Credit: iStock.com by pixdeluxe
Retail organizations must view the in-store experience as an essential investment, ranking in importance alongside cash registers, security cameras, and product inventory. In fact, Ernst & Young (EY) argues that the customer experience is the most challenging feature of retail, but also the most important.
Our State of the In-Store Experience (2021) report leads us to similar conclusions. Customers today are fickle and demanding. They expect much from retailers, and are willing to switch brands when in-store experiences don’t meet expectations. Forty-eight percent of shoppers still prefer brick-and-mortar retail, but they have a few conditions.
At a minimum, in-store experiences have to be efficient and convenient. Increasingly, in-store experiences need to inspire joy in shoppers. If you aim to attract customers consistently, you’ll work hard to deliver personalized, efficient and convenient in-store experiences time and again.
If you aren’t investing heavily in the customer experience, then you can’t expect to compete with retailers that are. Upgrading your in-store and store-connected tech is an investment that every retailer should consider.
Experiences Remain the Defining Feature of In-Store Retail
Of the 48 percent of consumers who prefer shopping in-store to shopping online, the leading pull factor is “the experience of shopping in-person.” So what do shoppers mean when they refer to “the experience” of in-store retail?
Investments in Customer Service Are Investments in the In-Store Experience
Consumers continue to value the customer service aspect of in-store shopping. University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School notes that “hassle-free customer support” is “top of the list” when it comes to delivering an in-store experience that “wows” the customer.
Customer support includes traditional, employee-customer assistance. Today, customer service also includes tech-assisted features like digital displays, virtual assistants, apps that augment the in-store experience, and self-service checkouts. Thanks in part to advances in tech-driven customer service, 42 percent of shoppers have noticed improvement in customer support over the past year-plus.
EY notes that retailers often struggle to keep pace with changing consumer tastes. One consumer taste never changes, though: the desire to feel attended to while shopping. Whether it’s an employee eager to answer a question or a digital display helping the shopper locate a product, customer service remains the foundation of the in-store experience.
Consider whether you’ve maxed out the limits of employee-led customer service. Investments in technological customer service features could provide direct value and also allow your employees greater freedom to help your customers.
Invest in Tech That Allows You to Individualize the Customer Journey
Call it empathy, self-absorption or an individualistic streak. As retailers, it doesn’t really matter what you call it, so long as you recognize that shoppers are increasingly drawn to personalized in-store experiences that feel authentic rather than mass-produced.
Retailers that recognize this are using tech to blend the in-store experience with shoppers’ unique preferences and values. These retailers are delivering personalized coupons directly to shoppers, whether through apps, scannable codes, text message, email, or other modes. Younger shoppers in particular see these customized discounts as an indication that retailers care about them.
While personalization has intrinsic value, it’s best deployed as a conduit of customer savings. With our State of Consumer Behavior (2021) report, we found that price remains the greatest factor in where consumers decide to shop. Tech-savvy retailers are capitalizing on shoppers’ craving for savings, using geofencing to offer discounts when a consumer is in close proximity to their stores.
Millennials, Gen Z, and younger generations of consumers have grown up immersed in digital worlds. They’re fluent in the digital language, accustomed to customizing their online worlds. They expect a similarly customized experience when they interact with your brand. It’s up to you to provide the infrastructure for such personalized in-store experiences.
There Are Tangible Benefits to Upgrading Your In-Store Experiences
Dismiss personalization and digitization as short-lived fads at your own peril. Hard-headed retailers may endure in their low-tech ways, confident that the status quo will always be sufficient. I’d refer those retailers to McKinsey’s finding that data-enabled personalization can’t be imitated, even by traditional differentiators like strategic pricing and promotions.
The customer is always right, and the customer of 2022 expects you to use tech to improve their shopping experience. A customer who shops exclusively for keto-friendly groceries will put no value on a coupon for potato chips. Consumers feel that you value their time and recognize them as people when you tailor the shopping experience to their habits and preferences.
Put simply, shoppers see a personalized in-store experience as a better in-store experience. Tech allows you to personalize the in-store experience to a greater degree than ever before.
Eighty-two percent of shoppers will return to your stores when they feel that you’ve delivered a positive in-store experience. Sixty-four percent of shoppers are likely to spend more per visit when you “wow” them with your in-store experience. These are real, defined benefits of upgrading your stores to offer a more personalized, tech-enabled shopping journey.
If your retail operations ain’t broke, don’t fix them, right? If only remaining competitive were so simple. The reality is that the past year-plus has seen the demise of countless retailers that once sat atop their respective retail verticals. Longevity in retail isn’t possible without foresight and constant improvement.
Younger generations of shoppers are dictating the future of retail, and your stores should already reflect their demands. More than past generations, who were primarily concerned with prices and products, younger shoppers tailor their consumption choices to match their personal values. If your brand doesn’t exude authenticity and recognition of the individual, most young consumers won’t frequent your stores.
Delivering personalized experiences starts with learning who your customers are and what they want. By investing in tech — to improve customer service, track customer profiles, deliver custom offers, enable self-checkout, and provide other in-store experiences — you will ingratiate your brand to the shopper of today and, perhaps more importantly, the shopper of tomorrow.
Bobby Marmahat is the CEO of Raydiant, a digital signage and in-store experience solutions provider.
Total Retail is the go-to source for executives looking for the latest news and analysis on the retail industry. Be sure to bookmark this helpful and relevant site: https://www.mytotalretail.com/
If you are not already a BRA Retail Member, you can easily opt in to either Regular (no cost) or Distinguished ($100/yr.) Membership via this super simple join form