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The modern retail experience and the tech it takes to support it

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Exploring the modern end-to-end omnichannel experience

Far from becoming obsolete, brick-and-mortar stores still account for the majority of retail sales, with Forrester predicting that 72% of US retail sales will still occur in physical stores in 2024. 

However, the role of the store is evolving, and customers today expect a seamless experience that follows them across channels, locations, and categories. Traditionally, retailers have thought about specific aspects of the customer experience in isolation. Objectives like increasing online conversion and reducing peak hour lines have historically been handled independently with an especially stark line between ecommerce and brick-and-mortar operations. 

Customer expectations for convenience, continuity, and consistency when shopping with a retailer continue to be basic tenets for a great experience. Customers want to be able to search, transact, acquire and consume products and services across a retailer’s entire ecosystem in a seamless manner. Rapidly evolving customer expectations for flexible fulfillment options and touchless, personalized, and more meaningful experiences have forced retailers to become even more adaptable. Retailers, therefore, need technology in place to deliver a seamless experience, especially as the most profitable customers are those who shop across channels. (Gartner – Market Guide)

Customers don’t see a division between channels, processes, or lifecycle stages and expect a seamless end-to-end experience centered around their quickly evolving needs—not corporate divisions of labor. Leading retailers are creating a unified commerce engine that puts the customer first and connects the dots around them. In this paradigm, the physical stores become a competitive differentiator, serving as an experience hub that lets customers—both online and in person—get up close with products, benefit from associate expertise and guidance, and create a bond that unites activities across channels. 

The landscape of retail is shifting faster than ever before. To support changing customer needs, retailers must tear down the metaphorical walls between digital and physical for a fully connected store. The model for this interconnected store needs to be based heavily on the ideal customer journey from discovery to purchase. Giving customers multiple avenues that work around their convenience ensures a streamlined, seamless experience that leaves them hungry for more.

Here is what the interconnected store looks like across the customer journey: 

Online shoppers can rely on in-store expertise 
Appointments make sure trips are productive 
  • Customers don’t want to waste time, especially when they know they need specific help. While it’s been common to pre-book your beauty consult for years, other verticals are now encouraging customers to book appointments in advance so they can ensure the right people and products are ready to go. 
Customers feel understood and recognized 
  • No matter whether the customer is online, in store, or at a new location for the first time, staff need 360-degree customer profiles that alleviate basic friction points (like re-entering a mailing address) and give staff the opportunity to go above and beyond with instant access to customer info, like an online wish list. 
 Associates are equipped to handle customer volume 
  • A busy store is a good thing, but only if associates can handle volume without losing experience. Modern stores let associates call for products with a single touch, instantly access info, and handle multiple baskets to keep customers flowing through smoothly. 
Inventory is always accessible  
  • Supply chain issues are a modern reality. Interconnected stores get around them by surfacing inventory availability online and at other locations and letting the associate show off products and make the sale, regardless of where the product is currently located. 
Customers can be in-and-out in minutes if they want 
  • While some customers want to explore the store and spend time shopping with associates, others want speed and convenience. In the modern interconnected store, customers can buy online and pick up curbside or in-store without a hassle, and returns (even from ecommerce purchases) are quick and easy. 
Line ups are non-existent
  • Lengthy lines at checkout are a familiar and dreadful aspect of shopping in-store. Modern stores remove long waits caused by the slow process of ringing up items by empowering associates to check customers out from anywhere in the store
Transacting is easy 
  • By the time the customer is ready to pay, there shouldn’t be any friction left in the process. The number of accepted tenders and payment methods is growing. Customers are also increasingly looking to checkout omnichannel orders where one transaction will let them walk out with one product from the store and have the other shipped straight to them from ecomm. No matter how complicated on the backend, top retailers keep it simple for the customer. 
The store is always online 
  • It’s a fact of life that stores sometimes lose wifi connectivity. Every minute of downtime means fewer sales, and a fragmented customer experience. With a system offline mode the store can keep the business running as usual, even if the network isn’t. 
Associates come up to speed quickly 
  • Associates used to be required to memorize a vast amount of company, product, and customer information as well as the seemingly secret codes to make store systems function. Now, modern retailers put information at the associates fingertips, ensure systems are intuitive and self-guiding, and even automate task list creation.  This allows new associates to be performing in days instead of the months or even years it takes otherwise. 
Risks are mitigated before they happen 
  • Historic data has its uses but store staff need real-time access to store sales, basket size, and other key insights. While still important, instant access to results is becoming table stakes, now interconnected stores are able to surface risks and opportunities before they happen. They’re able to use forward-looking diagnostics that identify expected performance trends and point out how to improve the outcome. 
Store managers act like coaches, not administrators 
  • Store managers that spend hours on reports, managing schedules, or buried in a binder aren’t providing their real value. Automating these tasks saves crucial labor hours and allows managers to get out on the floor to lead associates and help optimize sales.  
Customers see the retailer as an advisor, not just a vendor
  • Customer loyalty is all about relationships and requires a long-term vision for how the customers and associates interact. Customers want to have a two-way dialogue based on real, human interactions. Answering questions or reaching out to check in might not always lead to an immediate sale, but it does lead to long term value.

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