Tony Iero

Customer Experience Strategies for Retailers Ready To Fight Back

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According to Forrester, showrooming is when a customer visits a brick and mortar retail location to touch and feel a product and then goes online to purchase the product at a lower price.  Amazon is generally the benefactor in such cases.  Amazon.com is the eighth most popular site in the world and number five in the United States according to the three-month Alexa traffic rankings.  The biggest traditional retailers would love a similar kind of ranking but are much further down the list.  The first traditional retailer I recognize is Walmart, who shows up at number 24 in the US rankings.  Then comes Target at 43 followed by Best Buy at 44. Macy’s and Kohl’s show up in the 80’s and then Home Depot appears at 102.  If the brick and mortar stores want to stay relevant, they need to figure out how to close the gap with the jungle behemoth at the risk of being chopped down, paved over and lost forever.

Storefronts have many advantages. First is they offer customers the ability to get up close and personal with a product.  All five senses are used to invoke a physical or emotional response and create an attachment. Only a subset of senses may be used when shopping online, thereby decreasing the likelihood of attachment. The second advantage is one of instant gratification. Customers can go home today with their new found love. Third, is the chance to provide a human touch, which offers the greatest opportunity for a personalized, in-the-moment, relevant and specific customer service experience.

Despite what many experts will tell you, the answer does not lie in creating a better online web user experience. This is because “great user experience” has already moved to the table-stakes category. It’s what any competitor must provide; therefore, by definition, it cannot be a winning strategy against the likes of Amazon.

The solution is to provide an online shopping experience when the three in-store advantages outlined above are primed and at their peak.  The retailer must strike at this moment before the customer leaves the store. These four elements working together have the power to stop sales from slipping through your automatic motion-sensing doors. Below are some ideas and strategies for accomplishing this:

Many shoppers will use apps on their smartphones like Shop Savvy® to scan an item and get pricing information from competitors. QR codes are good for additional product information, but they generally take you a manufacturer’s website. Therefore, consider setting up free wifi in your stores and heavily advertising its use as a shopping companion throughout the in-store experience. Once customers are on your branded in-store wifi network, you can redirect them to the same lists of quotes from competitors. Like Progressive Insurance, you increase the likelihood of generating goodwill, keeping customers engaged and closing the sale. This can also be accomplished by setting up internet kiosks throughout your stores and inviting customers to price compare online. Next, I see two options: let customers create a print out from the kiosk on-the-spot that they can take up to the register for an automatic price match, or purchase the product in the store at the current price and receive double rewards points for doing so. Either way, you have an awesome customer experience that combines the best elements of shopping online with the best elements of shopping in a store.

Many times you will see customer service associates walking around in stores hooked into a communications system. This is so that associates can help each other in times of need to increase their efficiency. Well, it’s time to upgrade that system. Let customers in on the action by allowing them to use their mobile devices to locate in-store associates and even communicate with them via chat. If no associates are available in the current store, allow customers to chat with associates from the store on the other side of town in order to get the answer they need. You can also use the kiosks throughout the store to accomplish the same level of service. The screen would present a floor plan of the store and help customers quickly identify where “hot deals” of the day were located. It would also locate associates or specialists and allow customers to signal them with where they are and what they need. Associates could chat back with answers. Customers could chat or message with in-store associates or video-chat with agents in the contact center who had product information and customer databases at their fingertips. This can also be an effective way to create virtual associates in your stores who can help during busy seasons. Return visits to the store would automatically push relevant notifications to customers’ phones offering coupons and specials based on purchase history. An NFC bump with any in-store kiosk would do the same. The kiosks would be NFC mobile payment terminals as well, adding to the customer convenience.

Amazon does not have stores (yet). They are disadvantaged in this manner. Retailers who think differently have a tremendous opportunity to turn the tide and revolutionize the in-store shopping experience, plus save themselves from showrooming. Instead of running away from the internet in your stores, I recommend that brick and mortar retailers embrace and merge the online interactions that customers love, with the in-store advantages stated above. It’s no surprise that it took a technology company (Apple) to introduce a brand new way to shop in a store. Traditional retailers would be wise to stop, take note and get creative.

I invite others to comment and make additional suggestions that may help retailers change their mental models and transform the customer experience in an ever-changing industry.

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