A 2021 Retail Roadmap for CX Success

Last week, we were privileged to have some incredible industry experts from Retail Week, PayPal, Shopify, Parcelhub and Medallia discussing the most pressing matters in retail at an event we called Let’s Talk Shop – Your retail CX roadmap for 2021. We’ve put together this piece so you know what happened and what to take away. 

We kicked off the virtual event with a very lively and informative panel discussing burning industry issues such as:

  • Ways to make BOPIS (Buy online, pickup in store) successful
  • How proactivity can save costs on WISMO (Where is my order?)  
  • 5 steps to AI Integrated retail customer service
  • Latest digital ecommerce experiences

The CX retail discussion was facilitated by Angélica Reyes, Head of Marketing Europe and UK at Freshworks, along with some leading customer experience and retail gurus (left to right in the photo):

  • Mike Debnar, Principal, Retail and Digital Innovation, Medallia
  • Lisa Byfield-Green, Head of Insight, Retail Week
  • Birk Angermann, Head of Solution Engineering EMEA, Shopify Plus
  • Simon Johnson, General Manager UK & Ireland at Freshworks
  • James Hayes, Director of Business Development, Parcelhub
  • Anthony Rafferty, Senior Director, Global Merchant Services, PayPal
  • Angélica Reyes, Head of Marketing Europe and UK at Freshworks (Host)

Listen to the full recording


The panel looked at what has gone on in the CX retail market since the pandemic hit a year ago and what this means for 2021 and beyond. Even though there is pent up demand to go back out and spend in the high street, we all know that shoppers behaviour has radically changed during the past year. There has been a  mass migration to online which is set to continue even when the current lockdowns are lifted.  

A recent study by emarketer showed that across Western Europe e-commerce sales rose by 26.3% against a background drop in overall retail sales of 3.6%. Add to this the rising customer expectations, because 96% of customers will leave you after just one bad customer experience. This shift to online means that businesses now more than ever need to bring their ‘A game’ to their digital retail channels.

During the panel discussion several themes emerged, which were around the following five key areas:

1. Understanding your customers

You must understand their needs and how they differ demographically by culture, geographically and age. So, look to bring in different payment options for different cultures, for example customers in the UK and Ireland prefer to pay by credit or debit card, whereas in Germany they prefer to pay after delivery. Younger people like to buy now pay later so offering this facility is essential to meet their needs.

You should ensure you communicate with customers in a way that is relevant to them. If you want to reach a younger demographic many retailers are using social networks to tell their story such as TikTok to build their brand. Millennials also prefer to use IM platforms, so it helps to have these channels available when they want to interact with you. For Silver Surfers the key thing is about establishing trust so you need to be transparent, reliable and make things easy.

2. Making customer experience easy

It was agreed by all that successful growth will come from having a well-designed, frictionless, easy CX environment. The key is to make it simple for customers to interact with you. This often requires an agile way of operating so you can respond faster to meet customer’s expectations. 

We are operating in a convenience economy and consumers want things immediately, so a mix of technology and operational processes that can blend the off and online eco-systems will win. Retailers who have invested in upgrading their IT and digital eco-systems will find it easier to succeed and those who haven’t will have to act fast to keep up.

3. Offering proactive service

It’s all about proactively keeping customers updated about changes in circumstances and telling them there is a problem before they ask you about it. If you do this you can turn what would have been a bad experience into a positive one. 

Last year there was a 125%- 150% increase in WISMO enquiries and this figure is not slowing down. Therefore, it’s especially important that if you know shipping delays will occur to proactively let customers know in advance as it makes them happier and saves you money by removing the avoidable contact. Investing in systems that automatically do this makes sound business sense and will improve customer experience. 

4. Omnichannel is the future

Previously lots of businesses talked about omnichannel but the past year many organisations have seen this as critical. In 2020 retail CX budgets increased by a 57% over 2019 and much of this was invested in improving cx omnichannel capabilities. This trend is likely to continue this year. 

Due to the lack of immersive personalised experiences people had in high street stores many companies are trying to replicate this in an online environment using AI or Video to help break down barriers. A good example of this is Mac Cosmetics who offer a virtual video service with their expert makeup artists. 

Learn more how AI is redefining retail customer service

5. Role of Automation in CX

If you already haven’t, try to automate the mundane, simple, common enquiries so customers can self-serve, which they are happy to do. This frees up your staff to deal with the more complex enquiries where there may be a large emotional component. Having the human touch on these enquiries can add real value to both the business and the customer.

One piece of good advice is don’t run before you can walk, you can’t drop your staff levels if you haven’t developed a robust knowledge base to replace them. You must integrate your multiple channels with your technology and your automation processes.  Automation will put your front-line staff under stress if your channels are not integrated and don’t work well together. If this is the case, then the staff have to spend extra effort to oil the areas of friction and neither they or your customers will thank you for this.

How to move forward in 2021

We ended the discussion by asking the panel what they recommend focusing on in 2021:

  • “It’s all about understanding your customers and their purpose and being proactive.” (Lisa Byfield-Green)
  • “Ensure you transact on the platform people have contacted you on.” (Anthony Rafferty)
  • “Remove barriers to scaling and provide a diversity of payments and communication methods.” (James Hayes)
  • “Do lots of experimentation and be flexible so you can meet customers ever changing needs.” (Birk Angermann)
  • “Get your employees to buy into your vision of what you are trying to achieve so they can act as brand ambassadors.” (Mike Debnar)

My recommendation is to listen to the full recording of the discussion. Also, don’t forget about your managers and leaders, invest in helping to support them with coaching and training to develop their full potential.


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