3 ways retailers can enhance the in-store experience in the digital age
The way in which people shop has changed. Customers research more, are more likely to shop around, and typically engage with brands via multiple devices, as well as in-store. Customers today are also impatient and empowered, and expect personalised service, detailed information and rapid delivery, regardless of where they happen to be shopping. For retailers, the evolution of customers’ needs and expectations represents both a threat and an opportunity. Retailers who don’t adapt risk being left behind; whereas those that provide a seamless omni-channel experience – both in-store and online – will thrive.
According to a recent Microsoft whitepaper, the challenging environment for Australian retailers has been reflected in the loss of more than 3,000 jobs in 2017 and the collapse of several local clothing brands. Meanwhile, in the US, major retailers such as Macy’s and Sears Holdings (owner of Kmart) are closing hundreds of stores. By contrast, Amazon had its best Christmas holiday season ever in 2016–17, with that period accounting for 38 per cent of its annual online retail sales.
However, thanks to the accessibility of customer data, retailers have more tools at their disposal – and more ways to engage customers effectively than ever before. And importantly, data and technology doesn’t just have to come into play in the online space. In fact, following are three key ways in which retailers can use digital technology to drive sales and secure customer loyalty by enhancing the in-store experience.
- Educate and empower in-store employees
Today’s customer is often thoroughly informed – having done their research or before stepping into store. More and more, sales staff are becoming crucial – with the level of information and service that they are able to offer converting customers on the spot.
To respond to customer demands, sales assistants need technology at their fingertips so they can be liberated from behind the cash register. According to Microsoft, sales assistants need to be empowered with data, and elevated into “custodians of valuable client relationships and key players in the business.”
“Armed with tablets and other devices, ‘deskless’ employees can access a deeper level of inventory knowledge and be ready with tailored product recommendations based on intelligence about every customer. Using simplified point-of-sale graphical user interfaces, they can gain real-time visibility into how customers are responding to merchandise layouts on a given day and the effectiveness of in-store promotions,” the Microsoft whitepaper says.
New Zealand retailer, Citta Design, uses technology to improve the level of in-store interaction between staff and customers. Sales associates now use tablets to access product information, which includes technical and web copy as well as customer information on previous purchases and more.
“[Sales associates] can actually be sitting on the floor and talking to somebody about the quality of cotton sheets versus polyester sheets, the different characteristics that our products have, and use that as a tool to up sell, or just find the products that they actually want,” says Grant Taylor, Citta Design’s Chief Operating Officer.
- Respond to the needs of “showroomers” and “webroomers”
Increasingly, retail stores are being treated as “showrooms”, where customers will visit a store to research a product, try it on, and see it in person, before then purchasing it online – sometimes from a different and cheaper supplier.
Polls in the U.S. suggest that, in the 18-36 age group, 50% of customers admit to showrooming. Conversely, “webrooming” is where a customer will browse and research a product online, then go in-store to purchase it. Interestingly, in the same age group, 69% of customers say they “webroom”.
To improve the in-store experience, and increase the likelihood of conversion, retailers can tap into these trends, offering incentives for in-store purchases and emphasising the benefits of an in-store sale – i.e. the customer doesn’t have to wait for a product to be delivered; he or she can take it home right away; and there are no delivery fees.
At the same time, retailers can also potentially offer customers incentives for following up a purchase with their own online store, rather than risking that the customer will make the purchase via a competitor as soon as they leave the store.
- Use data to enhance the in-store experience
Today, retailers have an enormous of amount of data at their disposal, and brands need to start leveraging this data to provide exciting, personalised and highly relevant in-store customer offers and experiences.
By leveraging data about a customer’s purchasing habits and online interactions, for instance, a retail brand can offer specific live offers and promotions – which the customer only receives as soon as they walk into, or past, a particular physical store. Say, for instance, a customer has been researching a canoe online from an outdoor adventure store. When this customer is in the proximity of this store, they could receive a pop-up on their mobile – or even an email – advising that this canoe is currently in-stock and can be secured for a discount of 10% if it’s purchased within the next 2 hours.
According to Microsoft, “while many people are becoming wary of overly obtrusive marketing, few are likely to resist an offer that is timely and relevant”.
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