Consumer shopping behavior is unrecognizable from what it was a few years back. As a result, marketers in the retail arena who shun an omnichannel approach do so at their peril. Indeed, the latter is essential to every competitive strategy emerging in 2022.
Traditionally, retailers obsess over price, value propositions, and service. Of course, these are essential components of effective campaigns, but they don’t give us insight into the end-to-end customer experience that turns casual website browsers into brand champions.
American Express found that 86% of consumers are less price sensitive if they get a great retail experience. It just goes to show that customers naturally love businesses that make them feel good. Research from Capgemini reaffirmed these metrics, showing that 80% of respondents wanted to buy more from retailers that made them more emotionally comfortable.
Here’s the thing: In the same research, most retailers considered themselves customer-centric, whereas only 30% of consumers believe that to be true. The experience gap couldn’t be more apparent, and it offers retailers today an opportunity to leverage CX as a powerful differentiator!
So, what is Retail Experience?
Retail Experience (RX) = The customers’ net emotional and cognitive reaction to retail touchpoint interactions with the brand.
Did you know that hundreds, even thousands, of customer RX touchpoints are in the mix, with shoppers moving in and out of apps, websites, physical stores, and customer support connections? The retail journey is a dizzying zigzag process as people jump between virtual and brick-and-mortar stores.
Retailers expect close to 17% returns (about $761 billion annually), which in all these cases, implies that a sale is not a sale unless the customer keeps the product. Mapping out the journey from end to end is reaching an extraordinary level of sophistication, with AI and machine learning software assisting one’s insights by strengthening the touchpoints or derail it altogether.
For example, let’s take a look at customers shopping for holiday gifts on Amazon or their downloadable app:
- It starts with browsing
- They hit the “hot spot” products, thus filling their shopping cart
- Online purchasing is as easy as A.B.C. with seamless online payment cards
- Buyers then select their delivery slots
- Typically with Amazon, goods arrive pretty quickly
- But what happens after? Let’s say the customer notices items missing. So, back to the app, website, or phoning directly to remedy the shortages.
The last touchpoint mentioned above can make all the difference. Why? Because if the customers wait too long, find themselves shifted from one agent to another, or interact with an impatient/rude intermediary, it can instantly derail the journey. It highlights that only one defective touchpoint can be the “bad apple that spoils the barrel” – that’s how sensitive it is. Amazon has a reputation for speedy resolutions, but how sure are you of your team? The example above illustrates how retail experience goes beyond payment and into after-sale satisfaction.
RX mapping with a leading omnichannel example
To what extent are you mapping out the RX for the target customer segments that drive your revenue? First, let’s focus on a massive omnichannel option: the shopping app. Here are a few of the many insightful statistics in this field:
- On average, smartphone users deploy 4.2 go-to apps consistently
- 58% of the public shop via an app
- Nearly 50% of shoppers depend on apps to find discounts
- 37% admit to downloading an app when they have a specific purchase in mind
- 58% of millennials prefer using an app to the web
- 71% of app users praise it as a rewarding part of RX
So, it seems that anyone not providing their prospective customers with an app is virtually (excuse the pun) committing RX suicide. Notably, although the metrics on this are surprisingly spotty in a Google search, many retailers are laggards in the crucial app department. Moreover, even if your company offers one, the question remains: Is it coming up in the above statistics?
Double down on digital – you’ve got no choice!
According to McKinsey, you’ll be eating your competitors’ dust unless you’re doubling down on digital strategies. They estimated that approximately 48% of retailers had escalated their plans to launch an app in 2020 – spurred on by the pandemic. Thus, they’re going the extra mile to integrate the latter with their social media promotions.
McKinsey also addresses the emotional drivers in RX, stating that retailers who acknowledge projecting an in-store experience through virtual channels will gain the fastest market traction. Ideas like virtual appointments, where sales associates deploy videoconferencing platforms to personalize their service, converge on groundbreaking and meaningful differences. Similarly, retailers, knowing that digital shopping is an unstoppable trend, have shifted the market share stakes to another level by:
- Live-streaming prospects to create recognition
- Initiating loyalty programs and user feedback channels in a way that customers feel like they’ve contributed to brand enhancement
- Investing in sustainable alternative engagement models to deescalate the risk in a virtual environment where the old ways of consumer connection are all but obsolete
A great example is the use of platforms in the fashion arena (dubbed Virtual Try-On) based on augmented reality (AR), machine learning, computer-vision techniques, and digital-purchasing decisions. So, now shoppers can experience a traditional retail setting in the comfort of their homes. Another angle on this is the example of Shopify leveraging 3-D models to uplift product pages, reporting that the move energized conversion rates, which leaped 250% soon after.
Reconfigure the in-store part of RX
Omnichannel retailing doesn’t advocate erasing, displacing, or minimizing in-store shopping. On the contrary, the concept is integrative, acknowledging that consumers – especially as COVID-19 fears abate – will eventually return to old habits. However, many significant and permanent mindset shifts are unshakeable, namely:
- Leisure browsing in stores – massive before 2020 – is now behind web and app browsing. The latter probably predominates today.
- It’s likely after the virtual browse, shoppers want to enter the physical premises, locate their target items fast, pay, and leave. In short, the in-store touchpoints have changed radically, converging on highly focused customer motivations.
As a result, the old store layouts that promoted impulse purchasing by filling the passages with enticing products on the way to the till are no longer the order of the day. Instead, the retailer must rely on promotions through digital channels to create demand before the customer crosses the entry threshold. Once inside the store, it’s all about the accessible location of merchandise, pricing it as advertised, making the check-out counter experience seamless and quick, and doing everything one can to ease store navigation without delay or obstruction. It’s also likely shoppers have used their smartphones and iPads to check prices, locate the nearest store, confirm the store hours, and even reserve the stock to save time. Therefore, the comparison shopping is in the bag before the final walk through the store.
Minor in-store touchpoint differences create a competitive advantage: For example:
- Offline safety policies
- Contactless payment methods
- Adjusting the layout to shorten the time from entry to exit without negatively impacting the purchase
Thus, in-store engagement is crucial to omnichannel marketing. It aligns with digital promotional options to fit into the touchpoint formula at the right time sequentially, and fulfilling its role in completing the retail journey.
Optimizing retail apps and websites
Many retail app developers believe that developing an app anywhere from $40,000 to $500,000 is the big hurdle before entering the “plain sailing phase.” Nothing can be further from the truth. Indeed, your digital journey to retailing success goes much further than demonstrating unique benefits. Market traction depends on sustainable conversions by communicating your value proposition convincingly in a market environment where the competition intensity is off the charts. It’s a massive challenge.
Perhaps you’re aware, but maybe not, so here are two startling metrics:
- Over five million apps (in aggregate) fight it out in the app stores (i.e., Google Play and Apple).
- According to Statista, users were projected to download 196 billion apps in 2021, although 20-25% of these were games. Still, emerging with your head above the crowd is a triumph few attain.
Interestingly, established brick-and-mortar retailers who build apps that customers use and rely upon generally reap extraordinary rewards. And it’s not an impossible task, especially for retail brands with solid reputations in the physical space. You’ll find that loyal customers expect the same digitally, and will actively search for your app and web presence. However, don’t assume that one’s brand power in the traditional arena will automatically create app or web leadership. Several high-tech virtual retailers disrupt markets left, right, and center because in-store traditionalists remain complacent. In other words, you can’t afford to underestimate upstart competitor capability in the app/digital world.
Please appreciate this: Everyone is using SEO (Search Engine Optimization), ASO (App Store Optimization), and SEM (Search Engine Marketing) methods. All of these converge on helping their app entries or URLs pop up when customers search for products and services in their markets. Generally, its natural keyword deployment plus paid advertising that garners attention. However, coming up on the first page of searches and getting rated by Google Play and Apple – especially if you’re new – can be an uphill battle. It takes skill, time, and understanding all the rules. Small things (like failing to debug an app) can stall your program for months.
Also, Facebook and Google advertising isn’t cheap, so you have to employ talent that can stop ineffective promotions before they eat through the promotional budget. Finally, most competitors these days offer free downloads, so it isn’t a measure of success when digital users download your app or navigate your site in volume. What you are looking for is converted sales and repeat business. Thus again, it boils down to how engaging your app and website are and the respective touchpoints that lead the audience to buy at least once and hopefully become brand loyal.
Unfortunately, there’s a thin line between a digital visitor bouncing quickly or staying and navigating your content. Indeed, content must be engaging, differentiating, and, most crucially, provide take-home value. In modern markets where products in the same category are functionally indistinguishable, the only thing that counts is an emotional connection with your customers. In other words, the latter see extra gratification in the brand name, notwithstanding there’s not much difference in the physical benefits. Therefore, the deciding factor is how you say things, not necessarily what you say. And, of course, the imagery you surround it with. Other items for you to watch are:
- Loading speeds
- Easy payment options
- Chat functions that work faultlessly via ‘bot and live agent
Plan your omnichannel strategy with forethought and a fine-tooth comb
Data is the key to precise omnichannel marketing.
The more you know about your customers’ reliance on smartphones, laptops, iPads, and other mobile devices, the better. Understand where browsing enters the picture, where it ends, and the social media platforms that have the most influence. Also, look at email campaigns alongside paid advertising to build a legitimate list of brand followers interested in knowing everything new about your brand. Finally, investigate how customers’ peer groups impact opinions, and which aspiration personalities influence brand loyalty. Indeed, influencers may become a vital part of the messages you devise and transmit.
When tying in-store purchasing to virtual navigation, the relationship may work in an (unexpected) reverse manner, where shoppers try your products in-store but buy online. Segment studies play into this heavily; analyzing customer experiences on their terms to create credibility is essential, and digital retail environments align with this comfortably. Obtain qualitative feedback using site intercepts, surveys, contextual feedback buttons, and ratings for deeper insights. Also, ensure your team understands how to record and read into operational data such as bounce rates, drop-off, cart abandonment, most frequently visited pages, and conversion rates. Finally, there’s no substitute for knowing the “what” and the “why” of customers’ omnichannel involvement. The latter not only creates leverage to improve engagement but also to make predictions for future strategies.
Developing priority touchpoints in your omnichannel strategy are entry points into crucial customer experiences, revealing the likelihood that they’ll recommend your brand and return to buy more. In this regard, omnichannel success rests on closing the loop with customers. This means treating customers’ feedback to initiate dialogue and engagement. Finally, addressing poor experiences, zoning in on defective touchpoints, and owning the problem are ingredients for developing long-term brand loyalty.
Collect data and feedback to build an optimal omnichannel retail experience
We’ve shown above that understanding the retail customer experience is a cumulative process developed over many interactions. When one of these interactions (touchpoints) goes off the rails, it negatively impacts the entire customer experience. Thus collecting experience data at every possible juncture makes sense. Additionally, digital tools such as rating scales, intercepts, thumbs up / thumbs down buttons, and comment boxes are non-intrusive, low-effort feedback tools savvy retailers use consistently.
On another level, brick-and-mortar feedback emerges from deploying tablets, touchscreens, and even from staff interactions. Remember that engaged employees are pivotal in creating better customer touchpoints because their passion merges into more innovation and commitment to company values. Ensure that your employees have the training and confidence to provide adequate customer support, resolve problems, and build trust with credibility. Thus, retailers who understand all the verticals driving the Omnichannel dynamics successfully disrupt segments and capture market share by the bucketful.
At the center of all this is the ability to wield the most valuable asset in our midst – data. Sogolytics helps with not only gathering critical feedback easily, but also with breaking down data with powerful analytics, helping you better identify what your customers mean and making the most strategic decisions to improve your retail experience. Ready to get started? Schedule a quick call and our experts will guide you to understand just how you can improve your retail experience!