The digital economy has transformed retail. Initially with retail, the best way to gain a competitive advantage was to lower the prices. In the case of larger retail stores, this came at the cost of customer service and personalized experiences. Then the digital tsunami hit, and disruptors like Amazon and eBay rode the wave. Yet, while many retail stores have gone online, physical outlets still offer value.
“Retailment” or the concept of entertaining your retail customers in-store, is predicted to dominate the industry. Retailers who entertain customers while they’re in store have a greater chance of customer retention, not to mention an increase in word-of-mouth marketing. All it takes is an effort from the retailer to make the physical shopping experience more personalized and fun. Here are a few tips on how you can breathe life into your retail store.
Gen Y and Gen Z audiences generally prefer an omnichannel experience. These target groups want immersive experiences in stores where they can take away not just products and services, but also memories. According to the Harvard Business Review, 73% of consumers use multiple channels to shop. Retail businesses that create an integrated experience with their online and offline channels have the best chances of not only surviving, but also thriving.
Before a customer even enters your store, they engage with your business through digital and physical touchpoints. For example, when they interact with a chatbot on your website, it’s a digital touchpoint. When they meet your in-store greeter, it’s a physical touchpoint.
Your customer’s journey will have several touchpoints that build their overall customer experience. While many retailers focus on these individual touchpoints alone, it’s important to integrate touchpoints with the overall customer journey.
Digitally transform your store
A digital transformation can radically change how you do business and open up your company to new revenue streams. Transformation is one of the best ways to create an integrated experience as well as collect and record customer data.
A recent study by Salesforce reports that 87% of consumers begin their shopping journey digitally. While this requires collaboration on multiple levels from individuals and assets, it can blur the boundaries between in-store and online shopping.
The experience of in-store shopping starts before a customer even steps foot into your store. Consider how your store looks. How does it make your customers feel? Is it stuffy? What about inviting?
Several retail stores attempt to make their store look “luxurious.” Instead, the store might give off unwelcoming vibes to customers.
Customers should get good vibes from your employees, too. It’s no longer enough to educate employees on products and store policies alone. Share your vision for the business and educate employees on the brand you’re building. Your store associates should make customers feel welcome, not scare them off.
Another great way to improve your in-store experience is by letting your customers get hands-on with your products. While many retail stores offer such experiences for children, adults can take part in the fun, too. Consider conducting workshops to teach the best ways to use the products you offer.
Retail stores that create something like a social nook, or make the physical store itself appealing, can encourage customers to make an effort to visit the store. Here are some ways you can increase footfalls to your store:
1. Offer Wi-Fi in store: Like with online shopping, many customers prefer comparing prices, reading product information and reviews, and checking out other products while they’re in store. If your business offers free Wi-Fi, it will help your customers make educated choices. Not to mention, customers can conveniently also search the web while they shop.
2. Provide a lounge area: Shopping can get tiresome. Lounge areas can help customers relax. Adding a relaxing space with a television can make customers feel at home and give them time to kick back while they shop.
3. Include a kids play area: Managing kids is challenging, especially when you’re trying to shop. Adding a play area in your business can help channelize that enthusiasm. Parents can go shopping with an assurance that their kids are safe and at a reachable distance. And, with parents kid-free for a little time, it gives them more time to browse through your store.
4. Provide great customer service: 97% of customers say customer service is either ‘very important’ or ‘somewhat important’ in their choice of loyalty to a brand. Make sure your store is adequately staffed, and that these employees are on hand when your customers need them. Your employees should be well-educated about your products and services, and capable of educating your customers as well. Staff should be friendly, polite, and able to handle any request or question that’s thrown their way.
5. Stimulate the senses: As a physical retail store, you have a tactile advantage. Many other businesses, like restaurants and grocery stores, engage all five senses. Retail stores should do the same. It’s been proven that calming and relaxing music can encourage people to stay longer in a store—as long as it doesn’t put them to sleep! Similarly, different scents (e.g., vanilla) can improve customers’ mood.
6. Digitize the POS system: One area where physical stores lose out to e-Commerce is checkout time and methods. Many people detest standing in lines. Promising your customers faster checkouts is one way to encourage them to visit your storefront. With a POS solution, you can register sales from anywhere within your store. This means you can have employees use POS systems to help your customers get in and out quickly. You can also invest in self-checkout systems so customers can ring up their own items.
Additionally, you can make transactions easier by accepting electronic payment methods (e.g., mobile wallets) like Apple Pay, Android Pay, and Google Wallet. According to Forrester Research, over $34 billion will be transacted through walletless, digital platforms this year alone.
7. Offer validated parking: If you happen to have your store in a mall or at a location with shared parking, make parking more convenient for your customers. Offer free parking coupons to people who shop at your store. This will not only make them feel good about your store, but also nudge them to consider you next time they go shopping.
8. Hold events: One of the best ways to bring visitors to your storefront is by holding events. A free coffee giveaway, a raffle, or an in-store meet and greet not only gives your store some promotion but also increases footfalls to your storefront.
Your online shopping experience should mimic your in-store experience, with added comfort and convenience. Here are some ways you can create a seamless retail online experience for your customers:
1. Be transparent: According to a study from Episerver, 92% of consumers visit a website to do something other than make a purchase. This means offering more information about your business can actually drive your customers to make a purchase.
A lot of retailers make the mistake of holding back information regarding pricing or other details. This can frustrate customers into visiting another store’s site instead. Additionally, the more information your site offers, the more likely it will rank better on Google. You can start a blog and write posts on subjects that appeal to your target customers and feature them on your business website. The more educated your customers are, the more confident they’ll feel shopping from your business.
2. Personalize the experience: One of the wonders of digital technology is the way it helps you create personalized experiences. By connecting your online platforms to AI (artificial intelligence) and cloud computing, you can give your customers a small push towards a purchase decision. Instead of directly pushing them for a sale, you’re creating micro-commitments and leading them to what they would be interested in buying. Additionally, the personalized customer experience digitally puts customers at ease with your business.
3. Automate your processes: Free up your staff’s time so they can be more attentive to your customers by automating certain processes, such as collecting customer records across systems, month-end reporting, and complaint management. The right automated solution can improve the customer experience by converting leads and nurturing them.
Expand your digital presence
Before customers even enter a store, the first thing they do is a quick search online. This means that Google is where your audience is. SEO (search engine optimization) and paid advertising can push your business to the first pages online (and right under the noses of your customers).
Google also considers factors like location and business ratings, so if your business isn’t registered on My Business yet, that might be a good place to start. Make sure your business is present in all industry and location-relevant directories.
Create social media profiles (if you haven’t yet) and stay active. To humanize your business, update your page with pictures of your employees, customers, and events. Social media can also help your site rank better on Google, so it’s a win-win.
Google’s local inventory ad helps retailers list their local inventory information online.
This feature enables you to showcase your store and product information to nearby shoppers who search online. Upon clicking such ads, users are taken to a local storefront hosted by Google. They can use this storefront to know the store’s operating hours, view inventory, and find directions to the store.
Finally, keep in mind that personalization is key. The more data you can collect about your store and its customers online and offline, the more targeted your marketing can be. Build great loyalty and rewards programs that will encourage your customers to return to your store. A great retail store isn’t one that is online alone, but one that offers great omnichannel customer experiences.
Joseph Brady is the Vice President of Digital Marketing for Reliant Funding, a provider of short-term working capital to small and mid-sized businesses nationwide. He has more than 14 years of experience in B2B digital marketing, optimization and operations, with a focus on the financial services market.
These views are made solely by the author.