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How can companies make digital shopping better than the Black Friday/Cyber Monday experience?

How can companies make digital shopping better than the Black Friday/Cyber Monday experience?

Metaverse shopping, neural network-influenced search functions and flexible payment options can continue elevating the online shopping experience, experts say.

Good afternoon! In case you couldn't tell by the thousands of emails that surely hit your inbox this weekend, today is Cyber Monday, and we're sending a bonus Braintrust your way to celebrate. This past week, we asked the experts to think about Black Friday and Cyber Monday and consider how online experiences will evolve and what your future shopping holidays could look like. Want more on the future of retail? We have a bunch of great stories from Shopping Week 2021 on Protocol right now!

Louis DiCesari

Global Head of Data, Analytics and AI at Levi Strauss & Co.

Shopping should be easy and enjoyable regardless of whether it's online or in-store. Data, AI and technology play a critical role in delivering a personalized and seamless shopping experience for consumers.

At Levi's, we know that consumers find inspiration in different ways — whether it's seeing your best friend's new jacket or scrolling through social media platforms. In stores, it's easy to show a stylist or assistant in-store a photo of what you're looking for. Online, it should be just as easy. At Levi's, we recently launched a pilot on the Levi's® ecommerce site, allowing our fans to search for products in a similar way — fans can upload a photo, and an AI-based algorithm will recommend similar products based on that image.

Online shopping allows retailers to deeply understand their fans and create highly personalized experiences that deliver the right products at the right time for each individual. At Levi's, we enhanced our ecommerce search capabilities to be more intuitive and tailored. With the use of neural-network-based machine learning, our website's search function will deliver personalized search results with even the simplest of keyword search terms. For example, when a shopper searches "jeans," the search algorithm will customize and order the results based on consumers' preferences for color, fit, style and gender using a combination of historical data and clickstream data.

Making the experience personal to a consumer, while ensuring they can easily find the products they want and love, can make or break a retailer's success — especially as we head into the holidays. By leveraging data, AI and technology to enhance online channels, retailers can offer a unique and tailored experience, leaving customers wanting to come back for more.

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Ritu Khanna

Managing Director, North America at Shopify

Every year, we see customers leverage digital channels for their Black Friday/Cyber Monday purchases, and a growing number of customers are prioritizing convenience factors over door-buster sales. But as skipping lines and shopping from home have become commonplace, brands must continue to push the envelope and connect with shoppers in differentiated and personalized ways.

Product discovery and promotion are areas ripe for development as shoppers look across channels for the best deals, with younger shoppers leading the charge on social media to find the trendiest products. By tapping into various channels, such as SMS, online or social, brands can customize their interactions with their target audiences. Whether that's exclusive pricing for customers using their app, discounts based on an item's popularity or providing an early preview of a promotion, these exchanges become more personal and engaging, meeting the customer where they are, which a brick-and-mortar experience doesn't always allow.

Meanwhile, the digital checkout process provides ample opportunity for increasing customer satisfaction. With supply chain disruptions this year, we're seeing preorders and waitlists become more important than ever, as customers opt to secure their spot on the waitlist and feel confident they've locked in the best price. And brands can promote at-checkout deals or flexible payment and pick-up options like "buy now, pay later," curbside pickup or local delivery to offer greater product visibility or more convenience.

Of course, Black Friday/Cyber Monday is no longer just a day: We're seeing it as an extended shopping season. With these digital tools at merchants' disposal, they can promote, activate and analyze shopping habits and continue to connect with consumers in impactful ways.

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John Strain

Chief Digital & Technology Officer at Gap Inc.

While at Gap Inc. we believe that the store experience will always be important to our customers, there are many ways retailers can enhance the digital shopping experience to make it more enticing. One of the most important things we can do is understand what it is about shopping in stores that customers enjoy and how we can ensure that experience is also reflected online. One example of this is better fit technology — we know that fit is one of the biggest barriers to online shopping. If apparel retailers can create a way through AI/ML technology to offer a better fit experience, therefore increasing customer satisfaction and decreasing the amount of returns or exchanges, we will be able to meaningfully improve digital shopping.

Additionally, when we look at the current online experience, we feel like there is a lot of "shouting" going on. Many Black Friday deals are a mass offer to all customers. We believe the better experience is a personalized offer — more of a whisper intended specially for you and targeted for your needs and interests.

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Jose Luis-Gomes

Managing Director, Retail & Consumer at Google Cloud

Retailers who deliver personalized, omnichannel experiences will win the holiday season and beyond. Consumer expectations are higher than ever and habits changed drastically amid the pandemic. Many consumers turned to digital shopping, with 75% of consumers trying a new shopping behavior, according to McKinsey.

Retailers now have the ability to get a real-time look at their operations and deliver personalized experiences that are seamless across digital and physical properties. Having the data to understand the customer preferences and meet them on mobile, online or in stores is crucial. For example, during the pandemic, searches for "in stock near me" increased nearly 800%, underscoring the value of meeting localized consumer demand. Data is shaping the digital shopping journey and relationship with retailers and fueling a new generation of brand loyalty.

In order for retailers to win the digital shopping experience and ultimately create an experience that is better than the traditional Black Friday experience, retailers need to have robust technology systems in place that can support omnichannel services and deliver relevant data in real time. The ability to leverage technology like ML and AI to aid in more personalized product discovery and delivery will be imperative for retailers this Black Friday and beyond.

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Joe Jensen

VP, IOTG - GM Retail, Banking, Hospitality and Education at Intel

Traditionally, Black Friday and Cyber Monday have evoked anxiety-inducing scenes of lines wrapped around stores for midnight openings, a relentless barrage of mass-email promotions and mailboxes bursting with ad circulars. Despite years of success, it’s time for companies to move on from tactics like these, both during the holiday and regular shopping seasons. The pandemic expedited consumer expectations for elevated shopping experiences that are hyper-convenient and personalized — blind email blasts and asking customers to brave the elements for hours on Thanksgiving night are neither. When selecting a retailer or shopping channel, the lowest prices and most abundant selection are no longer primary determining factors for the typical consumer. We’re seeing shoppers happily choosing to pay more for the same items when they’re tied to an amazing experience. While online shopping and click-and-collect adoption are unsurprisingly more popular than ever, brick-and-mortar is also in the middle of an unexpected renaissance as consumers seek to develop a personal connection with brands through a sensory experience that cannot be replicated online.

Companies must take a data-driven approach to create these incredible experiences — online, in-store and everywhere in between. For example, AI can help translate shopper behaviors or general characteristics into targeted, timely and personalized promotions delivered via phone app push notifications or even out-of-home digital signage. Once in store, a customer can see, feel and touch fabrics and textiles, customize their own product using a self-serve kiosk and have it shipped directly to their front door. Throughout the year, that customer will be given new release sneak peaks and first access to sales, further building that relationship and fostering long-lasting loyalty.

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Greg Cross

Co-founder and CBO at Soul Machines

This Black Friday, retailers are in the midst of an omnichannel revolution, and Digital People play a critical role in delivering empathetic CX to emulate the in-store customer service experience both online and within the metaverse. Consumers crave more personalized experiences with brands, and as third-party cookies begin to disappear, these brands will need to turn to direct means of engaging with consumers online. The solution: an autonomously animated digital workforce built to deliver an empathetic customer experience.

Digital People are the crux of a true omnichannel retail strategy because they connect the best of both offline and online shopping experiences. Imagine easing Black Friday pressures with the integration of Digital People who have the ability to learn and autonomously respond to customers. Retailers can leverage deals to turn a profit while using Digital People to create that intimate and personalized experience within the metaverse. Like human retail teams, avatars are intelligent, empathetic and responsive. But what does a digital workforce offer that human employees can't? 'Round-the-clock, 24/7 support from anywhere in the world. Companies can even create a multicultural digital workforce, fluent in multiple languages and knowledgeable of different traditions and customs. Additionally, online shopping options offer more accessibility for customers, some of whom are physically, financially or otherwise unable to attend a brick-and-mortar store.

Bottom line, it's inevitable omnichannel retail experiences will bleed into metaverse environments with the assistance of technology like Digital People. By bringing the familiarity of offline customer service to the metaverse, customers have the opportunity for hyper-personalized one-on-one interactions. Plus, those sharp elbows and quick feet Black Friday customers have mastered will no longer be essential skills for shopping success stories anymore.

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Lidiane Jones

Executive VP & Commerce Cloud GM at Salesforce

The mass acceleration to digital has changed the customer experience forever, providing more channels, choices and flexibility than we have ever seen. The proof is in the pudding — since the start of the holiday season, digital commerce revenue in the U.S. is up 18%, signaling that shoppers who turned digital in the last year are continuing to drive ecommerce growth this fall and winter. Brands and retailers can leverage technology in a number of ways to improve the digital shopping experience.

They can begin by leveraging data insights and AI to personalize offerings. By looking back at previous customer interactions to better predict future consumer behavior, companies can provide customers with curated product recommendations they'll love in the channels they frequent the most.

It is also important to meet consumers where they are — whether it is mobile or social, companies need to bring the ecommerce experience to the channels where customers spend most of their time. This could range from established social players like Twitter or Instagram to emerging platforms and channels like TikTok or delivery apps. Transactions on emerging channels like delivery apps, social media and messaging platforms increased by more than 20% in the last two years.

Finally, the shopping experience should be as easy and seamless as possible. The key to fostering greater customer loyalty and trust is ensuring that your products arrive in the hands of customers on time and as promised, which can only happen if your back-house is in order. Companies must first connect every department in order to connect every customer touchpoint, then they can ensure they have full visibility into your inventory and leverage the tools at their disposal to optimize order fulfillment.

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Rick Olson

Head of Industry Strategy: Retail, Hospitality & Tourism at Genesys

The first way to create a better experience for customers is to give them the gift of time. And this can manifest itself many ways, but at Genesys we think of this as empathy — seeing the world through the customer's eyes. Think about ordering a coffee ahead of time so you don't have to stand in line, or an online retailer suggesting batteries to go with that new toy in your online shopping cart.

The second way to create a better experience is to remember the basics this holiday season: Use technology to provide clean search results, accurate inventory management with promotions and a seamless checkout. Don't show items that were not in a customer's specific search. Don't show promotions on an item that is out of stock. And the one that gets consumers really frustrated: allowing items in a cart only to show a prompt at checkout that they are out of stock without offering recommendations that are similar to the out-of-stock item.

I think of digital shopping as another door to your brand, so don't give yourself another channel for the consumer to have a bad experience. There are already enough of those out of your control these days with the supply chain and labor challenges.

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See who's who in the Protocol Braintrust and browse every previous edition by category here (Updated Nov. 29, 2021).
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