In 2017, we saw numerous retail chains go out of business. To some, it may appear as though the future of brick-and-mortar retail is grim, but this is not the case. The National Retail Federation’s most recent Top 100 Retailers list revealed that of the top 10 retail stores, nine of these retailers have physical stores.
For these top retailers, their physical stores still drive the majority of their revenue. In-store retail continues to thrive because, when it comes to customer experience (CX), retail stores have a distinct advantage over e-commerce. Brick-and-mortar stores have a unique opportunity to differentiate their brand by moving beyond transactional selling and connecting with consumers through unique in-store experiences.
Retailers that pay careful attention to — and invest — in CX, have the ability to capture market share both now and in the future. The future of retail relies heavily on CX, so CX programs need to become about more than collecting data – they need to be about hearing customer feedback and taking action to drive improvements. For brick-and-mortar retailers, CX is integral to making the in-store experience more enticing and ultimately easier for the customer.
Here are three strategies to help retailers provide a differentiated in-store experience so they can gain a sustainable competitive advantage as retail operations continue to rapidly evolve:
#1. Simplifying & enhancing the customer journey
In retail CX programs, the customer journey is a well-entrenched concept, as retailers know how critical it is to identify trends and issues at each step of the journey.
Often, the customer’s journey with the brand is focused on areas of customer despair, which is important —but for retailers to differentiate themselves and their in-store experience, they need to actively be looking for sources of delight as well. CX programs and platforms must be able to detail the complexities of the customer journey and thoroughly track the full impact of both positive and negative interactions.
Consumers are more distracted and time-starved than ever. Because of this, the dichotomy between convenience and experience have become paramount to a brand’s survival. Consumers are living in the age of on-demand everything, and that extends to the in-store experience. They don’t want to have to wait for help, stand in line, or encounter anything that will make shopping in-person any harder than it would be online.
In the coming years, winners in the retail market will reduce the number of steps in each customer’s journey — saving their time and keeping their attention. Successful retailers will find ways to capture consumers’ shrinking time and attention span, and reduce customer effort to streamline their journey.
Retailers need to be able to connect customer touchpoints to identify areas of opportunity for simplifying and enhancing the customer’s journey. Each touchpoint needs to be optimized so potential sources of despair are eliminated while saving the customer time and energy and ultimately delighting them at every step.
#2. Delivering a differentiated in-store experience
Consumers are seeking an experience when they shop in-store, and retailers need to provide something truly different to shoppers. Today, it’s less about a store being a place to purchase items (since that can be done online) and more about the entire experience in-store.
This can already be seen with the rise of concept stores which go far beyond traditional retail bringing in everything from food options to personal services. A good example of this in action is Adidas’ “stadium retail concept” in its flagship NYC store. The store includes juices and snacks for sale, a personal fitness consult area, and a place to customize shoes and clothing.
For differentiated in-store experiences to be successful, CX programs and supporting platforms are critical so that feedback can be consistently heard and communicated down to the store level. This ensures each location can take action to fine-tune the in-store experience. Additionally, hiring, onboarding, and training need to be closely aligned with CX so employees on the frontline positively contribute to the differentiated experience, and not detract from it.
#3. Hyper-personalization across all channels
How consumers shop has changed dramatically. The 2017 Retail Dive Consumer Survey found that more than 65 percent of shoppers did research before shopping in-store. When consumers visit a retail location, there’s a reason they’re coming to the store. They’re looking for an experience that goes beyond what they can get from ordering online.
Digital and in-store experiences don’t exist in isolation, meaning retailers need to be able to create a consistent experience across all platforms. The goal should be to deliver a highly personalized experience for in-store shoppers, so they’re willing to return time and time again.
Personalization is a key part of in-store CX, and consumers increasingly expect the hyper-personalization of their experiences. The 2017 State of Personalization Report from Segment found that half of department store shoppers expect a personalized experience, but less than 20 percent of them actually get it.
Many retailers are providing hyper-personalization by using mobile devices in-store to have shoppers log into their online accounts. With that information, associates can quickly see their past purchases and preferences and aim to meet their specific needs. This drive for personalization in-store will continue with augmented reality, facial recognition, and size modeling technologies.
Currently, one of the biggest barriers for retailers providing this level of personalization is a lack of insight across all sources of CX data. The typical retailer is collecting data both internally (surveys, mystery shopping, customer data) and externally (social media platforms, review sites) using different tools. For personalization to become a reality, retailers need to break down silos between this data so that it can be easily accessed and acted upon company-wide.
The future of retail relies on brands using CX to help differentiate and enhance their in-store experience. Retailers of all sizes who invest in CX now and focus on meeting consumer trends and demands with this data will be the winners in the long-term.
Lindsay Sykes is the Director of Marketing at Intouch Insight. To learn more about how to create an actionable customer experience strategy at your organization, download your free copy of the white paper Designing a World-Class CX Approach: Creating Your Customer Experience Approach for Maximum Impact.