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NRF 2023: The time is now for retailers to drive more immersive experiences

Key takeaways and learnings, including the importance of powerful partnerships with Shopify

Published 2 February 2023

Earlier this year, our Zendesk team traveled to New York to attend retail’s most important conference, National Retail Federation (NRF) Big Show. This event brings together the largest gathering of industry executives to discuss what trends retailers should pay attention to, especially when it comes to the convergence of physical and digital shopping experiences. Our executives were able to connect with key partners such as Shopify and Narvar, as well as have meaningful conversations with brands throughout the week (the only quiet moment we had was in the Zendesk Meditation Bus!).

After a whirlwind week – following a record-breaking holiday season for retail – it was clear that brands have a lot to tackle this year. One common sentiment from the show floor was that customer service needs to improve, but doing so during an economic downturn can be challenging. Recent research agrees on the importance of investing in CX (customer experience), with 74% of retail leaders expecting to increase their CX budget over the next 12 months. Let us break down where brands should be investing resources and prioritizing partnerships in order to deliver better experiences.

Look in the CX toolbox
A majority of retail leaders agree that digital and in-store experiences will increasingly merge over the next few years, but only 22% of retail leaders have the tools to create a seamless experience between the online and physical spaces. Customers expect a connected experience, and will take their wallet elsewhere if not satisfied. It is important that retailers invest in capabilities that create conversational and personalized experiences that seamlessly flow between all points of commerce channels and spaces.

Technology is key to creating these experiences and making the conversation feel natural, convenient and fluid – whether the customer is being helped in-store by an associate, online by a bot or self-serving their question through a knowledge base. The brands that leverage messaging, AI and automation will deliver a better CX. For example, jewelry company Chupi knows the importance of conversational customer service and specifically, social messaging. The brand has a plugin for Instagram DMs that empowers Chupi’s customer care agents to easily meet customers on their preferred channels and have customer information at their fingertips through a Shopify integration.

Pay attention to personalization
Every year, there are higher customer expectations when it comes to personalization. Our data shows that 70% of consumers expect anyone they are interacting with at a company should easily have access to past purchases, context from interactions, and other information provided.

This is made possible for sales floor associates who can provide on-the-go, “deskless” service to in-store shoppers via a mobile app that contains relevant customer information. For online retailers, having a single, unified view of customers’ orders enables agents to provide a more tailored experience. Through the Zendesk and Shopify partnership, merchants can view real-time shipping and payment status, advanced order timelines, etc. to have a holistic view of the state of their business.

By doubling down on personalization – as well as ensuring any employee a customer interacts with has access to the necessary information to handle any task – customers will be able to get help, make purchases, and have better experiences on their terms.

Imagine an immersive future
One of our biggest bets for 2023 is the rise of immersive CX. As physical and digital realms continue to converge, the ideal customer experiences must be immersive. This means natural, convenient and fluid interactions between customers and companies. With 81% of retail leaders agreeing that CX is key to staying competitive, now they must evaluate how to differentiate themselves through immersive CX.

In order to be successful in this new era of CX, brands need a strong understanding of the customer journey across different retail environments, capturing insights about where friction occurs and taking action to provide a smooth, seamless customer experience. This is important as new trends around live shopping, “shopatainment” take over social media and new channels such as the metaverse are yet another place to connect with customers.

We have only just begun to unlock the potential for how customers and brands communicate with each other in these realms. These new innovative experiences are creating a greater demand for powerful and agile CX tools that are necessary for building better experiences. To learn more, cheek out the latest global CX Trends Report here.