Using Technology to Prepare for an Unpredictable Holiday Season

This has been an unparalleled year for online shopping, but what will e-commerce look like during the 2020 holiday season due to the COVID-19 pandemic? 

Last year, online sales in the United States had already hit the highest level ever, totaling $137 billion according to eMarketer. That was a 13% increase from 2018 sales. But, the pandemic has pushed the transformation of shopping patterns even further along.

Concrete projections for the upcoming holiday season are hard to come by, and even the National Retail Federation (NRF) in its recent podcast, “Holiday 2020: Forecasting the Unknown,” notes that no one can predict the unpredictable. But, one aspect that seems to be accepted as a necessity regardless of the business: The use of technology to make the best out of a challenging holiday shopping season.

Digital Commerce 360 reports that retailers must ensure that the online customer experience is frictionless if they want to thrive in the changed conditions:

According to data from Gartner, two-thirds of companies believe they compete mostly on customer experience. With decreased foot traffic, not only do businesses need to implement new health and safety standards, but they also must figure out how to deliver meaningful online experiences during this ultra-competitive time. 

With data, security is a critical element

It’s common knowledge that more and more people are shopping online, and more businesses are using technology to assist in the gathering of information about their customers. Information is converted into data and that data is used for a variety of purposes in order to deliver a better customer experience and predict consumer’s wants and needs. But with the widespread use of online transactions and information collection comes the potential for security breaches. 

Misuse of customer data and cyber-crimes are not uncommon, and as consumers are heading online to make holiday purchases, they’ll be cautious about what information they give out and to whom. It behooves businesses using technology to employ safeguards and be extra vigilant.

Sudden Changes

According to some industry experts, COVID-19 has accelerated technology advances and acceptance, especially artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and machine learning (ML), by five years.  The Internet of Things means more and more data is being collected and used by businesses to create the best user experience. During big data analysis, businesses can offer more personalized experiences by offering useful product recommendations, keeping track of a guest’s favored services or products and reminding customers they have items in their shopping cart. The possibilities are limitless, making truly individualized experiences the new normal.

Embrace Technology

Some businesses may survive the pandemic and its associated business challenges without using technology, but not many will thrive without it. In order to attract and keep customers with limited face-to-face interactions, technology can help. No matter what size business you have, investing in technology is necessary for future success. The right CX technology can delight your customers, increase your sales and protect your data — all at the same time. Here are technology suggestions to help businesses get through the pandemic successfully:

  • Improve customer service through AI. Consumers rank customer service as one of the most important factors that keeps them loyal to a brand. In fact, according to HubSpot research, 93% of respondents said it’s number one. During the pandemic, as businesses were forced to rethink staffing and business plans, CX technology made it possible to offer alternatives to consumers needing assistance through chatbots, instant messaging and other options.
  • Use improved automated voice systems. As recently as late 2019, customer surveys revealed 86% of consumers preferred a human to an automated voice. Since COVID-19, businesses are finding systems that offer more sophisticated automated voice software that is affordable and replaces staff that were furloughed or laid off. Upgraded voice agents can ask a variety of questions and depending on the answers, route customers to the correct extension or party for further assistance, reducing the need to repeat “customer service” into the phone.
  • Employ CX software that has security built-in. Customer experience software is helping businesses navigate the pandemic by offering even more personalized, or bespoke, services to customers based on many data points. Use CX systems that have been engineered by data scientists entrusted with creating secure software that offers constant monitoring to detect even small anomalies. Studies point out that consumers will agree to divulge personal data, but only if they trust your business. Don’t risk that trust; it’s harder to get it back once it’s been violated.

In the end, we can’t be sure what the 2020 holiday season will bring, but it is clear that retailers must pay as much attention to the digital customer experience as they once did in brick-and-mortar settings. As COVID-19 continues pushing consumers online, that is the only way forward.

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