Online shopping (2)

With competition from online retailers stepping up considerably, bricks and mortar stores must provide customers with engaging, entertaining and memorable experiences in a physical retail environment. Brands’ retail experiences must reward shoppers with something they can’t get elsewhere, making their time with you worth leaving the house for. Highly successful retail brands, like Apple, Burberry and Amazon, all endeavour to define retail experiences. But how do they do this? To create a truly innovative experience, there is a cornerstone of four key rules that brands wishing to emulate the success of the former, must abide to.

1. Match rising expectations consistently throughout the customer journey

Consumers have soaring expectations of retail brands. It’s why they’re the spearheads of new retail innovations, not the other way round. Advances in technology the driving force behind much of this innovation. ‘Swipe right’ is second nature to a generation of digitally native consumers who expect the same instinctive simplicity from every brand interaction.

The challenge for retail brands is to have a finger on the pulse and follow it; to find out where in the customer experience you are not matching these expectations and to create strategies that close the gap. Consistency is key. 1-Click works every time – hence our loyalty to Amazon. Exceeding expectations every now and then will not cut it. Matching consumer expectations every single time your customers interact with your services is the only way to make a difference and drive loyalty. Barclaycard are well acquainted with this; a new blueprint was recently created for improving the Barclays Bespoke user experience, so that it now consistently matches customers’ app expectations. In turn, this improves Barclaycard’s repeat business and on-going engagement with users of their Bespoke Offers service.

2. Create experiences to ease decision-making and drive conversion

Brands are creating ever-more imaginative ways to keep us interested and convince us to buy. Think of IKEA’s Pop-Up Café experience in London. Visitors were treated to breakfast in bed followed by a snooze – all as a way of trialling their perfect combination of Ikea mattress and bedding. Of course it did more than that – it reminded people that bed shopping could be playful and indulgent – an event that can even be shared with friends.

The challenge is to create contexts and content for understanding within the customer experience – digital or physical. They are opportunities to overcome reservations, to remove barriers to purchase and to reassure consumers about their decision-making.

The answer lies in creating platforms to help customers understand the difference your product will make, designing experiences that let them imagine what their lives will be like if they owned it. It’s about giving consumers a robust rationale so they can validate their purchase, and explain, celebrate and share their decision. Dyson fully embodied this in their own retail space. Through the creation of digital tools and a store experience that provides relevant content to aid decision making, Dyson were able to help customers understand why they should invest in a Dyson product, and which one is right for them.

3. Empower your front-line people to consistently tell your story and sell your brand

Brands need to create an employee experience strategy that focuses on closing the gap between the human elements of its customer experience and other touch-points. One challenge is to find ways to enfranchise and empower your staff by making them more knowledgeable and by rewarding them for a consistency of service and clarity of message. It’s about developing platforms for training, measurement and self-learning that will remove any dissonance between what your front line people do and say, and the quality of your experience across your other channels to market.

What this looks and feels like for your customers will be defined by your brand, your services and the space in which your people find themselves. It may be the lightest of touches to expedite or humanise a predominantly digital experience or a bespoke session with a product ‘genius’ or personal stylist. Either way, empowering people is a crucial part of delivering engagement, building brand-liking and driving commercial growth.

4. Deliver your brand’s purpose across every touch point to inspire and validate purchase

Getting consumers to buy in to your brand’s wider purpose – its reason for being – can build deeper connections with consumers and drive loyalty. Brands that share and convey this purpose throughout the retail experience will increase the inclination to buy.

The growth of retail as a leisure activity increases the propensity for shoppers to be open not just to pure purchasing but to more emotive experiences and ideas when they enter a store. This presents brands with a great opportunity to respond with compelling experiences that engage and excite customers around the ‘bigger picture’ and the effect a purchase may have.

We know that today’s consumers are increasingly choosing brands based on the quality of the experience they have with them, their products and their services. It’s why your retail experience needs to define why consumers should choose you over the competition. Customer experience needs to be at the heart of everything,, providing an engaging experience which lies at the forefront of retail innovation, and the sales will speak for themselves.

By Kevin Gill, CEO of Start