While 96 percent of retailers say customer experience is a core priority, 75 percent believe their organization has room for improvement, according to new research from enterprise software firm Square Root. Even more revealing is that despite 89 percent of retailers believing long-term success hinges on customer experience, nearly 40 percent of brands still lack ways to measure the impact of their efforts.

The new study uncovers the growing importance of the customer experience and the challenges retailers face in keeping pace with increasing customer expectations. The firm’s national survey of more than 300 U.S. retailers explored brands’ approaches to customer experience strategy and programming, from ownership within the organization to the tools, technology and metrics used to gauge success.

The black holes of retail customer experience—and how to stay in orbit

Keeping pace with increasing expectations

Thanks in large part to the explosion of ecommerce, customer expectations are at an all-time high, with shoppers demanding fast and easy access to products and premium service, every time. In the age of Amazon, retailers are racing to keep up with fast-changing demands and increasing competition—both digital and brick and mortar—and many find themselves falling behind, with 78 percent citing keeping up with the speed of change and customer expectations as one of the biggest challenges they face today.

“As retailers are increasing their focus on customer experience, our study uncovers that finding success really starts behind the scenes,” said Chris Taylor, CEO of Square Root, in a news release. “There’s an exciting path forward for today’s brands. With better alignment, collaborative action plans, and the right tools for measuring success, today’s customer experience pain points can easily become major opportunities for growth.”

The black holes of retail customer experience—and how to stay in orbit

Filling the in-store void

According to the study, 79 percent of retailers agree that physical stores are where brands really come to life, citing the in-store experience as the primary influencer of the overall customer experience. Yet, while retailers have countless ways to track and measure the online experience—from click-throughs to customer service transcriptions—when it comes to understanding the experience in stores, the data available to retailers is nearly non-existent. In fact, nearly 50 percent of retailers say they have no way of measuring the in-store experience beyond sales, and 56 percent agree that their organization under-invests in collecting data about the store experience.

The black holes of retail customer experience—and how to stay in orbit

Coming together—teams and tools

While customer experience tops today’s retail priority list, the study revealed that a fragmented approach to everything from strategy and execution to ownership, tools and technology is ultimately limiting the impact of today’s customer experience investments. Creating the foundation for that flawed approach, 44 percent of retailers say their organization lacks a clear, consistent definition of customer experience in their organization.

The study uncovered that across organizations, nearly every department—from customer service to marketing to HR—is working on customer experience initiatives. Despite this, 42 percent of retailers say their efforts are not well-integrated across the business, with nearly 4 out of 5 respondents saying there is room for needed improvement when it comes to sharing customer experience data and insights across the organization.

The black holes of retail customer experience—and how to stay in orbit

With so many isolated initiatives, it’s unsurprising that retailers cited using an average of nine different tools to track and measure customer experience efforts. With 59 percent saying their organization has no single, shared tool for measuring success across the organization, retailers are left with a piecemeal view of both initiatives and impact. And while 78 percent of retailers agree that improved back-end tools and technology would help them better understand and improve the customer experience, technology investments are still largely misplaced, with 71 percent saying their organization continues to instead invest almost exclusively in flashy customer-facing technology like in-store touchscreens or interactive displays.

Retail’s pace of change and shopper demands show no signs of slowing, so the pressure is on for brands to deliver experiences that win customers and keep them coming back. But with improved alignment, clear definitions and metrics for success, and the right tools and technology, retailers can better bridge the gap between expectations and experience, unlocking incredible opportunities for growth and long-term success.

Download the full report here.

The black holes of retail customer experience—and how to stay in orbit

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