As autumn moves into full swing, retailers work to finalize their preparations ahead of the holiday shopping surge. Each year, the fourth quarter plays a significant role in ensuring retailers remain profitable, but this season holds even more weight, as some experts predict it to be the most successful holiday season since the “retail apocalypse” began.
The road to a profitable season is paved by those who do right by their customers; by those who provide a positive, personalized and multi-channel experience that leaves their customers wanting more.
Investing in providing a stellar experience will not only leave retailers with happy, more loyal customers, but help achieve their desired business outcomes. Customers who have a positive experience with brands are likely to shop with them more often, to spend more when they do, and to tell their friends and family to do the same. That said, 64% of customers are likely to avoid a brand if they have a negative shopping experience one time.
Retailers are tailoring their CX programs for the holiday shopping surge, but how can they deliver during the season and maintain momentum all year long?
Optimize The In-Store Experience
Throughout the year online shopping has strong momentum, but during the lockdown period of holiday shopping, the in-store experience still reigns supreme. Gartner recently reported nearly 85% of holiday sales last year were from brick-and-mortar stores. Shoppers view and assess products online, but more often than not, they opt to buy or pick up purchases in-store.
To accommodate this hybrid shopper, retailers must effectively blend the in-store and online experience. Companies that were at one point focused primarily on products and merchandise are now investing more into the consumers and their experiences with the store and the brand in general.
In order to keep customers’ experiences positive as they battle the long checkout lines and packed parking lots, it’s important to optimize the time you have to interact with them in person. A retailer cannot control the crowds of holiday shoppers, but they can control specific experiences they provide to the masses, and little things can go a long way. For example, there’s been a recent increase in companies offering light fare to their shoppers. By offering light beverages or snacks as part of an in-store experience, you can not only provide a customer with an unexpected perk, you may also increase their dwell time in the store which often leads to higher purchases. Additionally, sometimes even a simple friendly acknowledgement to people waiting in line can significantly improve the overall experience.
Simplify The Online-To-Offline Process
Omnichannel experiences are key for holiday planning. While many shoppers search for the products they want to purchase online or via mobile, they opt to pick up their purchases in-store during the holiday season. By approaching the buyer’s journey holistically, retailers ensure that the logistics align, and that a customer’s online purchase is available and easy to find when they go to pick it up in-store.
Over the next several months, this buy online, pickup in-store customer journey will remain crucial. In addition to offering (and ensuring) a product for pickup in store, retailers should take advantage of the in-person interaction with their customers and offer the same personalization as an online interface would provide. Similarly to a site like Amazon’s bundling option or “products frequently purchased with this item,” retailers should make similar items readily available for a customer to pick and choose from in person.
Remember, it is all about adding convenience for your customer. If a customer purchases and reserves a product, they expect it to be readily available when they travel to the store to pick it up. A delay will create friction between the customer and the retailer, and if it is enough of an inconvenience to the customer, it may jeopardize their entire experience with the brand and ultimately their business from there on out.
Both in-store and online retailers are trying to get more personal with customers. Building a one-to-one connection is a top priority as retailers introduce rating systems for transactional experiences. Similar to a ridesharing app that allows a rider to rate their driver and vice versa, some retailers are implementing feedback systems that allow customers and associates to share feedback directly after an interaction. Not only does this allow customers to feel their opinions are actually heard, but it empowers employees with feedback specific to them, so they know what they’re doing well and what they can improve on. This is especially pertinent during the holidays as retailers hire seasonal employees to help control the shopping chaos. With this direct feedback, they can learn and adapt to customer needs quickly in order to best combat the holiday foot traffic.
From a digital perspective, retailers can personalize a customer experience and interface based on how they interact with the web site. Companies have been investing their resources in improving web sites to create higher conversions and to increase page load speeds and the number of items brought back in search. Digital retailers also compare previous feedback they’ve received during previous sales seasons in order to better understand how the customer experience and expectations change during the holidays. For instance, as customers shift to purchase with others in mind, they’re more interested in search relevancy or alternative suggested products similar to what they originally searched, rather than how quickly the search results returns or how well the site itself performs.
Previously, a retail client reviewed operational metrics and saw its site performance tools indicated that shoppers were dropping off when they searched for specific results. Traditionally, this might mean the search results were coming back too slowly, but the customer feedback suggested differently. The customers weren’t unhappy with the speed of the search; they were unhappy with the content, and felt it wasn’t relevant to them. By focusing on the individual’s feedback and optimizing the web site to deliver more personalized search results, the retailer increased its conversion rates.
Engage Your Employees All Year Round
The experience that customers had in the summertime has a direct impact on the consumer shopping experience during the holiday season. But in a high-turnover industry like retail, many of the employees who customers interacted with earlier in the year may not be the ones they interact with during holiday shopping. So how can you ensure all employees will provide all customers with a positive, personalized experience that makes them want to shop with you again?
Typically, retailers utilize a “selling effectiveness” model that depicts how they train associates to engage with the customer. By building a customer feedback system that supports the company’s selling effectiveness model, all associates — including new seasonal hires — can act and sound like seasoned pros, by contextualizing direct comments and recognizing how specific behaviors — such as greeting, assisting, recommending, etc. — can lead to desired sales outcomes.
Direct, real-time customer feedback can essentially act as your “peak period training system”. Your customers will forgive you for an untidy store as they expect all employees to be helping. By taking one minute to review feedback, you’re investing in the experience you ultimately provide for your customers. How employees present themselves to customers, how they interact with them and respond to their questions while they shop, and how they assist them at checkout all have a significant impact on the overall experience with the brand. A retailer’s associates embody the brand and its mission, so it is important to be sure they’re set up for success in the hustle and bustle of the holiday shopping season.
As retailers prepare for the holiday season, it’s vital that they remember these tips in order to deliver a positive experience for their customers and their employees to ensure seasonal success that lasts throughout the year.
Russ Haswell has been in leadership positions at Medallia for 12 years and currently heads the company’s retail practice as VP and General Manager of Retail, working alongside some of the most revered brands in the world. In his role, Haswell focuses on the retail sector, helping redefine the role of customer experience across a variety of retailers seeking to elevate the connection between the customer, the employee, and the brand. Prior to Medallia, he held leadership positions at CustomerSat (now Confirmit), Frost & Sullivan and Apple.