Consumers want online to be more like stores … and vice versa!
In perusing the headlines on CX (Customer Experience), there are a lot of articles on how retailers can optimize their ecommerce website. On the alternative side, there are many headlines on how retailers must invest in bricks and mortar stores to differentiate the consumer experience in ways that Amazon can't. What most seem to be missing is the crucial fact that omnichannel customers increasingly shop both online and in store. What consumers really want is a consistent experience with a retailer across channels, personalized on their terms. The future success is not about online versus stores, but finding better ways to integrate experience that creates enduring customer relationships across channels.
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Why this is important: Retailers are still stuck in parallel ruts of optimizing separate businesses of online and stores. The reality is that what you and I really care about is the best way to find and purchase what we need, where we are, on a given day.
What if retail focused on the customer's experience instead of place?
A recent Huffington Post article is an example of many articles focused on how to improve ecommerce shopping experience. It was written from the premise: "Because there is so much competition, consumers want a pain-free [online] shopping experience that will match their in-person shopping expectations."
Conversely eMarketer posted a recent interview entitled: "Customers want brick-and-mortar stores to be as efficient as ecommerce." This illustrates how consumer expectations are "crossover" such that retail customer experience efforts must now transcend the historical boundary of digital and physical stores.
Instead of either/or, what if retailers focused on how to combine and merge the best ways to engage and enhance customer experience … irrespective of "place"? The bottom line is that customers say what they really want is a "seamless experience". Why not start there as a premise on how to optimize customer experience regardless of where it starts or ends?
5 Ways to merge and improve Online and Store customer experience
There were 5 key strategies that were identified as ways to improve online experience. But, when you consider that consumers are asking for a seamless experience across channels, these strategies can be equally applied to bricks and mortar stores. Below are specific examples of how these core principles can be applied from an omnichannel perspective to improve the customer experience regardless of "place".
Make it super easy shop and find what they want
Online optimization is all about search and customer driven ways to find and organize they are looking for. The search bar is the default super easy way to find what you are looking for in the digital catalog. But, online categories can reflect stores and vice versa. Omnichannel best practices align website categories and landing pages with store merchandising and layouts.
Stores historically have been product displays with endless shelves of products. Retailers have lowered shelf heights to make it easier for consumers to navigate. The best are reducing complexity by curating assortments. But, the really enlightened retailers are also giving shoppers an app on their mobile phones that enhances physical navigation in store, as well as easy product search both in store and online.
Personalize customer experience with "rich content"
Online has typically been lagging in ways to engage customers with products. A key opportunity to improve online experience is through quality visuals and videos. Best practice online involves "rich content," where customers can see other consumers actually using products in real life situations.
Stores should be a rich visual experience of actual products. But, too often the products are in static displays, or not even accessible. The fastest way to improve the customer experience in store is with feature displays and demos. Where that is not possible, retailers can enable consumers to use their smartphone to access the rich content already displayed online in their own website, or quality demos on YouTube.
Increase conversion with personalized interaction
Online's biggest shortcoming has been to enable consumers to talk to someone. Cutting edge websites are now effectively employing live chat choices for consumer consultation. If that is not an option, very well documented FAQs written from the "voice of experience" can provide personalized feedback from the eye of the consumers and staff.
Stores should have an overwhelming advantage of being able to provide "live chat" with store associates. But, that experience can become a negative if staff aren't well trained. The best in class omnichannel retailers not only have staff help customers in the store, but also assist customers with using their smartphones in the aisles to get online to shop the virtual store … they literally teach customers how to have a "seamless experience".
Make it super easy to buy it "their way"
Online can streamline the ability to purchase in many ways: one click to order, easy access to shopping chart, and very simple checkout. But, for customers who need to touch and feel the goods, retailer websites need to emphasize, and make it very easy for customers to purchase via "click and collect" with visual inspection at pickup.
Stores have the advantage of "cash and carry". But, that can quickly become a negative with long lines waiting at the cash register. Which is why Apple took out all cash registers so you can swipe your card to purchase in aisle while shopping. The best practice omnichannel retailers are now offering more streamlined, consumer centric ways to purchase online in store, via phone, etc. The key is offering customer choice and convenience, while minimizing any wait time in queue.
Choices on how customers can "have it their way"
Online was built on the premise of click and ship to home. Nothing is as convenient for consumers who know exactly what they want. But, for consumers who want to "see" the product, "click and collect" has become the omnichannel way to merge the convenience of online purchase with the ability to collect in store and talk to someone as required. Amazon is setting new standards for click and collect in lockers, and now building their own convenience stores to leverage click and collect with Prime and Fresh.
Stores are often hamstrung by their historical legacy of consumers who come shop and buy at that physical location. A key store initiative for omnichannel has to be making the click and collect counter front and center, easy and efficient within stores. Best practices in omnichannel stores are now making it possible to order from any store and having it delivered at home the same day, or even within hours.
Blurred Lines – In the eyes of the customer there is no "store"
The bottom line is very simple. Omnichannel consumers no longer "see a store or a website". The point of sale is not a physical location, but where the shopper chooses to engage and purchase. What shoppers really want is:
- To have the same quality experience online, on their phone, or instore
- Efficiency in both search and time to purchase
- Personalized experience whenever possible
- Choice … especially choice of how to purchase and where to collect