This post was originally published at Retail Technology Insider.

Most retailers aren’t big fans of guessing. Before and during the pandemic, data-driven decision-making and a brand’s ability to quickly adapt strategies based on the newest trends were the keys to delivering the online shopping experiences customers need in the moment. Now that stores are beginning to re-open and we’re getting away from that “sink or swim” mentality we had during COVID, it’s time to take stock of where customers’ shopping habits stand.

We recently surveyed 800 consumers across the U.S. and U.K. to see how they interact with chatbots and recommendations, what type of pre-purchase research they choose to do and where they do it, and plans for the future of in-store versus online shopping.

The biggest takeaway? Shoppers are ready for a comprehensive, connected experience with expanded chatbot capabilities, diverse recommendations, and experiences that know who they are and what they like.

Shoppers Want More from the Chatbot

Across the U.S. and U.K., consumers most commonly turn to chatbots for customer service, and 70 percent of U.S. shoppers said they use a site’s chatbot every visit or often. However, the majority of shoppers say they would like a chatbot to provide additional capabilities beyond service and support. 64 percent of U.S. shoppers say they’d like to use the chatbot for support finding specific products and 59 percent say they’d like to check product compatibility or get additional product information.

Brands that leverage chatbots to go beyond basic FAQs are providing the multifaceted chatbot experience shoppers expect. Brands should index valuable information like customer reviews and product catalogs to create a more well-rounded chatbot that keeps shoppers shopping on their site.

Expand Recommendations Beyond Products

Product recommendations are a proven approach to adding value to consumers’ shopping experiences, as well as increasing average order value for brands. The overwhelming majority of U.S. shoppers (85 percent) interact with product recommendations always or often, and two-thirds of U.S. respondents say every visit or often they buy recommended items they didn’t initially plan on buying. However, products aren’t the only recommendations shoppers want to see.

Respondents said suggested content, including how-to and DIY guides, expert recommendations, and product videos are useful, especially during the research phase of their journey.

Almost three-quarters of shoppers do product research on social media, blogs, articles, and product reviews every time or often before making a purchase. If your recommendation strategy is product-only, you could be losing shoppers to other websites during their research phase. Cast a smarter net for search results and chatbot conversations to meet your shoppers’ needs, whether it’s content, support, or products.

The Big 3: Product Quality, Personalization, and Customer Service

The survey revealed that shoppers’ hesitancy to go in-store will impact some industries more than others. The top three categories that consumers shopped online were apparel, grocery, and electronics. Once restrictions lift, shoppers say they plan to primarily purchase apparel and grocery in-store. Not so for industries like electronics where it’s easier to shop, compare, and research online. More than half of respondents say they currently order electronics online, but only a third plan to purchase these things primarily in-person once stores re-open.
Loyalty poses a challenge when customers have limitless options online. Shoppers say high product quality, personalized recommendations, and excellent customer service are the top three reasons that they’re loyal to brands.

Brands must invest in technology to deliver the most relevant recommendations that understand who shoppers are and what their goals are—that includes developing products that meet their standards, recommendations that understand their intent, and customer service that knows their entire journey.

The shopper inhabits multiple personas. To create a great customer experience you have to understand the consumer’s goal in the moment. Brands must connect the dots between all of the actions a shopper takes to understand their goal and deliver the most relevant experience from research, to purchase, to support, and back.

About Garrett Schwegler

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