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. 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. 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.
Your retail footprint should be used as a competitive advantage. Store teams are a critical part of the in-store experience. But in an omnichannel world, their roles are becoming increasingly complex and retailers are responsible for equipping their stores and teams for success.
Aligning the business strategy with the idea of the in-store experience is table stakes in today’s market. To create the stand-out experiences that customers are looking for, retailers need to differentiate. Many retailers already have the right tools, but they’re not using them in the right way, which leaves potential on the table.
Let’s break down 6 ways you can ensure that you are using your stores to their full competitive advantage.
1. Engage customers in two-way communication
Your customers need to be engaged with your brand, no matter where they are. Which is where things can get a little complex. Every customer is unique and has a set of constantly changing needs. Every customer journey, including the channel they choose, is situational. Buying hand sanitizer 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 and 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.
2. Create an in-store experience that is as efficient as online shopping
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 ecommerce 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 that can display the full product catalog, 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 ecommerce, while still providing the human connection.
3. Drive differentiation by embracing omnichannel personalization
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 ecommerce personalization to in-store seamless.
4. Equip associates to successfully guide customers through a multi-channel journey
The store experience starts and ends with associates.
Retailers cannot afford to have associates that feel like they don’t matter. Associates need to be properly equipped to best serve today’s digitally savvy consumer. When retailers empower and support their associates, they help create an environment that they know they can succeed in. Tools like digital mobility, endless aisle, and appointments ease the burden associates feel from their expanding omnichannel responsibilities.
Digital mobility, in particular, is a huge support to associates on the floor, specifically when we’re discussing the POS.
Next-gen, mobile POS systems are paramount in the modern retail ecosystem. They offer store associates flexibility and support when it comes to being guides for an omnichannel customer journey. Mobile POS systems systems allow associates to be by the customers’ side from the moment they walk in the door to the moment they leave.
When associates can move freely with your shoppers, they are able to focus on creating a great customer experience rather than battling with store logistics.
5. Manage the changing role of the store through streamlined operations
The future of stores is focused on the customer experience and designed for omnichannel operations.
Practices like BOPIS, curbside pick-up, ship-to/from-store, and same-day delivery are becoming more common as the role of the store evolves. But, these operations are often a huge pain point for retailers as they’re very taxing for the store teams supporting them.
Stores are not built to be warehouses or distribution centers. Associates need to be able to systematically and efficiently manage their responsibilities on the sales floor with the functions of distributing merchandise. Fortunately, in-store technology can help lessen the burden.
Managing distribution means being able to track orders, complete packing workflows, and manage inventory. Being able to do this all in one place is critical to maintaining efficient operations. Not having to jump between devices and systems from floor selling to store fulfillment eases the complexity of the multifaceted role of the associate. Maintaining the proper balance between customer convenience and ease of associate usability keeps the store running smoothly.
6. Use store managers as invaluable resources for driving store performance
Labor is among the top cost drivers of profit & loss. To be competitive, retailers must drive towards finding and maximizing the ROI of their associates.
Store managers are a key resource in ensuring the most is being made of every labor hour by coaching associates to success. 60% of store managers were once associates themselves, meaning they know the ins and outs of the role and how to succeed in it. Yet, their talent and expertise is generally spent pouring over reports, instead of on the floor.
The focus needs to be less on mundane tasks and more on the customers and strategies to build the business. Performance planning technology automates reporting and interprets the data, so store managers can see at a glance what they need to do to boost productivity. They can then act as leaders on the floor.
Building systems of efficiency on the sales floor is critical for getting the most out of every labor hour.
Bringing it all together
Utilizing your retail presence as a competitive advantage starts with your store experience. Creating a space that is not just a showroom but rather an omnichannel hub plays a huge role in differentiating your brand.
Customers want a seamless transition from the online to the brick-and-mortar, so emulating the ecommerce 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.
Your store team is one of the most valuable competitive advantages that you have, when you utilize them properly.
Associates are the front line when it comes to representing the brand, and they need the proper tools and support in order to do their jobs effectively. Especially as the role of the associate and the function of the store changes, there needs to be innovation around store operations to ensure that everything runs smoothly.
Store managers have a critical role to play in supporting the store, and they need to be given the availability to share their expertise and coach on the sales floor.
Where to learn more
Watch a sneak peek of Forrester’s Brendan Witcher from the webinar “The New Retail Imperative: Utilizing Stores as a Competitive Advantage”
Physical retail drives the vast majority of sales for the industry, making in-store excellence both a competitive weapon and a critical component for success.
Our webinar with Forrester VP Analyst Brendan Witcher, Forrester on the New Retail Imperative: Utilizing Stores As A Competitive Advantage shares valuable research and insights on today’s omnichannel customer journey and what it takes to get brick and mortar right. Watch now!