By Anne Klein, Client Services
Each year, CashStar hosts its Innovate conference, which is the largest digital prepaid commerce event of its kind. What makes it a great forum is observing how expert presentations and discussions spark those ‘ah-ha’ moments with our audience of retail executives – whether affirming a customer insight, inspiring a new digital prepaid execution tactic or validating an omnichannel strategy – and the 2015 event didn’t disappoint.
A key takeaway for me this year was the importance of customer-centricity: retailers that prioritize the customer experience see demonstrable results, and retailers that cultivate digital-enabled experiences in everything they do are leading the way. This will become more critical over time, as Hotels.com’s Josh Belkin discussed in a keynote address that millennials seek authentic dialogue and expect to connect with a brand across any channel or device, and subsequent generations are only more demanding. It’s clear that digitally enabled experiences are absolutely essential and, these days, are woven into every thread of profitable customer relationships. As I participated in conversations last week, it was evident that many retailers are approaching this customer-centricity through common themes:
- Contextual Relevancy: As PayPal’s Robert Clarkson noted in a general session, mobile commerce is growing at 3x the rate of traditional ecommerce, and omnichannel shoppers outspend by 20%. Retailers need to connect with these mobile shoppers, and mobile devices and wearables must deliver accessible and meaningful experiences. If a retailer isn’t providing an easy way to transact or offering convenient features at customer moments of need, the retailer risks losing that customer, now more than ever. The technological landscape is evolving as well: Target, com, Ulta, JCPenney and QVC, among others, recently released Apple Watch apps. Each brand culled its feature set down to a consumable experience, whether locating a store, tracking loyalty program status or accessing promotional coupons for redemption. It’s been fun to track the extension of mobile experiences through wearables. I expect to see continued test, learn and refinement to enhance the customer experience in a contextually relevant way.
- Expansion of Prepaid: In the prepaid space, digital gift cards continue to grow and expand into uses beyond consumer gifting occasions. I listened to retailers discuss how they are effectively and efficiently using digital gifting platforms in a variety of ways, such as minimum spend incentives, product trade-in programs, incentives for subscription service sign-ups, second tier credit, and experiential and product-based gifting. It’s evident that digital prepaid distribution succeeds in meeting customer expectations of immediacy and convenience. Meeting these expectations in turn delivers more committed and loyal customers.
- Branded Currency: Mobile and prepaid converge with the growth of retailer-branded currency. Promotional coupons, loyalty points, gift cards and store cards are examples of a retailer’s branded currency. Smart devices bring all of this purchasing power to one place, where it can be used interchangeably and collectively, and always within easy reach for consumers. Apple Pay, Google Wallet and branded apps like Starbucks offer storage for all of these instruments. Retailers are now recognizing the importance of seamless, scannable in-store redemption customer experiences as well.
In each of these themes, digital is helping fuel the customer-centricity movement. Brands must deliver exceptional customer experiences to foster and sustain customer relationships. For a long time, brands have incorporated these themes into customer relationship and marketing strategies – these aren’t new ideas. I think we are starting to see a greater customer-centered focus using digital to facilitate relationships now more than ever. As result, digital prepaid will increasingly become important in driving behavior. The retailers who innovate with digital today will secure lasting customer advocates.
Who are the brands that come to your mind with a best in class digital customer experience?