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Twenty years ago, customer satisfaction was important because it was much more expensive to acquire a new customer than retain an existing one. But today, as customers use social media to share their views with a potential audience of millions, customer service has become even more critical. As a result, retailers are searching for innovative ways to satisfy customers. Here are five to note.

1. Sharper e-branding

E-commerce is, in essence, impersonal and so a difficult medium in which to achieve outstanding customer service. A key technique for creating customer connections and improving the retail experience is to look at how products appear on screen. “Online retail spaces offer consumers speed and convenience, but it’s also vital to remember that the wider online landscape also means that they are only a click away from competitors, reviews and comparison sites,” explains Nikki Austen, Head of Insight and Strategy at branding consultancy Webb deVlam. “As such, they can be influenced to change their minds, switch retailer or abandon purchases in a second, far more quickly and easily than they can in a physical shopping environment. These factors mean that it’s more vital than ever for brands to ensure their name, their products and their message are displayed and communicated clearly and effectively on the small screen.”

2. High-street investment

Despite a rise in the number of businesses paying close attention to online innovation, Tristan Rogers, CEO of Concrete, an enterprise collaboration platform used by brands including J Crew and Marks & Spencer, believes retailers should refocus their efforts on their high-street operations. “For too long, retail innovation has been focused on online,” he says. “Yet the data we are starting to see shows a slowing of online growth as a percentage of total retail revenue, leaving the vast majority of sales remaining in the physical store environment. Innovation must, therefore, also focus on the physical retail environment.”

3. Data handling

Some of the greatest opportunities in the retail sector centre on the use of data. European retailers have already adopted tools that can give shop assistants a real-time overview of what is available in the store, in the backroom or in the warehouse, as well as the ability to find and reserve that item instantly. But data also offers great potential for more targeted advertising. Joel Windels, Vice President of Inbound Marketing at social media monitoring firm Brandwatch, explains that retailers now have location data available to them on a scale never seen before. “Instant, localised comments about what customers think of your business can be hugely beneficial,” he explains. “Argos, for example, maps social media comments from its customers against different branches around the UK to understand what people think of the brand’s new digital stores. This way they can uncover and address mistakes as they happen.”

4. Seamless service

Ultimately, customers are increasingly expecting a seamless experience across online and offline, and many retailers are now working to deliver it. Video games retailer GameStop is piloting a programme in some of its stores that offers customers product information and promotions on their smartphones based on where in the store that specific customer is. Meanwhile, Jacques Vert, a brand based in Birmingham, is now able to retain customer information and send e-receipts, and has one central repository for all its customer data.

5. Cultural change

When it comes to innovation, technology is often the focus, but it is equally important to create a culture of change. “Innovation is key to keeping ahead of the competition and to continually improving the customer experience,” says David Upton, Director of retail consultancy Peru Consulting. “Failure to innovate will lose you market share to competitors who do innovate successfully. Argue the case for innovation at the highest level in an organisation. Those companies that just want to run things the way they always have will see their market share eroded by successful innovators.”

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