By Shelley E. Kohan
Shoppers interact with retailers across multiple touchpoints, and delivering a consistent, branded experience that exceeds customer expectations is key to success at the store.
Shoppers never stop shopping. If there’s one reality in retail, that’s it. As such, one might think success in retail is inevitable, a given. Of course, nothing could be further from retail truth.
Retail is an enormously competitive industry, and one with very few real barriers to entry. Cutting through the “noise” to capture the attention of shoppers, then engage and serve them, gets tougher and tougher as shoppers continue to decrease the number of stores they shop at and the frequency of their visits.
Making a connection
Interactions between a retailer and a shopper are part of a bigger, and hopefully ongoing, relationship, and like any relationship, it must be continuously nurtured. Like every other relationship, it starts with a first impression, and at that point, the shopper determines if the relationship continues.! For first impressions and other subsequent impressions, retailers have hundreds of potential touchpoints as opportunities to interact with shoppers and make a connection, and each and every one of them are important in the scheme of the relationship. Success at those relationships, however, depend on three key deliverables for retailers:!
- Create meaningful touchpoints
- Ensure touch points are consistent, credible, brand impressions
- Reinforce value of relationship with every interaction
Create meaningful touchpoints
In the not-so-distant past, many retailers followed a basic, reactive “playbook” for reaching shoppers. Retailers would create and implement marketing plans inclusive of advertising, print media and catalogs aimed at “the target market” and hope that the campaign would drive traffic into the stores.
Those are still important shopper touchpoints, but they are not the sole cornerstones of an effective plan – hope is not great business strategy.
Retailers are now tasked with creating opportunities to interact and engage with shoppers, and the best offer a degree of personalization, a key in establishing an emotional connection and a long-term relationship. Long gone are the one-way communications from retailer to customers. Today, successful retailers use an on-going, two-way conversation with their customers.
Loyalty programs are a good starting point, and in-store technologies help bridge the gap between shoppers and loyal, evangelical customers. Opt-in Wi-Fi is the basic technology that can be deployed, and it opens ability to create rich dialogue with customers on a personal, one-to-one level. However, Wi-Fi and loyalty programs aren’t as simple as “build it and they will come.” Retailers have to address shoppers’ most pressing question – “What’s in it for me?”
A great example of creating an engaging touchpoint is “buy online, pick up in store,” a concept that caters to how shoppers already shop. Online shopping offers convenience to the shopper and an ability for a retailer to close a sale during a shopper’s product research phase. Picking up in store provides an immediacy and socialization benefit to the shopper.
Stores ranging from Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s to Target and Best Buy create personalized experiences for shoppers when they come into the store to pick up purchases. Not only do these personalized experiences continue to build and foster relationships, but there are immediate advantages as well – Conversion rates on store pick up visits are incredibly high, and the resulting sales greatly increase the Average Transaction Value (ATV) of the initial purchase.
The challenges of omnichannel tactics like “buy online, pick up in store” are to execute flawlessly and exceed customer expectations, and it leads to the second key, a consistent, credible brand impression.
Ensure touchpoints are consistent, credible brand impressions
Shoppers expect a consistent, branded experience at every customer touchpoint, and that requires retail organizations to work flawlessly across their traditional silo structure. With so many touchpoints related to Marketing, one of the trends sweeping through the industry is a “marketing retrofit,” where organizations are not only changing their structures, but sharing knowledge and functional responsibilities across shopper-facing fronts.
A simple requirement for fulfilling “buy online, pick up in store” is the technology infrastructure to empower customer visibility into localized inventories – it’s not a good shopping experience to “buy online, want to pick up in store, but have to wait for shipping because the item was out of stock.” Making it work from an organizational level can be a convoluted mess.
Traffic declines have retailers rethinking touchpoints and considering smaller footprints for stores, pop-up shops to complement existing stores, vending machines both in stores and in high-traffic areas like airports and train terminals, and branded boutiques within larger stores. With more opportunities to interact with shoppers, there’s a greater need to deliver a consistent experience.
Additionally, the exponential growth of social networks can become a jumbled mess if not navigated with purpose and intent – a picture on Pinterest, supported by posts on other social channels, needs to link to the store site, and that site needs to be consistent with the physical store related to inventory, pricing, and, of course, experience. And, speaking of social networking, it cannot be about “broadcasting” a message – it’s paramount for retailers to engage shoppers in an authentic, two-way dialogue and to listen.
Reinforce value of relationship with every interaction
A retailer’s focus on touchpoints and interactions should always build upon the idea of deepening the customer relationship. Inside the physical store, enabling technologies allow for retailers to understand associate-to-customer interactions and their impacts, and can be as simple as understanding initial greetings, or understanding the length of time an associate spends with a customer.
In a study conducted by RetailNext, a high, positive correlation was identified between high employee interaction days and higher sales per shopper metrics. The more quality interactions between employee and shopper, the higher the shopping spend.
Understanding these types of interactions when integrated with POS data gives retailers an inside side view of sales associates’ qualitative interactions, identifies training opportunities, and develops best practice processes. The added advantage of understanding interaction analysis deepens the insights and highlights areas of “qualitative” improvement. Today, having the right quality of staff is as measurable as having the right amount of staff.
Remember, the reality of retail is that shoppers will continue to shop. As shoppers increasingly shop fewer “retailers of choice,” the differentiating factor among retailers will be the quality of its shopper interactions.
Join the #retail conversation with Shelley at @RetailShelley and @RetailNext, as well as at www.facebook.com/retailnext
Shelley’s blogs can be found at http://retailnext.net/blog/author/shelley/
About the author: Retail expert Shelley E. Kohan has more than 25 years of experience in retail store operations. Her contributions across the industry include profit and sales improvement, applied big data in the brick-and-mortar environment, and enhancing in-store shopping experiences. Shelley is a faculty member at the Fashion Institute of Technology of the State University of New York in the Fashion Merchandise Management Program at the Jay and Patty Baker School of Business and Technology. Additionally, as a consultant, Shelley works with RetailNext clients to achieve deeper insights and understanding through robust data analytics.