When we recently discussed how the future of commerce will change in the coming months, one of the areas we focused on was the post-purchase experience (and how it’s the next frontier.) 

Today, we’re going to dig into this idea a bit more, and since we know the why, we’ll next look at the how of this equation, examining a few different tactics and strategies that can help retailers act on this future-facing insight.

9 ways to plan for the future of customer experience

Customer experience of the future goes beyond customer satisfaction and focuses on relationship-building. It places empathy, simplification, and connection at the forefront. 

As such, brands should find new and different ways to improve customer experience across three different infrastructures: discovery, purchase, and connection.

The data echoes why this is critical: Customer-focused companies are 60% more profitable compared to companies not focused on the customer. 

So what can retailers do to plan for the future of customer experience?

Let’s look at a few specific tactics.

1. Leverage your metrics & data

Data-driven brands will be the ones who take the lead in the future of commerce. Why? Because they can make smarter, more informed decisions. In fact, research shows data-driven marketing is either embedded or strategic for 78% of marketers today.

So how do you go about de-siloing data? It starts by taking data from social, web, and mobile channels, sharing it across all company departments, and then leveraging that customer data to better inform everything from merchandising, to buying, to marketing personalization, and beyond. Data has to be at the core of every business decision.

2. Embrace feedback

Customers have valuable insights; take their word for it. Then make adjustments as needed. The question is: When? Is there a perfect moment in which brands should collect feedback?

At the return stage, customers are more likely to share their honest thoughts with you, so make giving feedback easy. Ask your customers the reason for their return and have them be as specific as possible in return forms. This is a critical opportunity to collect detailed product feedback that you can turn around and use for product development, marketing, and even product photography. Love Your Melon was able to make major operational improvements when they unlocked new forms of customer intelligence.

3. Create a more seamless omnichannel experience

From marketing, to purchase, to fulfillment, exchanges, and returns—every touchpoint matters. Leverage integrations to create an experience your customer will want to repeat again and again. 

Why? Because modern customers use a variety of devices when making purchasing decisions. They shop online and off, across screens large and small. As such, brands need to optimize their omnichannel experiences so they’re seamless and fluid across all touchpoints.

“We’re seeing an entirely new socioeconomic demographic exposed to ‘omnichannel’ because of the measures put in place during the pandemic, which is specifically bringing a forever change to last mile fulfillment. The key is being able to do it cost effectively while keeping stores relevant because they are so critical in building the customer experience.” – Jeanette Barlow, VP of Offering Management, IBM Sterling Supply Chain

4. Integrate predictive personalization

Simplify the buying decision process for your customers. More and more, marketing messages and email communications are individualized based on customer data. Brands should use data (again, yes, data!) to bring personalization to every touchpoint. 

Specifically, consider things that bring customers closer to the purchase stage by adding elements like continuous shopping to the homepage. Provide personalized recommendations based on customer behavior. Use browsing data to leverage cross-selling and upselling on product pages and email communications, recommending complementary items and bundles.

For example: Made Trade cross-sells bed sheets with pajamas and pillowcases for those who are looking to upgrade their entire sleep experience.

“Personalized experiences will drive customers to specific brands in the future. This is more than adding a name or even customizing products: It’s about providing the experience around the products. Retailers should support that by offering fitness apps or classes, personalized book club programs, cooking ideas, etc. This means going beyond the generic and really understanding who your customers are and what they are trying to accomplish.” -Jeannie Walters, CCXP and customer experience consultant

It’s all about providing the experience around the products.

In short: Make product discovery a tailor-made experience. Any time you can remove obstacles and simplify processes, you’re improving the customer experience and further building a seamless experience across devices. Technology that leverages machine learning (like what Dynamic Yield offers) makes executing this ultra-simple.

5. Incorporate augmented reality

It’s not enough to offer products online. Customers in the future will come to expect features that make product discovery and visualization easier. Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) are two ways to do this digitally. 

This technology shift is already on the rise:

  • 46% of retailers plan to deploy either AR or VR solutions to meet customer experience requirements this year. 
  • 61% of online shoppers prefer to make purchases on sites that offer augmented reality technology.
  • 71% of shoppers would shop more at a retailer if AR were offered

Augmented reality allows customers to view products from the comfort of their homes. Tools like Shopify’s Size.link help customers get a better idea of what products look like in real life. 

Clothing retailer Mizzen + Main uses an augmented reality tool on their product pages to contextually display products on different builds and body sizes in a rotating, 360-view, which helps shoppers make more informed purchasing decisions and cuts down on returns.

The sooner you leverage these innovative technologies, the better your customer experience will be.

6.  Alleviate customer uncertainty

Customers are in a hurry, and they want to find answers to their questions without too much effort. Gartner predicted that virtual agents like chatbots will manage around 85% of customer interactions this year. If you’re getting hundreds of inquiries a day, using a chatbot might be the best option for you. Another option: Adding an easy-to-find FAQ section to your website. 

“You might see most FAQ pages buried at the bottom of a website’s footer, but they’re better off incorporated into your site as part of your Support or Contact Us page, or navigation menu to ensure it gets found. It’s also important to update your FAQ page over time as new customer concerns come up or as new opportunities arise to link to other pages in your questions and continue the customer journey.” -Braveen Kumar,Shopify

For example:Nomatic combines FAQs and chatbot into one seamless feature, allowing customers to see a few related questions and answers in one place.

Whatever you choose, find what makes sense for your company to address customer needs quickly. And in both cases, use your brand’s personality to write copy (without sacrificing brevity and clarity).

7. Provide convenient options for checkout

Customers are shopping across devices and platforms and are beginning to expect to be able to make one-click payments, to purchase through social, or to use digital wallets. In fact, 30% of customers say they’d purchase directly through social media. 

For ecommerce merchants, this means looking into added payment tools like Apple Pay, PayPal, and other checkout options like Shopify’s Shop Pay to make purchasing faster and easier, with less friction during this final step of the conversion process.

8. Build relationships post-purchase

Post-purchase is the future of customer experience, and it’s where innovative brands are investing. When it comes to building customer loyalty and retaining your customers, connection needs to happen every step of the way. How can you improve connection? With personalized communication that is mindful of customer needs.

Remember: post-purchase (connection infrastructure) is the heart of long-term customer relationships. The reason: acquisition is more or less the same for all brands. The shopping experience you can optimize. Post-purchase, however, is where your brand personality and humanity can shine through.

9. Invest in returns

Returns are often an aspect of the customer experience that gets overlooked. But in the future, this will change: consider that 67% of shoppers check a company’s returns page before making a purchase.

Think about the last time you ended up with the wrong product you bought online. I bet you felt a bit lost. When a customer knows they need to return an item, they are at their most vulnerable. You can make customers feel much more confident and secure with the right returns process, policy, and customer support team.

Investing this piece of the post-purchase experience is not just about helping the customers who end up with the wrong product. Investing in your returns infastructure can actually be a form of marketing. When customers know how easy returns and exchanges are they are much more likely to convert. Returns help lower the percieved risk of the purchase.

Approach customer experience with thoughtfulness

More than anything, customers remember how you make them feel. Improving customer experience means taking a 360 approach and putting a larger focus on the post-purchase aspect of the customer journey.

Every step of the way (even after the sale is made) your customers should feel cared for and understood. The future of customer experience means going above and beyond in ways brands haven’t before. With empathy at the forefront, brands can stand out from the competition and build lasting connections with their customers. 

In the future, we can expect to see the growth around a culture of thoughtfulness, which extends to customer experience, but also to internal teams and cross-organization communication. Being more intentional and thoughtful will help brands excel internally and externally. This can take shape in many forms, but is largely driven by empathy.

Blake Morgan of Forbes writes:

“Thoughtfulness considers the softer aspects of customer experience that can’t be measured as easily. Thoughtfulness comes from having a customer-centric mindset where everyone is obsessed with providing the best service and solutions for customers. That expands to a thoughtful culture towards employees where they feel valued and have the tools they need to do their jobs.”

As more of retail moves online, consumers and brands will have less and fewer opportunities to connect deeply during the purchase experience. Because of this, brands will need to turn to the post-purchase experience to build this connection. This includes leveraging interactions like shipment confirmation notifications, delivery notifications, SMS/email updates, the unboxing experience, and even the returns and exchange experience.