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Survey: Majority of retailers plan to boost customer experience spend in 2015


WAKEFIELD, Mass. — More than 80% of retailers plan to increase their customer experience spending in 2015, according to a new survey from SDL, a provider of global customer experience, and Econsultancy.

Findings from the online survey, called The Retailer’s Imperative: A Strategic Approach to Customer Experience, reveal that North American retailers are past the stage of debating the importance of customer experience management and are now trying to master it.

“Mastery of the customer experience is a challenge with many facets. Retailers are overwhelmed by the complexity of data, technology and understanding of the customer journey,” stated Paige O’Neill, CMO at SDL. “Our latest research indicates that North American retailers are acutely aware of their technological shortfalls when it comes to creating a seamless, personalized customer experience across multiple channels.”

The online survey, which was sent to more than 225 senior marketers at North American retail companies with annual revenues of more than $100 million, revealed some key findings.

Increasingly, companies understand the importance of delivering a superior customer experience. The combination of intense competition, more demanding customers and an increasing range of channels mean that organizations have to continually improve the service they offer to consumers if they are to retain business — regardless of the sector they are in. In fact, the vast majority (80%) of retailers surveyed are increasing their customer experience budgets, and 1-in-3 is planning a significant increase of more than 10% from their current level. In addition:

Among the respondent organizations, none plan to reduce their customer experience commitment in 2015.

Nearly half of retailers strongly agree with the statement “our customer experience is our brand” — a figure that balloons to more than 80% when those who simply “agree” are included.

While many retailers view customer experience as a tool for higher conversion and retention, they do not necessarily see the connection to acquisition. According to they survey, this is an important disconnect, and one that creates a competitive advantage for those focused on content and social marketing. When asked about the ways they can differentiate themselves and attract new customers, retailers were varied in their responses.

Despite the realities of commoditization and competition, most retailers point to product offerings (54%) and price (45%) as their primary methods for attracting new customers.

For 45% of retailers, content is a tool to grow their audience, often in tandem with social reach.

Omnichannel retailing is cited by 22% of marketers. This reflects the challenges in creating a truly seamless experience, but also highlights that it can be a powerful differentiator for those that achieve it.

Realizing that they must create consistent and engaging experiences across a multitude of online and offline touchpoints to compete in today's business environment, many organizations are attempting to establish true integration across systems and technologies.

The research shows that North American retailer brands appreciate the need for technology integration, with 97% citing integration of customer experience technology as “important” or “essential” to their growth.

Yet only 40% describe their relevant systems as integrated and cross-functional, revealing a significant gap between the industry today and where it needs to go.

Only 2% have no plan for integrating their technologies at all.

Mobile commerce is among the fastest-growing segments in retail, as smartphones and tablets play bigger roles in the shopping journey. More and more brands are taking mobile commerce by storm, offering both mobile applications and mobile-optimized sites to their customers. The research reveals that mobile has been a dominant priority for retailers across 2013 and 2014, and that investment has paid off.

More than 50% now say they have a strong understanding of the mobile-user experience.

However, only one-third of retail marketers (35%) believe they can differentiate using mobile.

The challenge is for retailers to move beyond usability in mobile and advance to more sophisticated merchandising. An increasing percentage of buyers are mobile-only, especially in younger demographics, and their numbers are growing quickly. This presents a challenge in creating an experience that is simple enough for the small screen, but involves the consumer with the brand and opens up opportunities for continued shopping and loyalty.

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