People shopping with masks on.

How Retailers Can Nail the Perfect In-Store Customer Experience in 2021

16 June 2021

Retail | News & trends

The post-pandemic customer wants many of the same things from a store as the pre-pandemic customer. They want clean, well organized stores with a welcoming atmosphere, helpful assistants, and a chance to spend some time browsing and exploring a selection of products.

However, with the ease of online shopping and the lockdown-induced explosion of e-commerce, it’s becoming more of a challenge to entice shoppers back into brick and mortar. This means that retailers need to ramp up the in-store experience to provide consumers with reasons to want to visit stores. After the 2020 recession they have fewer stores and fewer team members to do this with. 

Despite the convenience and comfort of online shopping, physical stores are very much here to stay. According to a 2021 survey by PwC, in-store shopping remains consumers’ channel of choice for daily or weekly shopping.

There are built-in advantages to a physical store which retailers need to capitalize on: customers can interact with products, test them out, try them on and have discussions about them with real people. Shoppers are more willing to part with their cash in a physical store - 75% of consumers will leave a store having purchased more than the product they originally came in for. 

Creating a customer experience which rewards shoppers for visiting stores is pivotal for retailers to succeed in 2021. This post will outline each of the main stumbling blocks when it comes to creating an exceptional in-store experience and explain how to combat them.

 

Look, feel, and finding what you want

Problem

Customers are busy. If they are choosing to venture into a physical store, it’s either because they need a specific product now or because they’re looking for escapism in the form of retail therapy. Either way, what they definitely don’t want is to be faced with messy, disorganized stores, especially after months of waiting for stores to reopen.

People don’t have time to trawl through jumbled stock - 67.3% of customers have left a store because they couldn’t find the product they needed. This is all the more true when customers are nervous about spending time in a physical store and potentially being exposed to Covid. Therefore, making sure that displays are arranged correctly, the shop floor is tidy, price labels are accurate and defective products are removed is critical.

Yet many retailers waste time using long-winded processes to complete tasks like implementing VM displays, recalling products and locating stock. 73% of frontline employees are still using paper forms, which are prone to errors and a barrier to operational efficiency, which is very stressful when store teams have less employees and more responsibilities. 

 

Solution

When done well, visual merchandising and store layout creates the physical embodiment of a retailer’s brand. Walking through Urban Outfitters’ new stores has been compared to ‘milling through a tasty garden of goods’, with displays that mesh colours with textures and mix homeware and gadgets in amongst clothing. This injects an element of exploration into the customer experience while maintaining slick and tidy displays.

Related: 4 Top Tips for Perfect Visual Merchandising in Retail

Digitizing all tasks and processes that contribute to store look, feel and navigation hugely benefits the customer experience. Firstly, it makes store teams’ jobs easier: 71% of frontline employees know that digitized processes and tasks would make them more productive. Automating time-consuming admin means that employees have more time to spend on rewarding tasks, like helping customers and making sales. More fulfilled employees provide better customer service and streamlining these processes speeds up tasks like locating an item for a customer, checking that displays are correct and correcting prices, overall making the in-store experience more cohesive and positive.

Related: The Complete Guide to Retail Task Management

 

Asking for help and expertise

Problem

There is nothing more frustrating than asking a store employee for assistance and then discovering that they are just as clueless as you are, or worse, seem disengaged and reluctant to help. 39.1% of shoppers have left a store because of poor customer service.

Customers, particularly Gen Z, are excited about the social aspect of brick and mortar shopping. Compared to before the pandemic, nearly 30% of Gen Z consumers are planning to increase the amount of time they spend interacting with people outside of their household once vaccinated. Teenage girls from upper-income families appear to be leading the pack in terms of their willingness to get back out and spend money. The average amount teens spend on a handbag has risen 4% over the past year. 

Although customers are keen to set foot in stores again, they’re walking back through the doors with more knowledge of the market and products than before. 40% of consumers say they are more familiar with online shopping now than they were in January 2020. By the time a customer enters the store, they have probably already researched a product online. In order to provide assistance and recommendations to well-informed customers, store teams need to be at the top of their game in terms of product knowledge.

Expectations are at an all-time high and resources with which to meet them are running low. Branches have shut down, teams have been reduced in size and individual employees are constantly busy on the shop floor. 

 

Solution

Meeting the expectations of this excited influx of consumers is no easy task, but the rewards are steep. 73% of consumers will spend more if they are impressed by customer service

In order to achieve this, store teams need the right training. They need to be engaged and well-prepared with all the information that they need to help customers, yet 40% of frontline employees are trained only once per year or less and 34% feel disconnected from their company. In a fast-paced environment where responsibilities are constantly changing in response to new regulations, this isn’t going to cut it.

Giving store employees the right tools will counter these problems. 70% of frontline employees agree that being able to access training via a mobile app would make learning easier. Delivering learning content in bitesize chunks via a mobile app that employees can access on the shop floor means that teams are better equipped with all the information they need whenever they need it, therefore better prepared to meet the needs of customers and exceed their expectations

Related: 5 Common Problems with Retail Sales Training and How to Fix Them

 

Shopping safely

Problem

In the wake of the pandemic, a third of shoppers feel unsafe or uncomfortable shopping at physical stores. Retailers need to demonstrate that customer safety is a priority in order to attract them back into their stores.

Monitoring store capacity, providing efficient service and keeping lines moving without overcrowding the store all contribute to providing a customer experience that is both safe and enjoyable, but this is a tall order for already-stretched frontline employees.

 

Solution

Streamlined task management enables store teams to carry out all of these additional safety measures without being weighed down by the increased workload.

Using regular mobile communications will keep all team members up to date with the latest guidelines without overwhelming them with information. Also, delivering bitesize health and safety training in digestible chunks helps employees to implement the latest health and safety standards more accurately and efficiently.

Retailers can optimize safety by rethinking store layouts. For example, Target has begun to shape plans for store layouts around customer safety by including more contactless features in bathrooms and adding extra room for people to socially distance between merchandise and checkout lanes.

Although some consumers can’t wait to hit the shops again, there are many that simply don’t feel ready yet. Retailers that survived the pandemic understood that a successful omnichannel strategy would need to adapt to the preferences of these customers, too. 

Focusing on meeting the demand for contactless services like click and collect and curbside pick-up allowed stores to continue to serve their customers in a way that was comfortable for them. Best Buy have been trialling a new store layout which devotes less floor space to displaying products for in-store browsing and more to fulfilling online orders.

Related: What is the Role of the Store in Omnichannel Retail During COVID-19?

 

Be more than just a store

Problem

Yes, people are spending more time online. But this isn’t necessarily an obstacle to brick and mortar. Barbara Kahn, professor of marketing at Wharton School of Business explains that ‘While consumers now are much more likely to shop online or browse online than in the past … (the future of customer experience is) going to be this melded combination of the online and offline experiences’.

By failing to embrace the new role of the physical store, retailers aren’t fulfilling their potential in an increasingly digital world. 

 

Solution

When transitioning into an omnichannel approach, the physical store needs to function as an experience hub where consumers can feel immersed in and interact with the brand. As the executive vice president of URW in LA explained, ‘We’re no longer providers of retail going forward. We’re content providers, and that includes the right balance of entertainment concepts’.

This means providing more than just products on shelves. In a study of 2,000 consumers, 68% stated that they now want stores to offer experiences, services or leisure activities as well as just shopping for products. Examples of brands who have done this well include:

  • Lush - who use bath bomb demonstrations to allow consumers to experience the scents and fizzing sounds of their products.
  • Sweaty Betty - who host free fitness classes to complement their activewear range.
  • Dick’s Sporting Goods - who have opened a concept store where customers can test out sports gear on a rock-climbing wall, a batting cage and a putting green.
  • Tiffany and Co. - who opened cafés in which diners can eat and drink from Tiffany own-brand tableware.
  • Scum and No Chaos - who have opened concept stores in London which feature arcade games, a skate ramp and a coffee bar.

Making the most of outdoor space is one of the best ways to provide experiential retail safely. Howard Hughes Corporation in Dallas has leaned heavily into this trend by offering conceptual experiences including outdoor farmer’s markets, yoga sessions, drive-in movies and rooftop dining to draw consumers to their locations.

Another tactic is to make stores more child-friendly. Parents will not want to hang around in shopping centres for long if they have bored, whining children in tow. Creating in-store facilities to keep kids entertained will take the pressure off stressed parents and allow them to spend more time browsing. IKEA have done just this, with free, supervised playrooms which provide parents with a more peaceful shop and children with an opportunity to test out the toys in the children’s range. When children have a fun experience, they will want to come back and hence their parents are more likely to revisit the store, building brand loyalty.

Furthermore, brick and mortar stores can benefit from offering exclusive discounts. An IBM study found that in-store promotion is the most compelling reason for consumers to shop in a physical store, especially for Gen X (54%) and those over 55 (52%). UK grocery giant Tesco offers a clubcard scheme which customers can sign up to for free and then collect loyalty points, enjoy lower prices on many in-store products and access exclusive deals. 

 

Key takeaways

Now that we’ve covered each element in detail, let’s wrap up with some customer experience key takeaways:

  • Digitize store processes like visual merchandising and operations, so it’s easy for every store to have the perfect look, feel and navigation.
  • Equip store teams with accessible, engaging  training so they have everything they need to help and advise customers.
  • Streamline tasks, store communications and training so stores can prioritize safety, ensure customers are comfortable, and avoid task overwhelm.
  • Constantly re-evaluate the role of the store and how it can add value to your brand. To keep customers coming back for more, don’t just be a store, be an experience hub.

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