways that its customer wanted to be served.

So during the pandemic Target began to blend channels by giving their customers lots of options to try and really understand what the customer wanted. They offered everything from curbside to super-fast click and collect and more.

“They integrated it with their app really, really well as well. And I remember once there was lots of noise about them doing this, they suddenly released masses of evidence of how well it was doing. And the interesting thing was Target always had these different channels. They were always online. The trick was that they started synchronizing them in a way that made sense for the customer.” Jack

Another example we talked about was Next, whose loyalty strategy was to harmonize their channels around their existing online customer base to make them even stickier. 

One of the ways they did that was to build their own marketplace, linking through to similar purchases from one of the other clothing brands in their portfolio if and when Next didn’t have their own stock. They leveraged the brand loyalty for Next into sales across their brands, giving customers what they wanted as well. (Check out our deep dive into marketplace trends for more insights on this area of retail).

What Are The Myths Around Technology Enabling Better Customer Experience, And What Are The Realities?

Jack and Mélanie discussed an example of retailers can get that bang-per-buck in the form of Target, the US discount retailer in the US that has been seeing great results. Jack talked about why it’s a great example of a brand that has maximized its impact by bringing together its channels into something really appealing for its customers.

Mélanie began this part of our session by talking about the myth of technology as a miraculous cure-all that can instantly improve everything – effortlessly. Whereas the reality is that, used right, the main advantage of technology like generative AI is to help humans do their jobs better. We talked about two specific examples.

We first talked about IKEA, who have revamped their chatbot technology with generative AI in order, partly, to free up more agents to talk to customers. Those customers were hungry for interactions with IKEA brand experts about specific products and services.

Known, aptly, as ‘Billy’, the chatbot service was able to handle simpler queries and free up human agents to be trained to handle calls offering a more premium customer service.

“When you apply technology in this way, you solve the problem and actually it frees up someone else, other people, to do something great.”  Jack

We also discussed the leading-edge work done by Uniqlo, using RFID technology, to transform their self-checkout in stores across Europe. But while they’ve invested in that technology to speed up a service, what they’ve additionally done is free up their shop floor workers to become advisors. So these big stores have more brand experts to help customers find exactly what they’re looking for. Both are great brand examples of the synergy between high tech and human talent.

Plenty more was discussed – far too much to capture here – but we hope you’ve enjoyed these topline takeaways. Don’t forget to sign up for our next retail webinar and stay in touch via our social channels and emails.


If you’d like to find out more about any of the trends we discuss here or on our webinar, get in touch and let’s talk. If you’d like to talk specifically with any of our webinar guests, contact us:

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