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When it comes to news about retail, it feels like all we hear is doom and gloom; a major retail chain has shut down, or another image of an empty shopping street. It's not surprising that many new retailers start operating exclusively online, under the guise of 'if you can't beat them - join them'.
On the other side, research shows that in-store experience is still crucial to success. In response to this, there has been a rise of companies working towards a unified retail strategy.
Unified retail is a seamless experience that blends the best of offline and online shopping; In-store experiences are still extremely important for building customer relationships, and online retailers need new ways to differentiate.
To help you think about how you can work towards a unified retail strategy, we looked at exactly what attracts consumers to online shopping, and how you can apply these elements to a physical retail store.
1. Minimise the risk of confusion for your customers
The navigation menu on a website gives customers a clear and logical path for finding exactly what they are looking for. Is someone looking for t-shirts, sweaters, shoes or children's clothing? A good navigation system will mean that with the maximum of two clicks you will find yourself in the right place. It gives the customers an overview and clarity on what items they can find.
The same principle applies to navigation in physical stores; the easier it is for your customers to find what they're looking for, the better the experience will be for them. Placing an index at the entrance of your store that shows where all items can be found will save a lot of hassle for your customers. Better yet, allocate a store host so that people can directly ask what they are looking for to add a personal touch to your customers shopping experience. It's just like when you board an aircraft; you already know where you are sitting, but it's always nice to be personally greeted and shown to your seat.
2. Create a pleasant environment for your customers
The one thing that online shopping generally offers its customers is a smooth and easy transaction process. The customer starts from the overview page to locate what they're interested in, and then will spend some time scrolling through all products. With one small click, they can place their favorite products in the shopping basket, and then pay for the items quickly - the biggest hassle is usually having to get up from their seat to locate their wallet and credit card! And if you happen to get distracted along the way, your shopping basket will remember your items to allow you to purchase these later.
If an online retailer nails this process for their online customers, the likelihood that they will return to the store is increased. A positive, hassle-free user flow helps to keep the attention of consumers and increases the conversion to purchase. And at the same time, if the user flow of an online purchase is difficult, you can bet that the customers will be gone in no time.
The importance of a pleasant user experience is exactly the same in physical retail stores. If you your store is a cluttered environment, that is difficult to navigate and there seems to never be assistants around to help them, its unlikely that your customers will want to return (or even go through with their purchase!). Ensure that the experience you create for your customers purchase - from the moment the enter the store, to point of purchase - is as pleasant and predictable as having a tea with your Nan.
3. Make sure your store is accessible for all of your customers
Just like a modern online retailer strivers to work well on mobile, tablet and desktop, the degree of accessibility should also be seen as crucial for a physical retailer. This can make the difference between a store where people naturally want to walk in, and stores where it seems frighteningly quiet.
Accessibility starts with the basic elements such as: is the entrance easy to find and inviting, is there a wheelchair-friendly entrance and a lift? But accessibility is also about variables that make people feel like shopping: is your store too overcrowded with staff, and are they approaching your customers to ask if they need help too frequently?
There is a fine line between feeling welcomed with a sincere greeting or question, and excessive rapprochement from store assistants. Therefore a standardised onboarding experience for new colleagues is a crucial factor to getting customer experience right.
4. Give your customers choice
Setting up the right filters when online shopping to get exactly the right products means that you can find exactly the right product that you were looking for. Because locating products in a physical retail chain takes a little more effort than a few clicks of a button, it's important to be able to communicate easily with other branches when necessary to find out whether sizes or items are in stock. A good process to manage this will limit the dependence of the stores assortment of products. And of course, it's always good to know when products that are no longer present are available.
The employees of Hudson's Bay have seen the benefits of being able to easily connect with each other to locate a particular item.
5. Make your store easy to find
Online retailers that are easy to find attract new visitors via search engines, and thus ensure a solid place in the retail landscape. However, as a physical store, it's also important to be easy to find, via both search engines and with the shops location. In addition to the visitors who come to shops spontaneously, there are also customers who search the internet for a store that best meets their needs. In these instances, a high ranking on search engines is crucial. And when people visit your store, make sure you think about parking nearby and signs that direct customers to the building.
Excellent customer experiences are created by involved employees
Applying the successful elements of online retailers to physical retailers creates opportunities to enhance the customer experience. These opportunities are carried out by employees: they are the ones that provide assistance to customers, provide them with a pleasant shopping experience, create an accessible feeling, offer alternatives on the choice of a product and manage the placement of the products within a store.
Take care of your employees, they ultimately control the success of your organisation!