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The 3 elements of the differentiated store

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Creating a standout experience in-store requires omnichannel differentiation

The retail landscape is more diversified and competitive than ever. Customers know they have options and they’re not afraid to explore them. After just one bad experience, 54% of customers are willing to leave a brand. Building loyal customers relies heavily on the experience they walk away with. An increasing number of shoppers use this to measure their satisfaction. 83% of customers trust a company or brand more if they provide an excellent customer experience, up 4% from 2021.

It isn’t enough to just meet customer expectations. Retailers need to differentiate the experience they offer. With 72% of retail sales expected to come from brick-and-mortar by 2024, the focus largely needs to be on the physical store and how to enhance the experience customers have there. Your retail footprint should be used as a competitive advantage. Extending beyond the 4 walls of the store to create an omnichannel hub makes the physical store an immersive experience that enhances the customer journey.

Here are 3 elements retailers need to differentiate their stores to create an engaging, channeless experience.

Online efficiency needs to be present in-store

Creating a physical, omnichannel hub means looking at the best parts of the digital and physical store and using them to create a completely unique experience. E-commerce is often thought of as more efficient, personal, and convenient than shopping in-store. Recommendations are personal, products are (almost) always available, and the checkout has no line. On the other hand, the physical store gives customers the ability to touch and feel products, get knowledgeable answers on specific questions, and take their purchase home same-day.  

In-store technology can provide the efficiency and convenience (we’ll discuss personalization more below) of e-commerce shopping right from the store floor. However, this solution cannot replace the main differentiator of the physical store, which is the human connection that only associates can provide. Associates add value in a way that technology can’t, so the conversation needs to start with them.

Creating enhanced experiences in-store, means associates are asked to go above and beyond their traditional functions. They cannot be left behind when it comes to in-store tech. To truly add value to the experience, associates need to have access to the same information as customers and more. With in-store tech, like endless aisle, associates are able to showcase the full breadth of product offerings, without having to remember every detail. They can tell the story of any product, regardless of where the inventory is located, and help the customer find exactly what they’re looking for. In this way, they can emulate the efficiency and availability of e-commerce, while still providing the human connection.

Personalization drives differentiation

Once just considered a bonus in the physical environment, personalization is now the top priority for retailers. The purchases customers make are highly personal— from the pillow they sleep on to the perfume they wear— so it’s no wonder 80% of them expect their shopping experience to reflect that. The ability to personalize the in-store experience is far easier to accomplish through associates than through self-service in-store technologies. Though, in-store tech still plays an important role. 

Store associates need to be equipped to tailor the shopper’s in-store experiences based on a holistic, omnichannel view of them, including prior purchases, preferences, and local trends. This is where technology can help. Digitized black books can recall every detail at the tap of a finger, so associates can stay in the moment with customers. This way the associate’s focus is on delivering a personalized shopping experience to each customer. Making the transition from e-commerce personalization to in-store seamless. 

Customer engagement requires options

Enhancing the in-store experience is a great start. The next step is ensuring your customers are engaged no matter where they are. Which is where things get a little more complex. Every customer is unique, and has a set of constantly changing needs. Every customer journey, including the channel they choose, is situational. Buying Tylenol online is a quick one and done, but buying a couch may take multiple trips to the store alongside online browsing. In order to strategize effectively, retailers need to look at the hard data of how customers are buying and find multiple avenues of engagement to support a variety of needs.

Most importantly, engagement needs to be a two way street. Molding engaged, loyal customers isn’t achieved by throwing out campaigns and hoping something sticks. It requires an open dialogue. Associates need to be able to see responses from customers to gauge whether or not what they’re upselling is effective. Customers want to engage with associates that can provide in-depth knowledge and specifics on products, and they need the ability to reach out to associates that they know and trust. Taking proactive steps to engaging with customers based on their needs helps provide the immersive experience they expect from retailers. One example of this is live chat and video calls which provide a way for online shoppers to get access to in-store expertise from anywhere. Shoppers get the information they need while also feeling seen and understood by the brand. 

Bringing it all together

Differentiating your brand from your competitors starts with your store experience. Customers want a seamless transition from the online to the brick-and-mortar, so emulating the e-commerce experience in-store is crucial. Having the right tools to embody the same convenience and, more importantly, personalization of the online store expands the impact of the brand across channels and locations. Engaging customers in a consistent two-way dialogue helps create a lasting sense of trust and loyalty to the brand.

Watch our webinar with Forrester VP Analyst Brendan Witcher, Forrester on the New Retail Imperative: Utilizing Stores As A Competitive Advantage to gain valuable research and insights on today’s omnichannel customer journey and what it takes to get brick and mortar right.

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