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Chapter 6:

Retail Customer Experience Matters Now More Than Ever

Most agree that product availability, convenience and (usually) discounts are all attractive components of the online shopping experience, which encourage people to keep buying online.


Even if these features were all available in brick and mortar stores, shoppers still prefer to buy online because dealing with store employees can be hassle: new research has found that 83% of shoppers believe they’re more knowledgeable than retail store associates – often, ironically, due to the online research they conduct before entering the store.

However, the new survey from Tulip Retail also delivered some encouraging news: 79% of survey respondents said knowledgeable store associates are “important” or “very important” to their purchasing decisions.

Additionally, 64% of respondents believe physical retail locations will be part of the shopping journey in the future — which should bring relief to retailers wondering whether brick and mortar stores will continue to exist in the coming years.

Delivering a frictionless customer experience to customers while in the store has become critical these days and will be even more important in the future.  The single most important strategy to deliver this is employee training and motivation.

Train and retain

The good news is that “knowledgeable store associates are valued by shoppers and those empowered with mobile technology are delivering better shopping experiences,” noted Ali Asaria, CEO of Tulip. “Bottom line, investing in store associates needs to be a high priority. With the right tools, they can become beacons of knowledge, trusted advisors and drive sales.”

Retail employees should not only be trained on how to ring up purchases. Retail companies can harness always-on, mobile technologies to ensure that employees are receiving the most up-to-the-minute training available. Properly trained staff should be fully prepared to work with customers live on the selling floor and address issues related to product information, credit card checkout, and inventory look-up, driving an outstanding shopping experience for all involved.  And don’t forget the basics.  Make sure that your people are properly greeting each and every customer.

Experience counts

Doug McMillon, President and CEO of Walmart, in an article published by the World Economic Forum, noted that despite the growing presence of shopping online, consumers will still look to shop at brick and mortar stores for two primary reasons: (1) to fulfill their everyday needs in the easiest way possible, such as buying staples and household items; and (2) to provide items and an experience that they’ve never seen before or that they cannot get by buying online.

For the latter reason, the in-store buying experience should delight consumers with personalized service and more importantly, provide critical purchasing information that consumers can’t get online. As previously discussed, knowledgeable store associates can easily address this need.

Shoppers are willing to pay for unforgettable experiences – such as a DIY demonstrations, wine tastings, art classes, fashion shows or fitness competitions – thereby keeping stores in business. Commercial real estate companies – i.e., mall owners — are keenly aware of this trend, and are courting retail chains that can deliver this unique experience as potential new tenants, taking over the space of bankrupt retailers.

Therefore, brick and mortar retailers can find tremendous opportunity in shedding a product-centric approach for their physical stores and replacing it with one that is much more experiential.

“There is no question that rather than merely purchasing material items, consumers are looking for experiences that enrich their lives,” notes Berkley Bowen of consultancy and training firm MarketingProfs.

Such customer experience is the result of an emotional or physical connection with the products offered in the store. This encourages the shopper to make a purchase, so as to retain that experience once he or she leaves. The emotional tie-in or memory of the product also serves as a reminder that a future trip to that physical location might be in order. As such, a unique customer experience often leads to customer loyalty.  Customers want to be dazzled so create a WOW experience if possible.  You want to be remembered so you must go above and beyond.

From off to on

Additionally, some online retailers are moving into the offline world. Amazon now operates four physical Amazon Books bookstores (with six more on the way) and online-first retailers Warby Parker and Bonobos have moved aggressively into opening additional physical retail locations to drive their respective brands.

Ironic, no doubt, but offline retail will never go away. These online retailers can certainly harness their troves of online shopping data to determine the perfect mix of products to stock physical store shelves, delivering an enhanced in-store shopping experience.  The best retailers of the future will understand the need for in-store shopping, and will deliver a healthy mix of both online and offline/brick and mortar businesses.

Obsessive Customer Focus

There are a lot of advantages to a customer-centric approach to retail.  Customers always want more.  They want more today and they will want even more in the future.  Your attempts to delight your customers will lead you down the path of innovating all throughout the customer lifecycle.  This requires a complete and comprehensive commitment to improving your customer experience at all times now and in the future.