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3 ways to keep the personal touch in brick-and-mortar retail

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The news frequently portrays brick-and-mortar retail as on the verge of collapse at the hands of online shopping. However, IHL Group recently conducted a study and found that, contrary to popular belief, brick-and-mortar retail is growing.

The study identified 4.5 percent growth in 2017, and the first six months of 2018 have already shown a 5.5 percent growth. However, it is important to note that this growth is coming at a time when online sales still account for only a small chunk of total retail sales —19 percent — through the first half of 2018.

The personal convenience of online or app-based shopping is likely to continue to draw more consumers away from in-store environments. Brick-and-mortar retailers must determine how they will evolve throughout the entire brand experience. The answer is as simple as delivering an in-store experience that is purposeful, measurable and memorable.

Infuse in-store technology with purpose

In today’s fully interactive world, it should come as no surprise that shoppers are more likely to be drawn to interactive retail environments. The key for retailers is to make interactive experiences a seamless extension of a brand’s overall retail experience. The biggest mistake retailers make is to use technology blindly with no clear purpose or measurability.

During this year’s National Retail Foundation show, several new technologies were unveiled showing the future of interactive retail. These included immersive technologies that let shoppers try on shades of makeup in a virtual reality mirror and Amazon Go’s checkout-less shopping.

While these are examples of cutting-edge innovation, they should only be used as a benchmark for future customer experiences where there is a clear benefit to the customer, the retailer and the brand.

Armed with this focus, retailers can work toward implementing solutions that can bring them closer to maintaining an innovative standard. For example, while checkout-less shopping may not be a reality today for most retailers, providing touch screen and self-checkout features can help retailers stay connected with the expectations of their customers and improve the experience of a common in-store bottleneck.

Staying on top of customer experience and digital trends will help position your retail operations as customer-centric and always-evolving, while providing a purposeful experience to consumers.

Discovery shopping and measuring your success

Discovery shopping is another crucial tactic to provide the level of individual attention needed to engage customers. This means harnessing the human tendency to “window shop” and find products they didn’t know they wanted. Many shoppers experience a mood boost after making a purchase, so success may be as simple as delivering the happiness shopping can bring.

Online, many retailers succeed at discovery shopping because of their commitment to personalization with recommendations tailored to shopper needs, interests and mood. Likewise, to properly harness the power of personalized browsing, brick-and-mortar retailers must improve their ability to measure the effectiveness of their layout, inventory and messaging to attract customers. A positive, efficient and predictive customer experience is no longer a “nice-to-have,” it’s a must to stand out in the crowded retail landscape.

Reinforce the value of memorable interactions

At the heart of what makes brick-and-mortar shopping different from online is interaction. Social interaction is critically important for good health and longevity, and it’s a fundamental aspect that people will remember about a brand once they’ve come and gone.

One tactic used by some retailers is the purposeful immersion of digital experiences in the customer experience. Macy’s recently launched a rep-guided interactive virtual reality experience in-store, aimed at solving a common pain point for customers while furniture shopping: how will this couch look in my space? This shopping experience allows customers to view, compare and select furniture after creating a room model of the space in their homes where the new furniture will go. It also allows the in-store staff to connect with the customer in an unexpected, innovative way.

The retailers that create memorable interactions successfully have digital touch points for the in-store experience that are entertaining and informative. Some have found success while promoting the concept of customer loyalty through digital loyalty programs using points, rewards and discounts to grow their business and retain their customer base as brand advocates.

Ultimately, in order to keep cultivating loyal consumers, be sure that the retail experience goes beyond the cutting edge of technology and includes several opportunities for a memorable connection, whether digital or human.

As retail grows, make sure the customer experience doesn’t grow stale. Be mindful that creating personal interactions for consumers that are purposeful, measurable and memorable will yield great returns for retailers in the increasingly digital world.

Republished with permission from Retail Customer Experience.

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