Each year, holiday shoppers expect more. Bigger sales, better service, faster delivery, more convenience and better shopping experiences overall. It’s not uncommon for retailers to put extra effort/money/time into delivering on customers’ expectations during this time of the year. But here’s a question to ponder: Why should this time of the year be any different than the rest of the year?

That extra effort businesses are expected to make for holiday shoppers is fast becoming the new normal year-round – not just in retail, but across all businesses. And there’s a certain type of customer that will definitely notice. Meet the “Connected Customer” – the new disruptive force that can literally make or break your businesses, no matter what industry you are in.

Who is this customer? Let me explain. The Connected Customer does most everything online, usually via apps, websites or even Alexa skills and voice assistants. They interact daily with brands digitally and they expect brands to be available to them when they want and how they want. They get their news, pay their bills, consume entertainment, interact with friends and shop digitally. Their emergence as the dominant force in consumer spending is causing businesses in all sectors to sit up and take notice.


EXPECTATIONS

Like holiday shoppers, Connected Customers expect brands to “show up” a certain way in the digital (and non-digital) marketplace.

First and foremost, they expect a brand to provide an overall experience that’s frictionless. Keep in mind, industries or verticals don’t really apply here. Consumers are judging all experiences against one another, regardless of what that brand provides or sells. No unnecessary steps, no blind alleys and no superfluous work on their part. They expect to be able to quickly and easily find what they want, execute the transaction and move on. And if it’s not easy, they’ll just skip straight to moving on.

They also expect their experiences to be customized to them. Connected Customers are accustomed to a company knowing who they are and what they like, making the whole interaction amazingly simple and making them feel personally appreciated.

Connected Customers also expect to be rewarded for shopping. And perks usually offered at the holidays – free gift-wrapping and express pickup, for example – can now be a differentiating factor all year-round.

To be clear, these things are non-negotiable to the Connected Consumer: frictionless, personalized and rewarded. Ensuring your experience delivers on these three expectations is table stakes – think of it as the equivalent of not having a website by the year 2000 – if you did not have one, you lost out on a total transformation of consumer behavior. Lightning has struck again, fueled by the advent of mobile.


COMPETITION

Connected Customers are also causing brands to rethink who they are competing with. In today’s experience-driven economy, it really doesn’t matter what you sell or what service you provide. What matters is that the experience you offer your Connected Customers is as good, if not better than, the best experience they’ve ever had.

Let that sink in. Customers are judging their experience with your brand against their favorite experiences everywhere. It does not matter if you are a bank, an airline, a retailer or a restaurant. Put simply, the experience your brand provides is being measured against all other experiences the consumer has had, no matter the industry, vertical, product or service.

That’s because Connected Customers are buying experiences as much as, or more than, they are buying actual products and services. They will spend their money where they have the best experience, and they will certainly pay more for a positive digital or mobile experience, regardless of the product.

That means that if a digital or mobile customer finds your retail experience cumbersome, confusing, generic, slow or, heaven forbid, non-existent, they will simply buy from someone else. And that means you’re in competition with every single business or service with a customer experience mindset all the time.


THE NEW NORMAL

The demands of Connected Customers are changing businesses of all shapes and sizes and are putting a great deal of pressure on retailers at this crucial time of the year. But unlike the once normal seasonal push, these expectations don’t change after the hustle and bustle of the holiday season is over.

The good news is that the sea of change in customer experience demands is not without an upside. The same research that tells us Connected Customers are pitting all experiences against one another also tells us there are big rewards in meeting or surpassing the new baselines.

Connected Customers who get what they expect from a brand experience are more likely to be loyal than regular brick-and-mortar retail customers. When they like you, they stick with you – they remember the good and share it freely with friends. Here’s something to think about…how can your brand make an impact this holiday season that could carry forward throughout the entire year? Hint: Put your customer at the center of your design, think about the overall experience your brand is planning to provide and how that could translate to a full-year strategy, not just a one-time offer.

Another benefit is that Connected Customers tend to spend more, both per purchase and overall. And it’s been proven that customers who engage via mobile experiences are more likely to upgrade their purchases and add on related items, which is great news for retailers looking for an edge. In other words, a better experience will drive greater revenue.

In many ways, the Connected Customer shift will feel very much like the big online shift of the late 90s; it will displace many but also offer deep and long-term rewards for those who take action now and get it right. In many ways, this new normal is akin to the holiday season so many retailers are already used to, only bigger, with longer impact and with even higher stakes year-round.

Calvin Carter, Bottle Rocket’s founder and CEO, believes that exceptionally innovative technology redefines our lives. For the last twelve years, Calvin has pushed Bottle Rocket to become a renowned digital transformation company that connects future-focused brands and their customers through sophisticated yet simple experiences. Now with approximately 250 Rocketeers and 450 award-winning, preeminent experiences to date, Bottle Rocket continues to transform how our clients compete and win in the marketplace.

This piece was originally published at Retail & Food Best Practices.