The Attention Economy’s Impact on the Retail Industry

CEO

Consumer overwhelm and distraction has seriously impacted shopping patterns and businesses around the globe. But consumers remember the brand experience, which makes it important for retailers to pay attention to the entire experience they create. As technology continues to be introduced for convenience purchasing, it’s important for retailers to adapt and pivot to technologies that make buying easier.

The pandemic has resulted in a complete blurring of boundaries of whatever was left of work-life balance, especially in the services sector, which is where 80% of Americans work. People are distracted. The attention of human beings is a scarce commodity (and continues to dissolve every day), which is the crux of “the attention economy.”

The average employee today is perpetually balancing multiple to-do lists for home while taking office calls, responding to emails and social media, and coordinating remotely to get tasks done in an increasingly complex matrix of organizational structures. There are only 16 waking hours or so in a day, and there are nonstop competing demands for attention from various sources every hour. A feeling of overwhelm can set in at any moment.

Consumer overwhelm and fatigue has seriously impacted businesses around the globe. Whereas innovation is often seen as the lifeblood of a stable, forward-thinking organization, the real barometer of a company’s success may actually be the ability to attract, capture — and keep — the attention of fickle customers. It’s hard for many brands to get noticed amid the cacophony of digital noise.

Nowhere has this manifested more than in our shopping patterns. In a world where attention is short (and shrinking), micro-tasks keep surging, and resultant stress levels are perpetual, consumers are demanding lower prices coupled with convenience and immediacy every step of the way.

Is the right size not available? Abandon the cart. Is the callback option keeping me waiting for more than two minutes? Drop the transaction. Is the retailer not allowing me to reschedule the delivery? Cancel the order. Am I expected to key in my debit card details instead of using a digital wallet? Forget about it. Today’s shopper expects a seamless, stress-free experience as a right, not an option.

Exceeding Elevated Expectations

As such, retail leaders need to prioritize a few things to cope with this surge in expectations — in terms of both products and processes. Because consumers aren’t willing to compromise on speed, convenience, and security, it’s important to emphasize interaction with their brand from beginning to end.

Consumers remember the brand experience, which makes it important for retailers to create their business experience as a whole and not by channels. As technology continues to be introduced for convenience purchasing, it’s important to adapt and pivot to technology that simply makes buying easier.

Frictionless transactions, for example. Retailers should embrace contactless checkout capabilities. Some of the most forward-thinking companies have been taking intelligent technology a step further with fully autonomous, “just walk out” shopping and checkout solutions. It’s also wise to diversify the ways in which customers can pay, such as buy now, pay later installment plans. Frictionless shopping experiences mean different things to different people, after all. At home, frictionless might just mean easier. Amazon Echo and Google Home technologies, for example, allow consumers to use voice features to order products or services.

Another example? Meeting customers where they are. This underscores the previous point. Customers want a menu of convenient options at their disposal. BOPIS (buy online, pick up in-store), BORIS (buy online, return in-store) and curbside pickup have transitioned from nice-to-have luxuries to must-have necessities for brands with physical storefronts. Additionally, offering same-day — or even same-hour — delivery services will be crucial for developing customer loyalty.

Ordering with QR codes. It’s impressive how quickly restaurants and other food venues shifted to QR code menus so that customers could pull menus up on their phones in seconds. This has really been a win-win for both sellers and buyers because no one has to wait when businesses are short-staffed; it speeds up ordering, and consumers may even be able to order without talking to an employee in some instances.

What Consumers Want

From sourcing to manufacturing, consumers are paying closer attention to brands that are prioritizing sustainability and transparency. Ethical manufacturing, waste reduction, energy conservation, and recyclability in both product and packaging are important not only to consumers but to employees as well. They value the priority and strategic operational road maps for environmental, social, and governance being put in place by companies who are working in earnest to meet net zero goals coming up as early as 2025.

The shopping experience can include giving consumers the means to look at product-specific carbon emissions on price tags or via QR codes, or information about sustainable materials and sourcing that lends well to a “passport” classification of traceability.

For leaders who want to ensure a services-driven culture is instilled across departments to provide consistency of experience, leveraging store teams is key. Properly training and educating in-store staff will be essential in order to keep pace both with heightened consumer demands as well as competition from essential retailers. To that end, retailers should have a process for collecting feedback from their store associates because these employees are the closest to the customer and their sentiments about products and trusted brands in the market.

Empowering store associates and informing them about overall sustainability goals and how they can contribute builds brand and product affinity for company employees as well as consumers. Providing education and engagement programs can be done through the Microsft Cloud for Retail and Microsoft Viva.

Closing All the Gaps

To help guide the way in this new reality, brands can make a slew of technology investments to help support efficient internal processes, efficient customer experiences, and overall success. First and foremost, retailers should evolve reporting platforms to reflect and deliver insights on the end-to-end customer journey by building advanced multichannel views with business intelligence tool functionality. Adopt innovative solutions for in-store feedback including app integration, on-site tablets or kiosks with do-it-yourself survey capabilities, as well as in-store behavioral analytics technology.

Beyond that, position feedback channels as an ongoing customer-brand dialogue and implement conversational tools for digital touchpoints. For effective and efficient BOPIS and curbside pickup programs, retailers can automate order and delivery flows with their product suppliers through the use of electronic data interchange. This gives an in-depth level of insight into the supply chain.

Finally, with consumers increasingly making purchase decisions based on a retailer’s return policy, brands would be wise to make such policies easily and readily discoverable. If not, consumers will simply move on to a competitor without a second thought. Having technology such as prescriptive analytics in place to help spot potential instances of return fraud — and provide the employee with specific actions for real-time resolution — is an effective way to preserve this revenue.

Remember, even the most loyal customers will defect if they run into disjointed channels that fail to facilitate their touchpoint-specific needs and preferences. Every innovation included in your digital transformation strategy should be held to the same high level of scrutiny as your core means of doing business. Adjust strategy based on essential versus nonessential status.

Essential retailers should focus on improving existing experiences for customers. Nonessential retailers, meanwhile, should focus on winning back consumers’ trust. That will require offering convenient, safe ways to shop that are enabled by well-informed and well-trained store teams. In the end, consumers are habitual; if they’re familiar and comfortable with your brand, they will buy — no matter how distracted they might be along the path to purchase.


Written by Srini Pallia.
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