The recipe for a good in-store experience may seem like something that was mastered a long time ago. Not everyone is necessarily doing it well, mind you, but the retail industry in general knows what needs to be done: design the physical space well, display products in engaging (and sensible ways), make sure the journey through the store is clear, train front-line staff to look after customers well, and so on.
But thanks to the changing technology landscape, consumers’ expectations have shifted. And that means the old standards of in-store experience, while still relevant, are no longer enough.
It’s likely part of the reason that retail footfall continues to decline. Recent reports show a continued decrease in footfall through January – marking a 9-month long trend of fewer shoppers in store.
So, what is it that modern consumers are looking for in their shopping experiences? What keeps them coming back?
To answer this, it’s helpful to look at an area of retail where traffic is actually increasing – ecommerce. What does the online experience offer the shopper that the physical store does not?
There’s a wider range of products (and product information), plus reviews and feedback from other customers at their fingertips. And of course, there’s the ability to quickly compare products, services and prices. Plus, for returning customers, the experience is even more personalised, because the best online retailers not only recognise them, but predict their needs and direct them to relevant offers.
Ultimately, the allure of the online experience comes down to two things: convenience and personalisation.
And essentially, that’s what retailers should be trying to bring in-store. How? According to consumers, the answer lies in technology. In a recent survey, 69% of customers wanted to see more retailers using innovative tech to improve the way they shop in the real world.
It’s not really surprising. As our physical and digital worlds increasingly overlap, it makes sense that customers will begin to expect more integrated interactions everywhere they go.
Of course, consumers aren’t looking for shiny new tech just for the sake of it. They want interactions that provide value in the same vein as online shopping. One reason so many attempts at in-store engagement feel gimmicky is that they offer little to the consumer besides momentary entertainment.
For a simple example, let’s say a customer enters a fashion store and receives a generic welcome message, pushed to their phone as the result of a beacon. The message contains a list of all the items currently on promotion, with a link to the store’s app where they can try some branded selfie filters, but do little else.
It might be cool the first couple of times, but it’s unlikely to be valuable to the customer unless one of the items on promotion happens to be relevant.
But let’s say the message they receive is personalised and contains just one or two relevant offers – on a product they’ve saved to their online “favourites”, for example. Suddenly this experience becomes much more engaging. The customer feels recognised and appreciated, emotions that are key to nurturing loyalty.
And loyalty, of course, translates to repeat visits.
It’s worth pausing here to remember that a more engaging customer experience in store (or anywhere for that matter) isn’t a magic bullet that will fix all of a struggling brand’s problems.
But it does give retailers a fighting chance in an industry where the landscape can often look bleak. After all, businesses with a focus on CX see significant increases in advocacy and repeat purchase.
Enhancing the in-store experience with technology may feel like an significant undertaking, especially for retailers tight on budget and time. But the key is to start small and scale up later on.
It’s certainly worth the effort: 60% of consumers in a recent survey said they’d be more likely to shop in-store with a retailer that was digitally innovative. And that means that retailers who ignore the shift to tech-driven in-store engagement will eventually get left behind.
For some ideas on getting started with in-store tech, check out our latest ebook, where we outline 3 practical use cases for in-store mobile engagement.