There are several ways retail websites can create a deeper emotional connection with online shoppers that goes beyond the product and price.

Priya Iyer, CEO Vee24, Inc.

Priya Iyer, CEO Vee24, Inc.

Online shopping surged during the 2017 holiday season, up 18% by one estimate.  While this increase in sales is good news for retailers, it also means competition is fiercer than ever, and brings the need to differentiate to a new level. This can be accomplished by executing on an exceptional customer experience strategy and delighting customers, every time. While the concept is simple, the task is complex—where to start?

According to Gartner, more than 50 percent of organizations will invest significantly in customer experience (CX) by 2018, and combined with an estimated $1.6 trillion lost annually as a result of poor service, delivering an exceptional customer experience could mean the difference between success and failure as an organization.

With customer experience as the new battleground in retail, and customer expectations at an all time high, it’s important to acknowledge that in today’s retail landscape there’s no differentiation between CX whether it’s delivered online or in-store. In fact, Deloitte recently found that 69 percent of consumers who planned to shop between Thanksgiving and Cyber Monday said they plan to first research an item online and then go to a store to see it and buy it there. It is more clear than ever that all retailers must fuse online and offline experiences to succeed.

Here are three things retailers need to know in order to improve their customer service:

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Cater to your customers’ demographics

For retailers whose customer base spans multiple generations and demographics, knowing and catering to your different customers is critical. Take customers in an older age bracket, for example. Retailers can offer e-commerce agents on live video chat as an alternative to going into the store for those that do not have the time for extensive online research and/or prefer having a live conversation with a human they can see and trust.

For Millennials, it helps to make their online shopping experience about community. This can easily be achieved in-store, as customers are often surrounded by fellow shoppers or friends and family. But this sense of community tends to be lost online—to overcome this challenge, retailers can encourage customers to invite a friend to a live online engagement experience to offer an opinion, which oftentimes increases the confidence in a customer’s selection and drives a sale.

The art of live engagement

Live online engagement is critical for retailers who are looking to appeal to multichannel shoppers—those that come into the store and those that shop online. This type of hybrid engagement allows customers to interact with retailers in real-time, and is known to increase conversion rates by 10 times and increase average order value by over 35 percent, according to  Vee24 data. By connecting with customers on mobile devices and in stores whether through voice, video chat, text chat or co-browsing, the retailer-to-customer interaction drives a significant emotional connection that goes beyond the product and price, increasing the likelihood of a sale and brand loyalty.

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When it comes to which types of live engagement to use, text chat is useful when shoppers are looking for a quick and efficient answer to a question. Co-browsing with a customer to show them product images, descriptions and features, is helpful when a customer is faced with an assortment of choices and is having trouble making a decision. For those looking to purchase a product that is traditionally showcased in-store, store agents can offer video chat sessions.

The power is in the data: know your customer’s purchase history

It’s no secret that personalization is key to providing an excellent CX, especially online. Targeted  emails recommending products based on past purchases and browsing histories are one example. Retailers can also take it one step further and offer live engagement sessions directly from these emails to help customers efficiently complete an online purchase. Offering live, online customer service for the right products can be one of the biggest boosters of online sales for retailers.

Platforms that target customer experience are a hot ticket for investors. “Perfecting the customer experience is arguably the number one differentiator and a top priority for businesses worldwide, and the market for technology companies that enhance customer engagement is rife with opportunity,” said Geoff Oblak, general partner at Ascent Venture Partners, a VC firm that has invested in several companies that help retailers enhance their customer experience. “Organizations in every vertical, especially retail, are seeking ways to offer the ultimate personalized services that fuse online and offline interactions, which is critical for delivering a true omnichannel customer experience.”

The strong growth in online sales over the recent holiday season shows the importance of improving online customer experience. Breaking the walls between online and offline standards will only become more important as companies seek ways to remain competitive in the long term.

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Vee24 provides live video chat technology to online retailers.