The battle of ‘Clicks vs. Bricks’. What does it mean for customer servicing?

The line between digital and reality is increasingly blurred. Since the advent of e-commerce, there has been a rat race to see who is first to the finish line – simply put, to get on the first page of Google search results. Almost everyone has moved to online shopping as it strips away the process of purchasing to essentially just a few clicks.

With this boom in e-commerce, everyone is looking to maximise customer experience in a space where you are barely ever face-to-face with consumers. Current omni-channel customer service partners are well established in providing unparalleled customer experience and have documented improvements in the entire customer lifecycle.

The rising

In the past year, we have seen brands like JC Penney and Abercrombie & Fitch close their doors early. Macy’s has also indicated that 100 of their retail outlets have been closed. For such a massive leader in the departmental store space, at a 15% volume closure rate, this is a serious revelation.

A 2017 GetApp Research has found an increasing number of retail outlets moving to the online space. Whereas, new brands were forged online specifically for e-commerce, more physical stores are now looking to capitalize on the younger generation’s shopping preferences. The study reveals about 22.7% of respondents firmly believing they will become completely digital within the next decade and 43.4% claiming it is likely that they will follow suit.

These statistics indicate that over 60% of retailers will no longer require omni-channel customer service. They will instead turn to focus on their e-commerce initiatives – which brings with it a whole new set of customer service requirements. For most organizations and outsourcing agencies, this shift in customer trends needs to be studied in depth, and new solutions developed.

The other end of the spectrum

Surprisingly, there is also an increase in the number of online only brands to descend to the earthly realm.

Take for example, the case of Amazon. The online giant just bought Whole Foods for an exorbitant sum, and they also already own a bookstore in Seattle (quite ironic since they were held responsible by many bookstores for their downturn in fortune). Over thirty other online brands have also opened up physical stores across the US, although they are markedly smaller and operate in the boutique clothing segment.

This is a clear indicator of those brands that understand that you cannot completely remove the idea of feeling and even trying on items before purchase. These brands believe that their customers would rather pick up their good in-store or from kiosks, than find something online that they can’t see or feel before purchase.

Another reason that some smaller brands quote for this downward shift is an overcrowded e-commerce environment, where it is impossible to outbid the established giants when buying or placing ads. When digital advertising becomes more expensive, it is apparent that opening a physical store might just be better. One particular jewelry brand has also claimed that in-store purchases are usually at triple the volume than a single online purchase.

What does this mean for the customer service landscape?

The battle of ‘Clicks vs. Bricks’ should be closely watched by all customer service executives in the next decade. While we have players moving across from both sides of the aisle, there is a disproportionate shift from physical stores to online presence.

Efficient customer lifecycle management will be more imperative in the daily operations of these brands, indicating a rapid increase in customer care services. As for processes, existing methodology will likely continue with an added opportunity for automation and innovation to handle the bulk of customer interactions.

Whether businesses find their customers walking into their retail outlets or perusing online catalogs, there is a lot of information that needs to be shared. Establishing an ironclad process that enables a handshake between in-store employees and contact center agents will provide a more wholesome experience to your customers. And that, is what will set you apart.