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North American retailers are past the stage of debating the importance of customer experience management and are now trying to master it, according to a study from SDL and Econsultancy. This article is copyright 2015 The Best Customer Guide.

The study, entitled 'The Retailer's Imperative: A Strategic Approach to Customer Experience', concluded that North American retailers are acutely aware of their technological shortfalls when it comes to creating a seamless, personalised customer experience across multiple channels.

"Mastery of the customer experience is a challenge with many facets. Retailers are overwhelmed by the complexity of data, technology and understanding of the customer journey," said Paige O'Neill, chief marketing officer for SDL.

The importance of Customer experience
Increasingly, companies understand the importance of delivering a superior customer experience (CX). The combination of intense competition, more demanding customers, and an increasing range of channels, mean that organisations have to continually improve the service they offer to consumers if they are to retain business - regardless of the sector they're in.

In fact, the majority (80%) of retailers surveyed are increasing their customer experience budgets, and one in three is planning a significant increase of more than 10% from their current level. In addition, among the respondent organisations, none plan to reduce their CX commitment in 2015. And nearly half of retailers strongly agree with the statement "our customer experience is our brand" - a remarkable figure that balloons to over 80% when those who simply "agree" are included.

Customer experience means profit
While many retailers view CX as a tool for higher conversion and retention, they don't necessarily see the connection to acquisition. This is an important disconnect, and one that creates a competitive advantage for those focused on content and social marketing. When asked about the ways they can differentiate themselves and attract new customers, retailers were varied in their responses.

Despite the realities of commoditization and competition, most retailers point to product offerings (54%) and price (45%) as their primary methods for attracting new customers.

For 45% of retailers, content is a tool to grow their audience, often in tandem with social reach.

Omni-channel retailing was cited by 22% of marketers. This reflects the challenges in creating a truly seamless experience, but also highlights that it can be a powerful differentiator for those that achieve it.

CX integration is lacking
Realising that they must create consistent and engaging experiences across a multitude of online and offline touch points to compete in today's business environment, many organisations are attempting to establish true integration across systems and technologies.

The study found that North American retailer brands appreciate the need for technology integration, with 97% citing integration of CX technology as "important" or "essential" to their growth. Yet only 40% describe their relevant systems as integrated and cross-functional, revealing a significant gap between the industry today, and where it needs to go. Only 2% have no plan for integrating their technologies at all.

Mobile customer experience is untapped
Mobile commerce is among the fastest growing segments in retail, as smartphones and tablets play bigger roles in the shopping journey. More and more brands are taking mobile commerce by storm, offering both mobile applications and mobile-optimized sites to their customers.

The research found that mobile has been a dominant priority for retailers across 2013 and 2014, and that investment has paid off.

More than 50% now say they have a strong understanding of the mobile user experience. However, only a third of retail marketers (35%) believe they can differentiate using mobile.

The CX challenge
The challenge is for retailers to move beyond usability in mobile and advance to more sophisticated merchandising. An increasing percentage of buyers are mobile-only, especially in younger demographics, and their numbers are growing quickly.

This presents a challenge in creating an experience that's simple enough for the small screen, but involves the consumer with the brand and opens up opportunities for continued shopping and loyalty.