Consumer expectations are perpetually shifting, and while there’s been some pretty dramatic evolution since the pandemic arrived, fundamentally, this is nothing new. When it comes to shopping, especially online, today’s consumers have one powerful tool at their disposal: choice. It’s driving their decisions about everything from where they shop to who they buy from to how long they’re willing to wait for an order to arrive. As businesses set their sights on 2022, looking at e-commerce tools and strategies should be front and center. Here are some of the emerging trends worth investigating in the interest of improving the ever-important user experience and your bottom line.
- Customers are smarter than ever. Each year customers become more aware of what great customer service and customer experience looks like. They are being trained by companies like Amazon, Target, Walmart and other iconic brands that tend to get the customer experience right. It doesn’t matter the type of business you are in, or how big or small, your customers no longer compare you only to your competition, but instead to the best service they have ever received from any brand.
- Traditionally, people find the products they’re looking for. But in the age of ecommerce, brands are flipping the model, finding ways to make their products find the right people at the right moments in their shopping cycle. This approach doesn’t just aim to meet customers’ needs, it anticipates them.
- People like that feeling of discovery — that “aha” realization of finding just what they’re looking for, something they didn’t know existed, or did but forgot about it until it was presented to them at the right moment. Facebook conducted a survey from December 9 – December 24, 2020 and found that 63 percent of global shoppers surveyed enjoyed discovering items they weren’t actively looking for. So, while this strategy will prove most fruitful during the holiday shopping season, investing in marketing tactics that use the right mix of channels and audience targeting to make products discoverable will serve you well year-round.
- B2C expectations are starting to become B2B expectations. Customers in the B2B world are starting to expect some of the same levels of service and customer experience that they receive from their favorite retail brands.
- Convenience is a competitive expectation. The pandemic accelerated the adoption of convenience as companies increased options including delivery, improved self-service solutions and better use of technology. It’s simple…the company that is easier to do business with will win.
- Self-service options are increasingly important. I read a study last night that about 41% of American consumers who need help now turn to a digital self-service solution over traditional phone support. Companies must understand that customers want quick answers to their problems and questions and are willing to forgo traditional phone support if there is an easy, convenient solution. That percentage will grow, especially as forward-thinking companies provide easier, more intuitive digital help.
- Conversational AI continues to improve. Remember the computer, HAL, in that old move that could talk and make decisions. At the time, it was science fiction. Today, it’s reality. Some of the more advanced conversational AI solutions are becoming so good that they are almost indistinguishable from human-to-human interaction. And here’s the reason it is a 2022 prediction: it’s less expensive than ever. Conversational AI applications are now within reach of smaller businesses. So not only will conversational AI improve, it will be more commonplace.
- Email will become the most important marketing channel due to the trends in personalization, automation, and privacy. Some surveys show that 91% of business respondents maintained email marketing is critical to the overall success of their company. Tactics like dynamic and interactive email content, AMP for email, and new personalization strategies to rise in importance in 2022.
- Customer loyalty is a thing of the past and will evolve into membership programs. People crave membership and community; it’s human nature. What’s not human nature is to crave being in a loyalty program. Marketers have caught onto this and though loyalty points can offer consumers value, they’re not compelling differentiators on their own. In 2022, brands will transform loyalty programs into real memberships. And unlike loyalty programs that customers are hesitant to join, these membership programs will be so compelling that customers will pay to join. Brands will embrace the membership model by adding value through benefits, like exclusive access to products, free shipping and offline events.
- Foresight in the new priority. Hindsight might be 20/20 or as I think 20/40 but businesses will prioritize foresight in 2022 using inflection testing to point the way. With increasingly direct access to consumers, brands will no longer wait until after the fact to get feedback on campaigns, products and brand names they’ve already launched to know what people think. They’ll avoid major financial setbacks by using inflection testing. This is not to say that marketers won’t have bad ideas in 2022. That’s inevitable. But small scale testing will limit those bad ideas growing into brand catastrophic decisions.
- Discounts are transactional marketing and not relationship building. Brands have been eager to move away from a reliance on using steep discounts to acquire new customers and instead identify opportunities to offer value through their products that show a role they play in customers’ lives. Digital has expanded how and which types of value that brands can offer to customers. In 2022 brands will begin replacing blanket discounts that don’t keep shoppers around for long with unique offerings based directly on what they know about shoppers (i.e., they’ll buy based on free shipping), as well as on their own unique selling points (i.e., free personalization, in-store experiences).
- The war on personal data is real. It will escalate and marketers will lose access to more data that they have come to rely upon (see the blog entitled Time To Test Outside Threats). First-party data will become the foundation of all marketing initiatives. Many organizations, who have not prepared, will scramble to collect this data to stay competitive.
- Video will become the corner stone of digital marketing. It will replace static assets in all marketing campaigns. I have already replaced offering some business workshops on my website with free on-demand short workshop videos to increase participation. Social media and streaming TV platforms will introduce new advertising products that emphasize video. Even the retail experience will see new innovations in using video to engage customers and drive revenue.
- Direct mail will offer customers an escape from white noise that now clutters the internet. Instead of getting lost in the digital inbox, businesses are being discovered in the mailbox. Direct mail has been dismissed due to misconceptions about that channel. However, integrated campaigns give businesses the opportunity to reach millions of individuals on a more personal level than digital communications can provide alone. Overall, direct mail performance and engagement continue to climb. According to some studies, 92% of people surveyed read direct mail and 71% share it.
- Advertising postcards reach people where they live. Direct mail is a way of communicating with your consumers directly to their homes. It allows you to target your audience according to location and demographic profile. During the last five years, we’ve seen an increase in advertisers using postcards to reach their audience, and this trend is expected to grow. Postcards are lightweight, visually appealing and stand out in the mailbox. As digital advertising expenses increase, whether you’re a real estate agent or kitchen renovator, postcards are a simple format that maximizes ROI.
- Digital story telling will refocus on the customer. There has been a large focus over the past year on digital storytelling. But many companies are still struggling to get that right. Many companies are still making their stories about themselves versus how clients can find success with the help of the company’s products and services. Companies who can leverage persuasive storytelling will have their digital content create value and relatability and not just be content for content’s sake.
2022 will be a year of opportunities for those businesses that focus on “inflection testing” now. For more thoughts on inflection testing, be sure to read the ebook “Customer Centric Business Planning: A Guide to Optimizing Your Business for Maximum Success”. It is an essential book for business owners, managers, and entrepreneurs looking to leverage real-time insight to start and improve their business operations. Learn how proper customer centric business planning can assess risk and opportunity, and create an actionable roadmap for success.
Copyright ©John Trenary 2022