A couple weeks ago, we talked about the importance of how a well-planned and executed store associate training program can enable retail store associates to deliver on a retailer’s customer experience value proposition. That “desired” customer experience obviously varies significantly, depending on what store a consumer is shopping in or what they are shopping for. Some consumers view shopping of any kind as a chore, while some hold this viewpoint for only certain types of shopping (e.g., grocery); while other shoppers truly seek out and enjoy shopping experiences overall. As a consultant in the retail and hospitality industry, I can tell you that my perspective is typically the latter. I pursue retail innovation and unexpected in-store experiences, and I always am pleased when I come across a retailer who is able to surprise and delight me – even in the most humble, mundane retail venues.
A large piece of delivering these experiences hinges on store associates, as we explained in the last blog post. However, there are other elements within the store environment that also can make or break experiences, and many of these start with brand strategy and planning. In Parker Avery’s Point of View titled, “The Role of the Store: The Power of Brick and Mortar Retailing in the Omnichannel Experience,” we discuss some of these facets and how they must work together to deliver a brand’s desired experience. Below is an excerpt from this paper.
The first task a retailer must undertake in accommodating today’s omnichannel environment is a thorough assessment of the key elements that drive the customer expectations dictated by overall company strategy and product and service offerings.
Some strategies will require a stronger store associate focus on delivering hands-on, personalized customer service, while others are tasked more with operational aspects like making sure customer checkout throughput is at acceptable levels or product recovery is completed in a timely fashion.
Deciding on a particular level of service does not come without risks. In an omnichannel environment, a store may offer “pick up in-store” as a fulfillment option to meet demand for products the customer does not want shipped. That fulfillment option now opens the store to not only a physical shopper, but also a virtual one.
Having two customer bases vying for the same product can now lead to customer dissatisfaction if inventory levels are not managed properly. Additionally, if a retailer offers a mobile website or app that enables a shopper to locate items in a specific store, this same functionality should be available to store associates so they are at least as empowered as their customers. There is nothing more frustrating for a customer to seek help only to find out that the employees have less information that they do about their own store or products.
Whatever level the retailer’s customer expectation standard is, it must include consistency for the in-store experience.
Brick and mortar retailers must leverage the distinct advantage of the customer experience. There is no better forum or captive audience for a retailer to showcase their brand, product offerings, and competitive differentiation. A great in-store experience can lead to increased word of mouth, higher sales, and the holy grail of exclusive repeat business, driving sales and reducing abandonment to competitors. Further, a customer who has a great in- store experience is more likely to join a loyalty program, sign up for offers, and utilize the retailer’s social media.
The customer experience can be greatly impacted through a number of touchpoints: a helpful salesperson while shopping, a cheery register associate, a personal shopper with a great recommendation, or even store greeters placed in the entrances. In contrast, a negative experience, especially one stemming from the negative attitude of an associate, can cost the retailer greatly in lost sales, customer service, and word of mouth.
Arguably one of the most challenging aspects of retailing: finding associates who embrace customer service as a passion must be viewed by retailers as a requirement to do business, not as a bonus achieved after shelves are stocked. Even in low-touch service environments, where the customer does not expect significant interaction with the store staff, a single bad experience with sales associates who are not fully engaged in supporting the retailer’s customer service value proposition can cause irreparable harm.
Through integration of customer data, a driven and trained sales force, and an organizational structure that embraces personal customer experiences, the “Power of Feel” can be a potent asset.
To read the full Point of View, please visit: http://www.parkeravery.com/pov_Role_of_the_Store.html
While it’s a little too late in the 2017 season to capitalize on these themes for this year’s holiday shopping push, retailers should take note and plan to put stronger focus on their store operations in 2018 to defy increasing competitive threats and enhance their ability to not just deliver—but far exceed—their shopper’s expectations.