Online stores are heightening the competitive space for brick-and-mortar retailers. What was once solely a problem for book stores is now becoming a problem even for giant big-box companies: people are buying all of their products online.
People, especially the younger generations, are finding less of a need to go to a physical store because they can shop from the comforts of their own home. This is a big problem for retail stores — or a great opportunity to deliver a superior customer experience.
Insight: Real human connection is one thing online stores will never be able to replicate from physical stores.
Data: 27% of consumers report that the thing they hate the most about buying products online is not being able to touch the product. Gen Z consumers reported that the worst element was having to wait for their product.
Key Action Point: To differentiate themselves and compete with online shops, retail stores need to understand what drives customers to make purchases online. Read on to learn the crucial steps they need to deliver great customer experience.
Why Delivering a Great Customer Experience Is a Must
Customers can purchase anything they want online. Buying online is cheaper as there is no overhead. It is easy and convenient which makes it ideal for anyone who would rather not leave the comforts of their own home. In order for retail stores to compete with such winning points, they need to be able to provide an experience that cannot be achieved online.
So what is a brick-and-mortar experience?
It’s instant. Customers are able to walk into a brick-and-mortar location and walk out with their product.
It’s human. Customers can connect directly with customer support and speak with knowledgeable employees.
It’s tactile. Customers are able to touch, check, and fully experience the products that they’re buying.
These are all significant elements of a great shopping experience that online stores cannot replicate.
How Physical Stores Can Improve Their Customer Experience
For a retail store, the customer experience is always going to be the most critical aspect of the business. If a customer has a good experience with a business, they’re more likely to come back. What an online store can’t do is create an intensely personal, in-person experience. Retail stores can use this knowledge to bridge the gap and create a more fulfilling experience that cannot be done online.
Here are a few of the most important ways to improve the customer experience of physical retail stores.
- Create a More Personalised Business Model
- Respond to Positive and Negative Online Reviews
- Save Your Customers’ Time
- Embed a Customer-Centric Culture into Your Business
1. Create a More Personalised Business Model
To develop your relationship with your customers, it is crucial that you first understand them and their pain points. Most of the time customers often stress about the level of customer service and after-sale support they receive as well as timely product delivery.
An excellent example of personalisation is Bonobos, a male clothing shop where everything is a sample size. At Bonobos, customers select the clothes they like, the clothes are tailored for them, and then these are sent to their door. None of the customers goes out of the store with the clothes. This isn’t the type of experience that could be achieved through an online store, because a large part of it is going through racks of clothes and investigating colours, patterns, and textures.
Clothing stores, in particular, can really play to their strengths when it comes to brick-and-mortar locations. Customers are able to touch and feel the products, finding the best patterns and colours that really appeal to them.
But the greatest lesson gained from Bonobos has nothing to do with the clothing industry.
When Bonobos conducted some research, they found that male customers were interested in shopping for clothes, but that many of them couldn’t find things that fit their unique size. They also found that men didn’t want to actually leave with anything — this was essential information that contradicted what most believed. Instead, they found out that men wanted to choose products and receive them later, rather than walking out with bulky bags and packages.
By listening to their customers and adjusting to their needs, Bonobos was able to create an entirely new and effective business model that their customers responded to.
2. Respond to Positive and Negative Online Reviews
As an online store, you will eventually receive both positive and negative reviews. For the most part, customers aren’t going to judge you based on the reviews themselves, but rather how you respond to them. If you remain professional and courteous, customers are going to feel reassured. Even if they’re unsatisfied with your product, they know that you’ll find a way to resolve the situation.
While you can’t remove negative reviews, you can make sure that positive reviews drown them out. Many customers will look up a store online before they visit it, and what they find does matter.
Here are some best practices for responding to positive and negative reviews:
Be specific. Rather than saying "Thank you!" to every positive review, say something such as, "I’m glad our staff could help you with your birthday, and I hope it was a pleasant one!"
Acknowledge emotions. If someone is upset with your business, acknowledge and respond to that first, rather than trying to dismiss their experience or ignore their complaints.
Don’t get defensive. If a customer is upset at your store, don’t take it personally. They’re not upset at you, just the situation. Often you’ll find that even the most unreasonable of customers can calm down when confronted with rationality and clear solutions.
Create solutions. If a customer left a negative review, first acknowledge the situation and make sure to offer them a solution when you do respond. "I’m sorry you had a negative experience with our service. If you’d like we can offer you a refund or send you a replacement." Not only are you trying to satisfy the customer, but you’re signalling to onlookers that you are committed to finding a solution and improving your business.
Consider the total cost. A refund may cost you $100, but what does it cost you in terms of goodwill and positive press?
Stick to the facts. If there are issues you need to address or argue, say what you know: "You could not have come to our business at 10:00 AM on Sunday because we are closed on Sunday. Perhaps you might be confusing us with another business?"
Avoid the issues most likely to lead to negative reviews. Square has found that customers are most likely to leave negative reviews if a store was dirty or uninviting (47%) or if the product was low quality (44%).
It is important to occasionally defend your business (without being defensive about it). By managing your reviews and responding to them, you have a better chance to protect the public perception and reputation of your business. At the same time, it promotes better word-of-mouth and customer testimonials from loyal customers.
3. Save Your Customers’ Time
When shopping online, it’s all about convenience. Customers want to be able to select things in the comfort of their own home. As a brick-and-mortar business, you can compete by saving your customer’s time. In an instant gratification culture, that matters.
Gen Z buyers hate having to wait for products when they order them online. In a retail store, Gen Z is more willing to work towards getting help and they want to be helped quickly.
Today, brick-and-mortar stores are increasingly merging smartphone technology with their internal point-of-sale systems, allowing customers to pre-order their purchases or connect to the store online. Not only does using the right technology help you save time for the customer, but it also helps you focus on more important things that matter.
As the biggest online store in the world, Amazon has started to create physical, brick-and-mortar stores that are designed to fulfil a customer’s immediate needs. These stores are almost entirely automated, making it possible for customers to walk in, grab an item, and walk right out while being charged through an app.
4. Embed a Customer-Centric Culture into Your Business
To create loyal and repeat customers, they need to have a positive experience from start to finish. When you create a customer-centric culture, you ensure that employees are going to act in a customer-first, customer-focused way even when they aren’t specifically directed to.
Amazon, Apple, and Zappos have all been cited as some of the biggest customer-centric businesses, and their customer centricity has contributed significantly to their rise within technology and online retail spaces. These are companies that are known for prompt refunds, exceptional customer care, and always accessible customer service.
You can start to develop your customer-centric culture by example. Start building it from the top down through strong leadership and customer-focused initiatives. Additional training can help employees internalise the customer-focused message, while also training them on what customer-centric culture truly is. Employees will need to develop out the empathy that they have for customers and see things from their point of view.
All of these modifications to your business structure can have a significant impact on the strength and development of your customer relationships.
For brick-and-mortar stores to successfully compete in an increasingly online space, some work needs to be done especially when competing with large behemoths like Walmart and Amazon. Though it may be difficult to match these online stores in terms of prices, retail stores can pave their own way and stand out in terms of excellent customer care and personalised service.
It all begins with understanding customer needs and offering something more than what most online stores can offer — a tailored customer-centric experience.