How customer experience and expectations are changing in retail and hospitality

Woman paying for goods

Customer experience in retail and hospitality environments is changing. Technology is evolving, expectations are higher, and businesses are having to work harder in order to ensure they are giving consumers the ‘on-demand’ treatment they want.

In retail, for example, physical stores are constantly having to compete with ecommerce businesses like the online giant that is Amazon. The convenience and ease of online shopping allows us to find a product and complete the purchase within minutes, making it the preferred way to shop by 51% of consumers

However, physical shopping experiences are still a source of enjoyment for many, and the evolution of bricks-and-mortar spaces has proven that they will still reign as the preferred source of discovery and inspiration for shopping experiences. After all, one area that ecommerce cannot compete with is the level of sensory engagement in retail stores, which, despite developments in personalisation and augmented reality online, will never be emulated there.

Nevertheless, physical venues need to progress their in-store experiences to ensure they are ahead of the game. While many stores are still adapting to technologies and upgrades such as contactless payment and loyalty schemes - basic expectations of modern retail - others are going above and beyond to surpass the desires of consumers.

The appeal of the ‘concept store’ is now very apparent, and large brands in particular are beginning to invest more into inspirational and interactive store experiences. The whole idea of this is to offer consumers a way to connect with the brand, experience more of their offering, and become a part of their community.

This concept can be related to expectations in various sectors, as we know that consumers respond very well to fulfilling experiences that elicit an emotional reaction. They want to test, taste, compare and learn - as well as leaving satisfied with a purchase. In turn, this engagement can aid the business by resulting in longer customer dwell-time, increased spend, return visits and positive reviews.

Adapting to customer expectations is also extremely important across the hospitality industry, as supported by the Harvard Review’s findings that consumers spend 140% more in venues when they’ve had a positive experience. This is why customer experience is highly correlated with loyalty - one area in which bars, restaurants and shops should be investing in.

Using technology, successful businesses are now employing loyalty schemes and targeting consumers at different stages of their journeys - when a booking is made, prior to their visit, once they have left a venue, etc. This not only allows them to build a relationship with the consumer, but also enables them to collect further data for future use, such as personalised and behavioural marketing.

Another significant factor of customer experience in venues is the speed and ease of service. The evolution of technologies that make purchasing processes more efficient, such as self-checkouts and mobile payments, demonstrates how the industry is striving towards this more streamlined experience. What’s more, as retail and hospitality businesses now have the means to tackle issues like long queues and poor card machine receptions, the risk of frustrated customers, who aren’t seeing their needs met, is higher.

A recent report by restaurant POS service provider, Toast, found “a disconnect between restaurant owners’ and restaurant goers’ outlook towards newer restaurant technology.” In particular, they focussed on the use of handheld tablets by restaurant employees, and how this affected dining experiences. The results were that 68% of consumers agreed that the use of tablets by servers improved their experience.

Having such technologies available can now enable retail and hospitality businesses to make tasks such as taking orders, splitting bills and submitting customer requests much easier, and the findings that consumers welcome these suggest higher expectations. Before long, using tablets mobile technology and the like to streamline customer experiences will become standard, and for businesses with a disconnect to technology, this is bound to impact their bottom line.

Thanks to Startle for this article.