There’s no way to avoid it — retail in 2019 is all about the experience. And to create a stellar experience, retailers must view the customer holistically rather than as an online shopper vs. an in-store shopper.
For years, the retail buzzword was “omnichannel,” or how to seamlessly deliver what the customer wants. But a sole omnichannel focus will prohibit retailers from competing in the future. Instead, the industry should set its sights on creating the “complete customer experience,” which is richer, more memorable and personalized. And this process begins long before the customer steps into a store or shops online.
For retailers, this begins with satisfying basic customer needs. Surveys show that bad customer experiences cause companies to lose an estimated $41 billion a year in the U.S. But in the era of hyper-competitive omnichannel retail, success requires going the extra mile to deliver experiences that more than satisfy. Shoppers crave options, such as buying online and picking up in the store, efficient checkouts, and learning more about a product from an in-store salesperson than they can research at home. As we head into 2019, our experience at Miller Zell has shown three areas that retailers must focus on to create the ultimate shopper experience.
Understand The Customer — Really
A common perception exists that online retail will make brick-and-mortar obsolete, but the opposite is true. Online shopping gives retailers a valuable opportunity to mine data about customer behavior, preferences and intent, which can translate into the foundation of a uniquely personal brick-and-mortar experience. Tracking and following past customer behavior, whether on a web site or mobile device, allows you to build a buyer profile that can guide in-store changes and enhancements. Online options offer convenience and choice, but it’s the physical environment that allows consumers to fire up all five senses…to touch a cashmere sweater, taste a new coffee blend or try out a new gadget.
Savvy retailers go beyond standard product or service offerings, using data from consumers to improve engagement and interaction with their brand. One great example is Great Clips, a hair salon franchise across the U.S. and Canada. Through direct interaction, the company learned that what its customers value in addition to a quality haircut is a quick, efficient experience with as little waiting as possible. With that insight, Great Clips created an app that shows current wait times at any location. It upped its own ante by providing a basic haircut along with a better overall experience that differentiates the company from its competitors — helping customers quickly get what they want and move on with their day.
Leverage Both The Online And In-Store Relationship
To reiterate, retailers finding success in 2019 will create an experience beyond traditional merchandising approaches, while integrating the online and in-store environments as much as possible.
Once retailers understand customers, they should re-evaluate and tweak physical stores to incorporate some much-desired attributes of online convenience. This could entail changing everything from how shoppers check out to how they interact with salespeople. Consider how Amazon developed its Amazon Go stores, in which customers can purchase products without standing in a checkout line. This retail behemoth successfully alleviated a huge inconvenience for most shoppers — the often-dreaded checkout — while ensuring that every Amazon Go visitor downloaded the free app.
Consider, too, that customers’ shifting needs and increasing product knowledge changes the way in-store sales staff should converse with them. Because today’s consumers have often researched products before stepping into a store, their questions are more specific to product attributes and comparisons. Instead of needing an employee to convince them to buy, the conversation should center around recommendations on a higher level of detail, or even upselling. In-store staff should serve as expert influencers instead of pure sales. It’s important that shoppers can picture items within the context of their own lives. Demystify the process and be more prescriptive with what customers want.
Above all else, work on connecting the dots between online and in-person sales. For brick-and-mortar retailers, showrooming, often feared as only a way for customers to avoid or push prices down, should be a natural part of the retail evolution. One advantage of in-person shopping over online ordering is the ability to inspect a tangible object before buying. Adopt the mindset that if a consumer purchases from your brand, regardless of the location, it’s a win.
Be Bold — Innovate
When it comes to bettering the customer experience, don’t be afraid to have fun! Consider how an engaging, high-level “retailtainment” approach can deliver a unique and memorable experience for all shoppers. That keeps them coming back for more. Innovation shouldn’t be done in a bubble, so look to parties like customers, employees and even retail partners to provide that extra spark.
An example of interesting and multi-platform innovation: In-store retailers can use technology to create a store-within-a-store for specific customer interests and needs. For instance, a technology store could create a video game hub that breaks down displays by console. This store might have existing console displays but can take things to the next level by adapting the layout. This approach could also apply to makeup stores dedicating sections to a certain type of product or brand. Once people enter this hub, the retailer could leverage available data to ping shoppers’ phones with coupons for products they’ve just tried or even touched. Create an immersive environment that feels not only unique but shows you understand your shoppers’ preferences.
Creating a one-of-a-kind layout experience has formerly been reserved for high-end products, such as the dedicated Magnolia home theater section at Best Buy. However, not everyone shops for high price point items. So why not replicate the immersive environment feel for numerous products aimed at various customers?
Prioritize The Customer
Regardless of how retailers tweak the customer experience, focusing on the customer will help ensure that all decisions go in the right direction. Customer-retailer engagement will be the most important guiding principle this year, and the willingness to create a unique shopping experience can only help ensure greater retail success.
For many retailers, creating this experience may often be a difficult path. To bring ease to the process, I encourage you to explore best practices from successful brands, to expand your innovation bubble and to consider leveraging a partner that takes a holistic view of your shopper and your business — one that could offer viable options you never considered.
Ron Lutz is EVP and Chief Client Officer of Miller Zell, a retail experience solutions company that fuels a more informative, engaging, entertaining and customer-centric retail experience. Find out more about how Miller Zell is reinventing the retail environment at www.millerzell.com.