In the age of online, mobile and in-store shopping, the only retail channel that matters to customers is their own experience. How can physical stores offer the kinds of personalized shopping experiences that customers want, and that online retailers deliver so well?
Our findings from the RIS/Cognizant 2015 Shopper Experience Study point to several key changes merchants can make to personalize the in-store experience. We polled 5,000 shoppers about their preferences and behaviors, and they had plenty of advice to offer on how stores can better connect with them.
Change #1: Train and empower store associates.
Whether you are a high-end or discount retailer, your single best opportunity to improve sales starts with your store associates. Not only can trained and empowered store staff convert occasional shoppers into loyal customers, but they also represent a vital link to your organization’s digital experience. With two-thirds (64%) of our survey respondents buying online at least once a month, and more than half (55%) using their smartphones to comparison shop, store associates are regularly closing sales that shoppers have already begun to explore online.
Although customer expectations have evolved, they’re not as difficult to exceed as you might think. According to our survey, shoppers’ two most requested improvements for associates are more knowledge about products and services, and authority to match prices. This year, 44% of shoppers said the ability to match prices in a controlled way was a top priority, more than double the number in 2012. (For more details on brick-and-mortar strategies, read “Getting Store Execution Right.”)
But to make a real difference, loyalty programs need to be personalized to individual shoppers. There’s no excuse for blasting the same message, promotion or reward to every e-mail address the retailer collects. For one thing, few blast e-mails make it past the spam folder. For another, response rates are far higher for tailored promotions that offer more than the occasional percentage off.
According to our survey, the most frequently cited indicators of strong loyalty programs are point rewards per dollar, automatic discounts, “status achievement” to gain elevated benefits, and special offers based on purchase history. And if an incentive is offered, 49% are likely to promote retailers on their social media networks to earn more rewards.
When it comes to the store aisle, associates are retailers’ strongest allies in guiding promising ideas from whiteboard concepts to reality. After all, who can offer a greater reality check than the folks on the front line? Involve your in-store staff from the beginning when developing new applications and store services.
Take the example of in-store pickup of online purchases. Many retailers now offer this service, and for good reason: Our survey found that nearly one-third of consumers use the service, and 65% buy additional items when they pick up their items.
Yet in-store pickup can be deceptively complex, requiring associates to toggle through multiple systems, including inventory and the website. A hefty 60% of respondents reported a service failure at pickup, such as items not being ready or incorrect item selection. Greater participation of store personnel in the design of this important new service can likely help avoid some of the bottlenecks.
The message is clear: Personalized store experiences are an essential component in the seamless, fluid experiences that convert shoppers into loyal customers.