The latest and greatest digital shift since COVID-19 hit has reshaped the retail landscape faster than could have been imagined. It has brought new opportunities and challenges alike. Major retailers are closing physical storefronts and investing heavily in digital platforms with very positive results. While the latest digital transformation may be sudden, the idea of creating or using digital technology to meet changing consumer needs is not a new concept.
In the 60s, technology had almost no impact on businesses or consumers. It was slowly creeping its way into people's homes. The Company was King as business had to rely on customer service and satisfaction to win customers. That lack of impact affected consumers as well because shopping was sharply limited by geography.
The 70s saw businesses using technology to focus on profitability and the ones that did began to crush the ones who did not despite the quality of customer experience. Consumers were weary of businesses using technology to draw more money from their pockets.
In the 80s technology became paramount in consumers’ homes and was changing behavior. Communication tech was booming, and people were using it to share experiences, make purchase and shopping decisions and were able to shop from a greater distance.
In the 90s, technology became more realized in retail. Consumers were no longer shackled to local businesses that were not prioritizing their needs. They also were able to shop based on price. Businesses would use the internet to make themselves more accessible but were still solely utilizing technology to grow revenue and compete.
In the early 2000s, the customer was finally crowned King. Social media allowed consumers to articulate and share experience with a wider audience. More and more people were making purchasing decisions based on a company’s reputation over price and businesses finally understood that all the most expensive digital technology and strategy would be wasted without putting a priority on customer experience and satisfaction.
We certainly thought we lived in a fully digital world 10 years ago, but this pandemic has added an entirely new dimension to the connection between customer experience and technology. Automation and digital technology have always served the need to rise to new customer expectations and challenges in retail. A big new challenge is online shoppers changing expectations. COVID-19 has drawn more customers into digital retail who may have never done so if not forced. They bring with them the same expectations they had when they were having an interpersonal experience in store, like asking a salesperson a question that pops into their head while they have a vehicle in front of them.
When consumers had the ability to see how dozens of dealers were pricing the same model vehicle, dealers had to rethink their pricing strategy in order to win business. Basic consumer facing trade evaluation tools and algorithms have existed since the mid 90s and have changed very little since. A 30-year-old digital strategy just won’t cut it at a time where there are more online customers to engage with higher expectations and greater needs. Take this for an example: the old way of trade evaluation always leads to a customer physically putting a vehicle in front of an appraiser in order to get an exact offer proving that AI alone cannot inspect vehicles with accurate results. By utilizing new technologies, however, both consumers and dealers are able to narrow down values without the customer being present. And this is just one example of how the combination of technology and humans can interact with each other in order to facilitate more accurate and efficient transactions.
Don’t be afraid of new technologies. Changes are inevitable so it is better to embrace them now and be ahead of the game then take a ‘wait and see’ attitude. By making your business more efficient, you not only save money and manpower but create a more satisfying experience for your customer.