Customer Experience


Optimizing the Brick-and-Mortar Customer Experience

The retail industry has finally awakened to what customers always have known — they don’t distinguish too much between channels. Modern shoppers are happy to embrace the immediacy and experience of the physical store while also benefiting from the informed and personalized ease of shopping online.

As many pure play online retailers invest in a physical presence to trigger growth and enhance their connection with customers, they should translate the smartest online strategies into their in-store experience.

On the other hand, traditional brick-and-mortar retailers can borrow e-commerce best practices that can both improve the customer experience and prevent their demotion to showrooms only.

1. Measure, Track, Test & Learn

Analytics enables a deep understanding of customer engagement and the paths to purchase on e-commerce sites. While more difficult, it is essential for brick-and-mortar retailers to similarly understand the nuances of store traffic, shopping time and abandonment in order to optimize the customer experience, facilitate product discovery and, ultimately, see a full shopping cart. This effort should begin with smart investments in perimeter, zone and video analytics, as these insights are likely to provide compelling returns.

The digital store provides a fast, low-cost environment for gaining actionable insights through agile test-and-learn marketing. Store owners should challenge traditional investment and visual merchandising program time cycles as they seek to rapidly identify what works for the customer.

2. Assist Comparison and Review

Arguably, the greatest customer benefit from online shopping is comparison and review. Research shows that mobile in-store price comparisons are increasingly frequent across all product categories, and millennials increasingly use social media to access product reviews by their peers.

Now that this behavior is a fundamental part of the path to purchase, retailers should assist shoppers in reaching a purchase decision while they are on the retail floor. WiFi, in-store kiosks, and well-trained associates all have a strong role to play — but look to near-field beacon technology to take this to the next level.

3. Personalize the Experience

It started with Amazon. Thanks to product recommendations and collaborative filtering, consumers now take the personalized online shopping experience for granted. As consumers become more comfortable explicitly sharing private data in return for a personal experience, physical stores must increase their shopper intimacy.

Of course as any Savile Row tailor will tell you, personal service is not new in many retail verticals. In recent years, grocery chains have worked to understand and target individual shoppers with personalized offers. Bringing that level of personal attention to every customer in your physical retail space is the new challenge.

Smaller retailers are blazing the trail with in-store innovation, including interactive fitting rooms. Mobile and beacon technologies also are opening up new possibilities to increase targeted in-store communication and offer personalized experiences to customers in the physical retail space, as in the online shopping environment.

4. Mimic the Endless Aisle

The vast array of products in online catalogs can make the traditional store assortment appear limited — like a quaint showroom. Leading retailers already have begun responding to this challenge, largely by providing in-store kiosks and order points.

While this is a good first step to mirroring the endless aisle available on the Web, retailers have a real opportunity to take this to another level and enhance visual merchandising. Integrating wider virtual product ranges with interactive screens in the store could allow the physical store to deepen customer engagement and create more varied and personal shopping experiences.

5. Offer Mobile Pay

Despite concerns about information security and personal data, modern shoppers have become comfortable with spending their dollars virtually. This shift is due not only to fraud protection and enhanced data management, but also to significant efforts to make the payment experience as convenient as possible with services like PayPal and one-click purchasing. Many stores also have enhanced their payment experience by introducing mobile points-of-sale on the floor.

As mobile wallet investment increases, store retailers have the opportunity to be part of a technology trend that makes life easier for tech savvy, on-the-go shoppers. Fast food chains already have recognized this need by rolling out Softcard nationwide.

Even small, local retailers can offer e-pay through providers like PayPal, Square and Amazon. Despite some growing pains, physical retailers must unwaveringly and aggressively pursue mobile payment methods to remain convenient and relevant to future shoppers and to offer advantages on par with online checkout.

In an increasingly multichannel environment, it is essential for retailers to leverage online strategies and best practices to improve the in-store customer experience. Brick-and-mortar retailers should examine the greatest strengths and advantages of online shopping and translate them into actions to optimize the customer experience in a physical store.

Toby Hawkes is the principal of retail and consumer goods at North Highland.

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