Harmonize Digital and In-Person Shopping to Meet Them There
Consumers Hold the Cards…
If the pandemic has wrought one universal, permanent transformation of the retail industry, it’s that consumers are in control. The speedy move toward omnichannel offerings, the emphasis on personalization, the advent of frictionless payment and delivery options—all of it has been prompted by the wants and needs of consumers. In essence, they are in charge of change.
On the one hand, this puts all retailers and retail brands on the same playing field; on the other, they are challenged to step outside of traditional ways of thinking about meeting customer expectations. It’s not an overstatement to say they need to re-imagine the customer experience.
… And Have Great Expectations
Rethinking how best to meet your customers’ expectations starts with understanding how retailing has become a fundamentally different proposition over the last few years. Accustomed to online shopping but appreciative of the value of in-store browsing, shoppers no longer differentiate their purchasing behavior between the two channels. Out of necessity, retailers do differentiate, because the two approaches require divergent operational procedures, technology, and management approaches. However, what used to be referred to as omnichannel retailing has evolved into a blended scenario, whereby customers—whatever device they are on (or not) and whether they are face to face with an associate or online with a chatbot—just see it all as shopping.
Research bears out these four basic shopper expectations:
- Personalized service
- Easy fulfillment options
If a retail brand is not meeting these foundational components of a satisfying shopping experience, customer volume—and sales—will dwindle.
Retailers Must Re-Evaluate…
If you haven’t already, it’s time to re-evaluate how well you are meeting those expectations. Where there are gaps, you must fill them. Where there are opportunities to improve, you must address them. If the customer journey is clunky, smooth it out. If you’re ignoring customers at various touchpoints, figure out how you can engage and where you can personalize.
How well you meet these expectations sets your stores and your brand apart from your competitors’. The goal is to seamlessly blend online and offline experiences for your customers so they perceive every interaction with you as not merely totally unified, but as a chance to feel welcomed and cared for by you and your brand.
… And Be More Human-Centered
Deloitte’s report, Keeping Retail Customers at the Center, posits that successful solutions for reimagining customer experiences must be fully customer centric. The report says in the future, “Stores should serve as a tool to help strengthen brand relevance, reinforce confidence in selection and quality, and enhance in-store customer experience, effectively encouraging consumers to build emotional connections with brands and local communities.” In other words, customers will expect a holistic, human-centered buying experience.
Even bargain hunters and price shoppers are seeking an exceptionally gratifying buying experience. What does that look like to them? They seek trust in their brand’s promises; they want to know that companies stand behind their products; and they want assurance they are making the right purchase decision.
But what does a human-centered experience consist of? From a historical perspective, storytelling is one of the oldest forms of human interaction. Early in the evolution of humankind, people shared their experiences through story. They told tales of what happened, what they saw, and what occurred as a result—to their best recollection, of course. Their revelations were, at their core, memories.
For tens of thousands of years, people have shared their memories this way. So, it is safe to say that providing memorable experiences to customers means you’ve given them a good story. And with any luck, and the right kind of promotional motivation, they will share their story with others.
Harmonize Digital and In-Person Shopping for a Stellar Customer Experience
A memorable shopping experience, according to Deloitte, starts with technology, because retailers can rely on it to “use new data to humanize in-store and online interactions at every point, while customizing the store experience based on local or even individual preferences.” The point is brick-and-mortar stores must be innovating continually to keep pace with evolving consumer behaviors.
According to Deloitte, 61% of retail customers use a digital device for research while visiting stores. In addition, at the same time, the number of U.S. smartphone users scanning a QR code is expected to increase from 84.3 million in 2022 to 99.5 million in 2025, according to eMarketer.
What can retailers do to be leading-edge? What innovations should brick-and-mortar stores prioritize?
- Invest in digital self-service
- Emulate websites’ ability to track preferences without being intrusive or invading privacy
- Enhance in-store Wi-Fi
- Provide in-store, customized, branded mobile app capabilities
- Empower store associates as product and experience advisers
QR Codes: They’re Back!
QR codes were introduced by a Japanese company in 1994 to track auto parts moving through the assembly process. QR stands for Quick Response and is a specialized bar code that consumers scan with a mobile phone to access a unique portal. QR codes were initially received with some excitement but fell out of favor until pandemic times.
Motivated to reduce person-to-person contact, restaurants stopped producing hard-copy menus and began making them accessible via QR codes to diners, who use their smartphone camera to scan a code for the menu to appear. It’s a simple form of connectivity that, because of the ubiquitous use of phones, can bring powerful results for retailers and make shopping both a more convenient and enriching experience.
A smart way to capitalize on the trend is to invite customers to use their device to engage with a virtual assistant – not a chatbot, but a real person — who can provide product information and advice real-time. Once a nice-to-have, in an era of associate staffing shortages, automated tools for this purpose are becoming even more essential. According to Deloitte, “With most people accustomed to the ease of online browsing and self-education, along with the challenges in hiring and retaining in-store associates, retailers can’t count on traditional sales reps and availability alone to make a difference. Store managers face a higher bar in creating in-person experiences that add value to what customers can already find online. The solution to this challenge, like many others in the retail industry, could be the adoption of new, customer-facing technologies on the back end.”
Falling short on staff can result in falling short of sales. The typical shopper, faced with multiple product choices with varying features, all in various shapes, sizes, colors, and price ranges, can become so frustrated with sorting it all out and nailing down a purchase that they leave the store, hoping—but not looking forward to—an extensive period of online research will give them the answers they need. The need for information is particularly pronounced with larger purchases.
AskMe™ keeps shoppers in control, which is exactly where they want to be.
But with AskMe™ by MarketSource, shoppers can instantly connect to a live brand expert to assist them. A quick scan of a QR code on products or product tags—on refrigerators, for example, or as a window cling on an automobile, or on point of purchase displays—starts an interaction that can take place as a video call, text message, or phone call.
Shoppers are free to ask all kinds of detailed questions, and the brand expert, who is specifically trained in the product line, can share knowledge about key product attributes, make recommendations, suggest related products and accessories, discuss warranties, and more. The brand experts can even be set up to conduct product demos and offer troubleshooting advice.
AskMe is an ideal solution for supplementing associate staff or filling in gaps where staff is insufficient to meet customer needs. AskMe brand experts are highly trained and function as an adjunct to staff during particularly busy times or any time a customer needs in-depth product information. And AskMe can be integrated with store operations: Store associates can use their own devices to connect to an AskMe brand expert if shoppers prefer not to use their own device or need connection assistance.
AskMe embodies how the right kind of innovation can harmonize digital and in-person engagement in a way that strengthens personalization and reinforces customers’ connection with brands. By enabling instant access to the comprehensive product information they demand, AskMe keeps shoppers in control, which is exactly where they want to be.