Over the past decade we have all witnessed the core strategic switch in retailing. Retailers no longer consider themselves product- or service-centric, but customer-centric and the emphasis we place on data analysis to understand customers and direct the business is now huge. We use it to try and improve the customer experience, make buying and merchandising decisions, and ultimately measure our success across any number of KPIs you can care to think of. However, that pivot still for many retailers has proved easy to say but the reality of executing on the narrative can be described as patchy at best and an ongoing challenge.
Even so, as an industry, we know more about our customers and their behaviour than ever before, and we use that data to create curated journeys to steer opportunities for cross-sell, to improve post-sale engagement, and identify sentiment patterns.
But the reality is, we still know little about the emotional investment in any customer decision or its impact outside of the limited engagement points between retailer and consumer. As an example, when I’m engaged by leaders within retailers to discuss the role of technology in supporting customer experience and engagement, an interesting state of mind is commonly demonstrated. Conversations with respect to consumer behaviour are framed in a procedural and logical manner much in the same way a discussion about a business operating model would occur.
To try and reset their thinking I often use breaks in the day to have an informal conversation with a member of the team about a recent shopping experience in their personal life. The conversation often becomes more emotionally intelligent because of its personal nature and comments are made about how the person felt throughout the experience, both good and bad. But as soon as we are back in the formal sessions, a switch flips and the discussion returns to discussing consumers from a procedural and one might say unemotional perspective.
The onset of digital, and some would argue omnichannel, has rightly accelerated the adoption and inclusion of customer experience as its own distinct discipline, and it is one that is needed to drive seamless cross-channel engagements. However, many retailers have grown this function within their marketing department, which has led to customer experience being focused primarily on the awareness, consideration, and purchase cycle of a customer’s retail journey. Ergo, more and more data from internal and external sources align with those steps to try and determine consumer purchase patterns.
As a result, techniques such as sentiment analysis, customer pulse, and net promoter scoring have grown in popularity over the past five years and are considered the means of understanding a consumer’s psyche.
Though all too often, at least from the retailers I frequently engage, the approach to analysing all that data in regard to a consumer has shown very little difference to the unemotional and logical approach taken to analysing supply chain dynamics.
The focus of current customer experience professionals is to design and create an engaging and inspiring experience to affect an emotional engagement. However, from my experience the inclusion of an expert in consumer psychology and behavioural economics during the design process is the exception and nowhere close to being the norm. This needs to change.
Interestingly over the last five years though I’ve continued to see companies hire organisational psychologists both within HR/talent departments and corporate strategy departments. Yet given the profound impact the ongoing evolution of customer experience has on the core operating dynamics of retailing, we still don’t see consumer psychologists considered in the same way as internal facing organisational psychologists.
The combined skills of consumer psychology and behavioural economics provides retailers with an in-depth understanding of human perception (i.e. the influence of senses, how our brains process environmental stimulus, and how all of this affects consumer behaviours). It is also the core foundational element to truly driving brand perception through environmental elements of the physical retail experience to drive commercial effectiveness.
Our cumulative range of nuanced emotions throughout a retail journey are not easily represented within existing retail techniques and technologies which is why these skills are so vital as our ability to leverage AI to process vaster amounts of information occurs over the coming decade. Consumer psychologists and behavioural economists are the key to bridging the gap between cold analysis and customer behaviour. Retailers that achieve this, will be closer to their customers than ever before – the holy grail they all aim for.