Today consumers have more choices and access to information than ever before. Endless possibilities emphasize the level of sophistication needed to tailor customer experiences in the 21st century. The new formula for success is now measured by how well retailers can personalize, customize, digitize and socialize.

Personalization means communicating like a “friend” versus a brand, while customization is about placing the power of curation in the hands of the consumer. Digitization creates connected experiences, engaging consumers before, during and after the shopping experience. Socialization is about extending the relationship and creating a viral buzz.

Retailers must anticipate what consumers want. Offering an item or service before the consumer asks is a sure way to increase sales. This means being innovative in order to fully understand customers’ buying habits, phobias and preferences. To develop these insights, retailers need to ensure data is at the foundation of their business decisions. By leveraging data, retailers can develop an intimate understanding of their customers’ behaviours. This allows for unique communications and offers for each individual.

An example of a company working to connect with guests innovatively at a new level is Carnival Corporation. At the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the company unveiled Ocean Medallion, a wearable device designed to deliver a personalized and frictionless experience. This technology is aimed at providing a connected and stress-free vacation—from eliminating the need for a room key to having your favourite drink delivered upon arriving poolside. The possibilities provide a game changing experience and a new standard for the way guests experience their vacations.

Currently, retailers focused on curating experiences within the tourism and food service industries are outperforming those within the apparel and luxury sectors. Consumers are placing more value on experiences over spending on material items. The challenge for retailers outside the hospitality industry is bringing these experiential elements into their own sectors.

Customers are craving effortlessly connected experiences. A company capitalizing on this concept is made-to-wear menswear retailer, Indochino. The Vancouver-based company approaches customized suits through an omnichannel customer experience. In-store or online, customers are involved at each step of the creative process deciding how they want their suit to look and feel.

As technology continues to reinvent the possibilities in retail and ecommerce, customer experiences must shift accordingly. Recent payment technology has raised customer expectations, making the norm a more seamless, simple and natural experience. Business models like Uber have succeeded because they’ve removed the friction before, during and after the experience.

As consumers become more connected, every device has the potential to be a secure commerce tool and a driver of a better consumer experience. In the 21st century, this can be the convenience of ordering online without having to search for your wallet or enter your shipping information with each order. It’s the power to pay via a digital payment service such as Masterpass knowing your private financial information is protected.

At Mastercard, we are working to ensure everyone, everywhere has the ability to make and receive secure payments using any connected device, whether it be via your smartphone, your jewelry or through a home appliance. We understand the influence a seamless payment process has on the overall customer experience. The ability to pay without waiting for a machine or fumbling for cash makes payment a much simpler process.

The future of retail is increasingly connected customer experiences and payments are playing a bigger role. Successful business models will strike a balance between the personal, custom, digital and social aspects of creating these experiences. With technology the customer experiences we only dreamed of may soon become a reality.

This article originally appeared in the May 2017 issue of Direct Marketing.

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Linda Kirkpatrick

Linda Kirkpatrick is executive vice president, merchants & acceptance, Mastercard.

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