The retail space has seen its share of turmoil in recent years. Some companies that were shopping mainstays for decades have reduced their footprint or shuttered their doors completely. Doom-and-gloom headlines proclaimed the dawning of a “retail apocalypse.”
But those dystopian warnings haven’t proven true. In fact, plenty of brands are weathering this era of change–and thriving. What’s their secret? Today’s retail leaders have an unwavering devotion to delivering an excellent customer experience (CX)–both in brick-and-mortar stores and online. Digital CX is the phoenix in the aftermath, rising up.
We all know a great retail customer experience when we have one. We walk away feeling uplifted and appreciated. Our esteem for the brand that made us feel that way rises.
It’s likely we’ll be open to spending more money with that retailer as well. According to research from PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC), consumers are willing to spend up to 16% more for a good experience. And 42% of customers said they’d pay more for friendly service, with 52% affirming they’d pay more for an efficient experience.
Another data point cited by CX expert Shep Hyken: 66% of customers will pay more for great service, while 75% would pay more for exceptional CX.
So how do you deliver the types of retail experiences that customers value?
In this post, we’ll detail ten foundational elements you need to have in place to deliver quality experiences. Once you’ve addressed most of these fundamentals, you’re ready to pursue advanced CX approaches that provide memorable and personalized experiences for your online customers.
Tips #1 to #5: Build a Strong CX Foundation in Your Retail Stores
With all the hype about online sales and digital consumers, it’s easy to overlook in-store experiences. But that’s a huge mistake, as evidenced by research from Digital Commerce 360. Although online shopping has grown steadily in the past decade, e-commerce accounts for less than 20% of U.S. retail sales.
The bottom line is that you can’t neglect in-store service delivery. These first five tips (of our ten best practices in this article) ensure your in-store experiences are the best they can be.
Tip #1: Understand Your Customers
Knowing who your customers are is the basis of delivering a quality experience. You need to know demographic details along with customer motivations, frustrations, and goals and create buyer personas. In fact, many brands find it helpful to have more than multiple personas to delineate different customer groups.
The best personas are built based on a mix of quantitative analysis and qualitative research, such as interviews or focus groups. Answer these and other questions when creating personas:
- What are their basic demographic details (age, gender, etc.)?
- What are their jobs? How much experience do they have?
- What do they experience on a typical day?
- What problems and pain points do they encounter?
- Where do they find information about your store?
- What motivates them to visit your location?
- What are their goals?
The persona creation work you do has applicability for online marketing as well. You can use what you learn about brick-and-mortar experiences to make online shopping more human and personal. Knowing this kind of information about your shoppers may seem basic, but is often a great exercise to undertake when developing your digital cx.
Tip #2: Focus on Brand Uptime
In a retail store environment, providing a flashy, attention-grabbing experience isn’t always essential. Instead, you must focus on the basics: a clean and organized environment with a positive, brand-affirming atmosphere. This is the heart of the concept of “brand uptime” in a store. And it’s critical to customer loyalty and experience, as Retail Info Systems (RIS) explains:
. . .physical locations must be constantly maintained to project a consistent and positive brand image. From lighting and cleanliness to HVAC and landscaping, how you “touch” the customer proves as critical to your brand and its value as the innovative experience that initially attracts the customer to the store.
When you emphasize brand uptime, you can create a consistent experience for customers across locations – including in your digital cx! Whether customers shop near home or at a store thousands of miles away, you can ensure they find comparable pricing, similar store layouts, and an unmistakable ambiance that is unique to your brand.
Tip #3: Create a Positive Store Flow
The idea of store flow refers to the way customers move through your physical store environment. With an optimal store design, customers can shift easily from browsing to testing out or trying on products to making purchases.
Your store flow sets the mood for customers’ shopping experiences. Some store layouts encourage exploration, while others aim to guide shoppers along a set path.
When you focus on store flow, you look for ways to remove roadblocks that can frustrate customers. Imagine you’ve spent time shopping and head to the checkout–only to find a long line. You’re sure to feel a rush of disappointment. Avoid this in your stores with smart layouts or alternate checkout methods, such as having employees run transactions using handheld devices.
Tip #4: Empower Your Team
Despite the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) technology in retail, customers say they value human interaction. In fact, PwC research revealed that 75% of consumers say they will want to interact with a real person more as technology evolves.
And PwC has found that three of the top four factors that influence defections relate to experiences with customer-facing employees. Team members who lack knowledge, are unfriendly or have poor attitudes often drive customers away.
Fortunately, there are many examples of brands who deliver world-class retail service. In every case, these service leaders give employees autonomy to evaluate situations and make decisions to address customers needs. You can emulate their practices to empower your team.
Nordstrom: Empowering Employees to Deliver Standout Service
Nordstrom has a long-standing reputation for delivering top-quality customer service. Customers and industry analysts alike praise the company for its customer focus. What is this the case? Delivering top-notch service isn’t just one element of its strategy—it is the company’s guiding purpose.
At Nordstrom, prospective employees must demonstrate that they share the company’s devotion to service before they join the team. As Forrester Research explains, Nordstrom focuses on hiring the right associates—and equipping them with the training and tools to succeed.
For example, Nordstrom gives every employee access to an instant view of its inventory. This lets employees provide immediate answers to customers’ product availability questions and support buying decisions.
This is just one example of how Nordstrom maintains an intense focus on customer needs. According to the Harvard Business Review, the company’s legendary handbook is a single card that reads “Use good judgment in all situations.” Nordstrom employees apply this principle to guide all customer interactions.
In-store associates can resolve customer issues on the spot—without escalating to managers or corporate service teams. And they have the knowledge, information, and resources to address customer needs.
As a result, Nordstrom employees feel empowered to act with the customer in mind and recognize that they are responsible for maintaining the company’s high service standards.
Tip #5: Use Technology Wisely
Many shoppers visit stores because they value the sensory experiences of shopping. They appreciate seeing and touching products and enjoy the feeling and energy of their favorite stores. While technology plays a critical role in in-store experiences, you don’t need to have all the latest “bells and whistles” to impress customers.
In fact, one study found a clear disconnect between retail executives and customer perceptions of the value of technology in stores. Almost 80% of executives thought AI and virtual reality would increase sales, while just 14% of customers believe those technologies would influence what they buy:
By focusing on a few critical technologies, your store can support customers’ core needs. Modernizing point of sale (POS) systems can help you avoid painful slowdowns during checkout. You also need solid order and inventory management systems. And technologies that support personalization and data security are also essential.
Tips #6 to #10: Build a Strong Digital CX Foundation
Although in-store shopping is holding strong, billions of people around the world shop online, according to research from Statista. Soon, the number of online shoppers will surpass two billion–and is only going to keep growing.
Other consumer research has found that an estimated 80% of shoppers research online before making a large in-store purchase. And a high percentage of shoppers across every age group conduct research on their mobile devices while shopping in a physical storefront, according to KPMG. Most often, people will compare prices or review product specifications online while in a store.
Clearly, you need to cater to online shoppers and information-seekers. A website with rich content that streamlines transactions can boost your sales. Here are five ways to make sure you’re meeting the needs of your customers when delivering a digital CX.
Tip #6: Make Sure Your Website Has Accurate, Descriptive Content
You know that many customers research online before making a purchase. That’s why it’s essential to make sure your website has up-to-date content. If your content isn’t accurate, you may be driving away ready-to-buy customers.
Just how big is the problem? One consumer survey found that 98% of customers have abandoned a purchase due to incorrect or incomplete content. And nearly one-third of customers say those types of content issues dissuade them from purchasing every time they use a brand’s website or app.
What’s the takeaway? Poor content is a big turnoff for customers. Make sure your content provides all the details customers need to make good purchase decisions–online and when shopping in your stores.
Tip #7: Streamline Your Checkout
Some retailers put significant emphasis on getting people to their website–but focus less on helping customers complete their purchases. In fact, many shopping cart abandonment studies show nearly two-thirds of customers who put items in their carts click away without buying.
Many of the top reasons customers abandon transactions are fixable, according to Baymard Institute research. Customers hate being surprised by unexpected shipping, taxes, or other fees that add to their order cost. Also, customers may walk away if they can’t check out as a guest or find the checkout process long and complicated. And they appreciate knowing the order total before the final screen where they complete the transaction.
Our own research has found that more than half of shoppers abandon online purchases because of a lack of confidence. They may feel overwhelmed by available options or distrust sales people, reviews, and online advice.
You can learn more about this hot-button issue around digital CX in our white paper: Why do brands abandon high-intent customers at the point of purchase? And how to fix it.
Tip #8: Take the Pain Out of Shipping
Shopping in a physical store provides instant gratification. You can take your purchase home with you right away. But shopping online always involves waiting. And the extra cost of shipping only adds to the frustration.
How can you address the shipping conundrum? Customers say free shipping is important. A recent survey found that 73% of respondents agree that free shipping greatly influences their buying decisions.
Quick shipping matters too. While Amazon, WalMart, and Target have gained attention for free two-day shipping, you don’t have to be that fast–as long as shipping is free. Customers are willing to wait up to 4.5 days for a free shipment to arrive.
Tip #9: Provide Hassle-Free Returns
People appreciate the “try before you buy” experience they encounter when shopping in a physical store. But shopping online can sometimes feel like guesswork. That’s another big reason why so many consumers don’t complete digital transactions. And it’s no surprise that data compiled from multiple studies show higher return rates for online vs. brick-and-mortar purchases.
You can address this challenge with a transparent return process. Industry leaders–such as Amazon and Zappos–have set a high bar. Now, consumers expect retailers to cover return shipping and process refunds promptly. And consumers want cash refunded to their original payment method, not store credit.
Tip #10: Support Repeat Purchases
Once you’ve gained a customer, you want them to keep coming back. Sure, incentives and discounts are always a big draw. But you can accelerate the process by making repeat purchases simple on your website.
Many customers appreciate having personal details–such as shipping and payment information–securely stored on their favorite websites. You should also provide an easy-to-navigate order history with links that allow customers to repurchase items with a minimal effort.
The good news is that if you can motivate customers to make a second online purchase, they’re likely to come back to you again. And each successive purchase only increases their chance of future orders, according to e-commerce research. This is a key element to successful digital CX.
Capitalize on Your CX Foundation
If you have all or most of these elements for CX success in place, congratulate yourself. You’ve taken steps to create a positive and convenient shopping experience in your stores and online. Chances are, you’re ahead of many of your competitors. Now, you’re ready to take your digital CX efforts to a more elite level.
What’s next? Forward-thinking retailers are looking for opportunities to bring the best of their brick-and-mortar experiences online. They’re applying new ideas that make digital experiences feel more human and personal. How? Conversational strategies are empowering digital CX leaders to evolve online experiences by connecting shoppers with real people.
There’s no doubt that the next era in online customer experience will be all about conversation. When customers shop online, they won’t have to encounter cold, anonymous websites that provide a flood of information but not much more. Conversational platforms will allow you to link shoppers to on-demand brand advocates who are part of your pool of existing customers. Those brand ambassadors can share their enthusiasm for your products through messaging and help customers make confident purchase decisions.
The path ahead is clear. In the near future, you’ll need to move beyond digital CX basics and embrace innovative conversational approaches. When you do, you’ll create positive and memorable experiences–the kind that win customer praise and happiness. And you’ll distinguish yourself as a brand that truly cares about customers.
Want to learn more about how conversation can help you overcome cart abandonment issues and drive more conversions? Our study, Why do brands abandon high-intent customers at the point of purchase? And how to fix it provides an in-depth look at this critical digital CX issue.