People argue that digital technology killed the brick-and-mortar retail store by making it easy to shop online. Nothing could be further from the truth. Digital technology and the retail store have combined to create an omni-channel environment that has transformed both customers’ shopping experiences and their expectations.
In the past, customers needed to physically drive to a store to make a purchase. Since retailers didn’t provide much in-store information about their products, the choice of what to buy generally came down to price and brand recognition. If a customer didn’t find what they wanted at one retailer or wanted to compare prices at different stores, they needed to drive to a different store where they still faced a lack of information about products.
If online research enhanced the retail experience by giving customers access to more product information, then the advent of mobile phones has revolutionized the way people shop. 64% of Americans own a smartphone of some kind, up from 35% in the spring of 2011 (Pew Research Center). This number is expected to rise dramatically when the younger generations raised with technology enter the coveted 18-34 age bracket. The ability to research products, read reviews, and find stores at home and on-the-go means that customers know more about their options than ever; in fact, a study showed that the average person spends a staggering 15 hours per week performing research on mobile phones (Think with Google).
Even with all this information, many people want to actually visit a store to see the product they are considering in person. In-store purchases also give customers the opportunity to use their new product immediately rather than waiting for it to be shipped to them. Smart retailers recognize this and realize that just because someone has done online research doesn’t mean that they have decided on a product-nor does it mean that they don’t want to access that data again quickly and easily.
Enter clienteling. That same technology that provides people with so many more opportunities for research can also be used in-store to compare prices or access customers’ loyalty programs. Store associates can give the customer information about the product they are currently looking at and they can also suggest competing products available in-store. Customers, meanwhile, can order online-only products and arrange for home delivery – all from the dressing room.
The best way for a retailer to take advantage of new technology is to create a customer-driven experience that will guide the customer from initial research all the way to purchase. Unlike traditional marketing strategies, customer-driven experience doesn’t focus on branding; it focuses on creating a satisfying user experience across multiple points of contact.
Creating a successful omni-channel user experience is actually a lot simpler than it seems, and the best way to do it is by making the buying process easy. While this seems evident, many retailers put up barriers to purchasing by making shopping across multiple platforms difficult. Take, for example, a retailer’s website; it usually offers valuable information about products and services and might even allow customers to easily purchase items online for delivery or in-store pickup.
Now consider the average company’s mobile website; it may or may not list all available products and even if it does all the information available on the regular website (expanded product details and reviews) may not be visible. Many retailers also don’t give customers the option to make purchases on mobile websites. A poorly designed mobile site means that a company essentially discarded the massive amount of research being done by users on their smartphones, not to mention eliminated the possibility of mobile “impulse buys.”
Having a well-functioning mobile website also makes it easier for customers to compare products in-store. This allows the customer to do quick research on new products. It also reinforces the positive features of a product, making the customer more inclined to buy it.
Rather than using technology to alienate customers, forward-thinking retailers are using it to create lifelong customers. People remember positive experiences, and using technology to assist in the buying process enhances a customer’s omni-channel experience. This not only results in immediate sales, but also creates loyal customers.