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To make retail shopping a desirable event in today’s internet-driven culture, you must deliver on the promise that a visit to your store is less of an errand and more of an experience.
Retailers are beginning to understand that consumers are seeking more from a trip to the mall than a handoff of goods.
Whole Foods offers not only groceries, but cooking classes, a wine tasting bar and in-store masseuses. Lululemon boasts in-store yoga. REI invites its customers to try out gear on their rock climbing walls. Movie theater chain Alamo Drafthouse engages patrons with curated events like talkback screenings and film tie-in food and drink menus.
These are a few examples of what brands are doing to entice customers into their environments. They know that retail’s best chance of survival is to redefine and enrich the customer experience. But what is the most effective way of going about creating unique and authentic interactions (and transactions)?
In-Store Still Offers Promise
In malls and shopping centers, clearance or going-out-of-business signs hang like flags of surrender. Department stores that once anchored the old-school retail experience are either limping along or shuttering, like the 125-year-old Sears which filed for bankruptcy protection late last year.
Surrounded by the depressing news of retail shutdowns, there is a temptation to write off the brick-and-mortar retail experience completely. The power and ease of online shopping is extraordinary — surf and click and wait for the goods to drop on your doorstep. The freedom granted by online shopping has forever changed our consumer DNA.
And yet U.S. Census data proves that 90 percent of consumers, however comfortable they are with their online carts, still shop in traditional stores. Shopping online requires a leap of faith — will those pants fit? Will the movie projector work how I want it to on the wall? — questions only answered once the product is ripped open.
Thriving retailers understand that the in-store experience offers a promise in real-time. Shopping in a physical store delivers a five-sense engagement with both the product and the people who believe said product has value and relevance in the shopper’s life. Brick-and-mortar offers an unparalleled interactive relationship rather than a curt online transactions. Capitalizing on the human connection is key in differentiating an experience worth revisiting beyond a simple point and click of the mouse.
A recent Gartner study shows that by the year 2020 customer experience will overtake price and product when it comes to earning consumer loyalty. To stay ahead of the curve, train and empower your staff to be product experts able to problem solve proactively to court the fidelity of a customer in need.
Another survey cited over 70 percent of customers expressed frustration over “impersonal shopping experiences.” When a customer walks through the door he or she deserves to feel like a treasured guest, valued not for how much might be spent but for presence alone.
To convey this idea, customer service should be intuitive, knowledgeable and personalized. That means that every employee needs to bring their best self to work every day, committed not just to the product but the needs of the people buying it. The ability to develop relationships with customers is what drives loyalty. And that shopper who was treated with respect, kindness and hands-on knowledge comes back again, next time with friends or family members who crave similar authenticity and expertise.
Cater to Omnichannel Demands
A National Retail Federation survey found that less than a third of reporting stores offered “buy online, pick up in store” (BOPIS) options. Lacking BOPIS options simply robs a store of the opportunity to engage with customers and reap the benefits of human’s spontaneous purchasing habits.
The same goes for offering shoppers in-store Wi-Fi. By empowering customers with the ability
to conduct their own research on a product they’re holding in their hands, the chances are they’ll stay longer and engage in your physical location on a deeper level.
Customers today demand omnichannel experiences. Accept and encourage customers to shop online, as it’s a natural evolution of the consumer experience, but don’t pass up opportunities to get them (and keep them) in your physical store.
Lighten Management Loads
Besides the product itself, customers take home the actual experience of being in a store. Physical aesthetic, customer vibes and interactions, the efficiency and personality of staff — all of this develops customer bias.
Customers feed off the mood of an environment, which means that a retail team needs to be well-supported in their mission to deliver on experience. Look no further than the brick-and-mortar version of Apple to witness successful engagement in the making.
To stoke engagement in a retail space, back of house management burdens need to be lifted to allow retail workers on the floor a fluid ability to socialize, interact and give uninterrupted time to customer’s needs. Workforce management solutions — that cleanly take on tasks like scheduling and payroll — can allow team members to focus on the more important and rewarding human connections that drive success.
Humanity is a Valuable Currency
Being a business, no matter what kind of business, is never easy. Whether you’re a retail giant or a corner boutique, don’t let the rash of recent retail closures diminish or discourage you.
Think of this moment as a call to engage deeper, to build on your product and team’s promise and to develop a richer relationship based on trust and experience with your customers. While you won’t out-Amazon Amazon, brick-and-mortar retail is in the unique position to succeed by offering unparalleled experiences in real life. That’s not something you can buy online.
One thing that automation will never change is that at the end of the day, customers are people and people buy based on how a certain experience makes them feel. Give a person a great experience, make them feel positively about that interaction and the likelihood of them coming back again — with friends, increases dramatically.
April 8, 2019 at 11:57AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs