What is happening to the traditional retail experience?

The physical high street shop experience is evolving rapidly for both consumers and retailers.  The enhanced experience for consumers provides a high level of personal service in-store, with great product displays and customer service personnel who are brand savvy and are completely knowledgeable about their products.  Retailers are now faced with employing hiring upscale, and not just the low paid employees with little or no interest in customer service. The customer experience is king, and the staff play a massive part in that. We have all at a time when we have gone into a store and had to wait and wait, or search for someone to speak to abut products, then when we eventually find someone, we may have then been told that “This is not my department” or “I am on my way to a break” or “I will send someone”. We go to a store to get service.  Otherwise, we just shop on the web.

See and feel products

Most consumers go to the store to see a product with their own eyes get a better feel for the products, over what they can see on the internet. T no matter how many photos are shown. The importance of seeing and feeling products can never be replaced by the internet,  is particularly important for certain retail categories like clothing, custom-designed products, certain electronics devices such as TV’s etc.

Get personal guidance

Because of the internet, the average new consumer has collected a lot of product information before they go into a store.  Often, the consumer knows as much about the specific products they are looking at as the store staff.  In order to give an outstanding customer service experience, the store staff must be knowledgeable about the industry, competing products and what is popular within various demographics and social groups. A technically savvy consumer does not look so much for additional information but rather to see and feel the products, so this additional information goes miles in showing the consumer that this retailer knows their stuff!

Is the store turning into a showroom?

Is the Best Buy approach the right one where they match any web-based pricing?  Can a smaller retailer survive with minimized margins?  The showroom experience is still commonplace for consumers.  Consumers may browse your store showroom and then buy elsewhere or online.  What can retailers do to turn this consumer browsing into sales for their store? Price is important but great service is crucial for a consumer to want to return to your store and to talk well about their store experience. That good buying experience is rare.  So when we experience it, we are eager to share it.

As many consumers are browsing in the store and buying on-line to get the better price, the retailers must offer more or accept the ‘Showroom’ situation, but does the sales staff know anything about the customer through loyalty programs or other sources like CRM, etc.?  If so, they should discretely use that information!  What can we offer the consumer that they cannot get on-line?

In order to support our customers, we need to educate and arm our sales staff with the right knowledge, tools and respect, i.e. better pay!.  Sales do not always happen on the first store visit by a consumer.  Ideally, Customer Service people will be trained not only to sell but to provide a great customer shopping experience.  Then, consumers will love your brand and return and give great word-of-mouth endorsement to others.

How does the retailer deliver superior service?

When a consumer enters the store, it is important that they get attention. The worst consumer experience is to enter your store and view several store employees with their backs turned and busy with their cell phones.

How do we motivate the sales staff to sell instead of waiting for their shift to be over? Commission is a great motivator, but so is in-depth ‘customer experience’, including how to guide customers, how to express passion for the brand and ultimately, how to upsell. Having a tablet computer available can help to engage the customer, helps to look up product information and helps to provide better overall service for the customer. Arm the sales people with tools that can provide product feature comparisons and provide them with at least the same information as the customer has.

Acknowledge your sales staff well and often.  They are on the forefront of efforts to drive the passion and success of your brand. They can do it well or they can ruin it. They can brag, bluff and embarrass.   They can service and sell and upsell and make you proud.  Your Customer Service staff will have a huge impact on what is being talked about on social media about your brand.

Can we deliver from the store?

Can a chain utilize their location and staff downtime to prepare shipments for items ordered online?  Sure, they can! The stores are perfect places for launching shipments and deliveries.  But, the staff must understand and be recognized for this and it cannot be considered a lesser level of work, but simply a way to optimize time and location.  Alternative approaches must be considered to survive in the new internet era of shopping and this is one of them.

The future of Brick and Mortar

Retailers must think out-of-the-box when it comes to their stores.  Better service, engaged & motivated sales staff and a better utilization of resources are all critical if retail stores want to survive.
Know this:
The best brick and mortar retailers will continue not only to survive but also to thrive.