Customer experience in retail store environments is one of the great brand differentiators. It includes everything from how your store looks and how employees engage with customers to whether or not checkout is a memorably positive or negative experience. It’s important for any brick and mortar store to always be looking for ways to improve the customer shopping experience. In this post explore seven tips to improve customer experience in your store along with several techniques to use to increase sales without spending a bunch of money.
Importance of the Shopping Experience
The name of the game in retail is differentiation and influence. Some of this is handled in visual branding like logos and colors — no one confuses Walmart and Target stores, after all — and part of it is going to be the price-quality tug of war — such as how Walmart banks on being cheapest while Target leans on making quality affordable. But this assumes that all the customer cares about is getting the right product for the right price, and that simply isn’t true in a truly global marketplace.
What keeps your customers coming back? If the only answers you have involve price or location convenience, then chances are high you’ve got room to increase sales through improving the customer shopping experience.
Improvements Need a Budget, Not Big Spending
Making changes within your business — especially improvements — will cost you time as well as money. However, improvements don’t mean jumping to the next trendy bit of sales technology and spending a small fortune on a myriad of location upgrades. After all, a 3D VR suite isn’t going to mean much to customers that simply don’t like being in your store or dislike working with your employees. When you know your customers well, you can spend your time and money wisely to improve the shopping experience in the right ways.
Tips for Improving the Customer’s Experience
Happy Employees Lead to Happy Customers
Whether your employees are happy can impact the customer experience in some ways. For instance, high employee dissatisfaction leads to turnover that could make your business look unstable, whereas happy employees are more loyal and present a consistent, dependable, and knowledgeable face for customers, improving trust in your brand. Happy employees are also more likely to collaborate and put the time and effort necessary into crafting a great experience.
Craft a Great Atmosphere
Hopefully this goes without saying, but a brick-and-mortar location should be well lit with clear walkways and organized shelves. Signage that helps customers navigate your store is also a plus, and be sure to have engaging signage with information on current promotions, etc.. The layout and organization of your store can also have a huge impact on experience. Consider Ikea: although it provides a “shortcut” through the store to immediately access certain areas, it actually guides users throughout different iterations of rooms in a house, giving the space personality and allowing customers to experience what their rooms could be like in a real way. This allows shoppers to visualize a product within their own home, and improves the customer experience as a whole.
Engage with Customers
If you think this sounds obvious, then you’re probably thinking about social media, customer service or the sales floor. But the truth is, you need to extend the brand experience in a way that helps you better understand the customer and offer a meaningful level of personalization. Engage them with surveys, encourage ratings and reviews, and if something negative comes up, reach out to address that issue and turn it into a positive experience. This can also be combined with our last tip to create an influential atmosphere: one store used dinosaur footprints to lead kids through the store, building a sense of excitement by the time they got to the dinosaur themed display. It also combines with our first tip: an unhappy employee is unlikely to quickly engage with a customer in-store, and even when they do, is likely to convey frustration and apathy to the customer. Happy employees will bring the right energy to foster a good experience for customers.
Make Loyalty Mean Something
Customer loyalty is incredibly powerful. For one thing, a loyal customer tends to spend more money over time; in conjunction with the fact that they cost less to maintain, retained customers can mean lifts in sales and revenue. Loyal customers also tend to become brand ambassadors and influencers on shoppers around them. Providing incentives to keep the customers you have is good, and providing a loyalty program is generally even better. Either way, the way you reward loyalty has to be meaningful and, if possible, personalized. For example, providing exclusive discounts personalized to their shopping habits can help add value to improve the customer shopping experience.
Customers Prefer Easy Checkouts
Value also extends to time. We’re not talking about eliminating tactics like placing staples as far from entrances as possible and increase how much time the spend being exposed to your products and signage. Rather, once they’re ready to make their purchase, waiting in long lines with complicated, slow, or outdated payment methods is frustrating. Similar to why a difficult process for shopping online invariably leads to abandoned carts, dissatisfaction and difficulty in-store could send customers to a competitor that’s less of a hassle. Enabling speedy, frictionless discounts will end the shopping experience on a positive note. Sometimes this is as simple as enabling mobile payments, or it may mean budgeting for a tech upgrade and provide payment enabled tablets to various customer representatives in your store. Sephora has done the latter so that customers getting makeovers (a valuable but also time-consuming process) don’t need to go on and wait in line.
This tip operates on two levels. More and more often, customers are using their smartphones in-store to do research, compare prices, find deals, and access loyalty rewards information. So on the one hand, free WiFi becomes a valuable addition because WiFi is less battery-intensive for smartphones. However, it is a passive value addition, and WiFi itself may be anything but cheap for you to provide to customers for free, even when 61% will spend more time in store and just over half will spend more money. Research also indicates that WiFi can increase loyalty and sales: 28% of retailers noted that deploying customer WiFi definitively lifted loyalty and provided and accompanying 2% sales lift.
But there’s a second level that many businesses don’t consider, and it’s probably why so few stores have implemented WiFi at all. (Only 19% offer WiFi to customers, and only a quarter have offered it for employees.) Consider the fact that 7 in 10 consumers want employees to check inventory when a shelf is empty, and another 67% want the employee to look up more detailed information about a product. Equipping employees with mobile devices can help them provide information with up-to-the-minute accuracy, but that would require having WiFi in place. This is undoubtedly why all the retailers included in the aforementioned research deployed employee WiFi and saw an accompanying 3.4% sales lift.
Nearly 60% of consumers are interested in in-store events, and tactics like samplings can improve sales significantly (116%). In fact, some research suggests that it can have a complementary impact on competitors, pushing their sales down while the brand that does the sampling goes up. This may be a good time to partner with a related business (e.g., both Whole Foods and local food businesses benefit from demos within the store). Demonstrations have similar impacts while fostering engagement with customers at the same time. Tie this to your loyalty events with special early access or exclusive events to strengthen the relationship and give more incentives for customers to become loyal.
Impact to the Bottom Line
Generally speaking, great customer experiences lead to a host of benefits. Customers who walk away with a positive retail experience are more likely to return, and ensuring a positive experience actually costs less overall, according to Harvard Business Review. For one thing, retaining customers costs less than acquiring new ones (as much as 7x), but more importantly, customers who have bad experiences are more likely to return products, request refunds, and require lengthy support. Sprint, for example, put renewed emphasis on improving the customer experience and saw care costs drop by 33%.
A third of happy customers will share positive experiences with five or more people, while 23% will share that positive experience with 10 or more people. Plus, customers you retain tend to spend a third more than new customers, and most customers (81%) are willing to pay more for great experiences. To look at the flip side, unhappy customers (i.e., those who have poor experiences) are very likely (but not wrongfully) damaging your reputation. Most will tell between 9 and 15 people about their bad experience, and a minority (13%) will tell 20 people or more, all of which deters potential customers.
When it comes down to it, every business wants to increase sales without spending a bunch of money. As you can see, it’s possible to do this when you improve the customer shopping experience. Follow the tips above to craft a customer experience in retail store locations that inspire customer loyalty and retention.