This concept of customer experience (CX) has become a focal point for many companies who want to meet and exceed customers’ expectations. Customers have an experience when they shop online, but retailers with brick-and-mortar stores have a greater opportunity to provide an enjoyable and memorable shopping experience for their customers.
In this guide, we’ll explain what the customer experience is and why it’s important. Plus, we’ll share a few ideas for enhancing the customer experience in retail, so you can begin reaping the benefits of a positive CX.
Read the full guide or skip to a specific section:
- What is Retail Customer Experience?
- The Challenge Facing Retailers
- How to Improve Customer Experience in Retail Stores
- The Benefits of an Improved Retail Customer Experience
What Is Retail Customer Experience?
Our lives are made up of a series of experiences, and some of those experiences are influenced by the businesses we patronize. Every customer who steps into your retail store has an experience — whether it’s good, bad or somewhere in between — that will influence their perception of your brand. You want that experience to be positive, so you can build a strong relationship with your customers and keep them coming back.
For some companies, the primary touchpoint between their customers and their brand occurs online. For others, it may be largely in-store — some touchpoints may even occur both online and in-person.
We’re going to focus on how to improve customer experience in retail stores, specifically. Interacting with your customers in a brick-and-mortar store opens up a world of possibilities for how you can provide an exceptionally positive shopping experience and build customer loyalty.
People care about their experiences as consumers, and the companies that focus on providing great customer experiences are more successful than those that don’t — it’s as simple as that.
The Challenge Facing Retailers
Focusing on customer experience is especially important for retailers today because it’s one of the primary ways they can get a leg up on big online retailers like Amazon. It is no secret that the retail industry has been hit hard as online shopping continues to grow in popularity. Some longtime giants in the retail space have had to close down many of their stores or, in the worst cases, dissolve their business entirely.
Some reports of how retailers are struggling to keep up with Amazon and other e-commerce companies can be disheartening. It may seem to some retailers that they’re fighting a losing battle. The good news is that the landscape for retailers isn’t as dismal as it may seem.
Even though it may seem like Amazon has taken over the market, it only accounts for less than four percent of all U.S. retail. Plus, recent data from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that 90% of retail sales still take place in brick-and-mortar stores. This may be encouraging, but retailers still need to stay on their toes, especially since younger consumers prefer shopping online.
Some see shopping online as more convenient and comfortable than driving to a store, finding what they need, and then waiting to check out. In the past, ordering items online meant waiting a long time to receive your package — but today, customers can usually receive e-commerce shipments the next day. This makes it difficult for retailers to compete with the convenience of online shopping.
Adding features like self-checkout lanes and mobile payment options are just a couple of the ways many retailers are trying to offer a more streamlined shopping experience that customers are used to online. However, the goal shouldn’t simply be to replicate what people like about online shopping. Instead, traditional retailers need to capitalize on their unique strengths. Shopping in a brick-and-mortar location can’t and shouldn’t be just like shopping online. Instead, it should offer customers a richer, more enjoyable shopping experience.
At a time when online companies are growing in influence, the outlook for retail stores is uncertain. This can be scary, but it should encourage retailers to continuously improve their operations, so they can successfully compete against online retailers. One of the best ways to do this is by focusing on enhancing customers’ experiences in your store, so the experience of shopping online can’t compare.
How to Improve Customer Experience in Retail Stores
If retail stores really want to attract new customers and turn them into loyal, returning customers, they need to offer a superior customer experience — this experience should be both enjoyable in the moment and memorable, so people maintain a strong positive association with your brand and choose to shop at your store next time, instead of online or in other stores.
If you know you’re not currently offering that kind of experience to customers, don’t give up. A customer experience transformation in retail is possible. Creating a great customer experience may look different for different stores, but these six ideas can give any retail store an edge to keep customers coming back for more:
1. TRAIN EMPLOYEES TO BE EXPERTS
Retail store staff should always be friendly and helpful, but you can create an even more valuable customer experience by making sure your staff is also knowledgeable. One study found that more than half of shoppers who enter a store are seeking advice. Can your employees answer their questions confidently? Can they recommend products based on personal experience or the customer’s needs?
For example, consider the difference between purchasing pet products online and being able to get informed recommendations from a knowledgeable employee in a pet store. While you could check online reviews, this isn’t as personalized as being able to ask if this product is right for your furry friend. When you invest time and resources into training your employees to be experts, you can improve the customer experience in your store.
2. ADD A DINING AREA
Some stores enhance customer experience by expanding beyond just retail to also include some sort of dining area. For some stores, it could be an entire cafe or cafeteria — like in the case of international retailer Ikea. For other stores, it might be a coffee kiosk, a cocktail bar or a frozen yogurt parlor.
Whatever the beverages or food your store offers, be sure to include some seating. Having refreshments available can encourage shoppers to extend their shopping trip rather than cutting it short because they’re hungry or thirsty. It can also turn your store into a more welcoming, hospitable atmosphere. A great shopping experience plus a delicious latte or a sandwich is an excellent recipe for a memorable customer experience.
3. CREATE AN UPLIFTING ATMOSPHERE
Some stores may carry great products but fall flat when it comes to the store’s atmosphere and aesthetic appeal. You want your customers to enjoy the sensorial experience of shopping at your store. Ideally, customers should feel inspired and eager to stay longer because they are enjoying themselves. Also, a more attractive atmosphere is more likely to encourage customers to share photos of their shopping experience on social media.
Look for ways to improve your store’s atmosphere. You may want to include an eye-catching mural, a modern sculpture, statement light fixtures, fresh florals or some other touch of creativity. Make sure the decor you choose properly reflects your brand. In addition to visual elements, consider the music you play and the fragrance in your store, so you deliver an enjoyable sensory experience all around.
4. INCORPORATE HIGH-TECH TOOLS
Shopping in-store instead of online shouldn’t mean customers have to leave all technology behind. Some retail stores incorporate fun, engaging and helpful technology into their stores to improve the customer experience. For example, some retailers have installed digital, interactive mirrors that simulate what customers would look like with certain types of makeup or clothing.
Other examples of tech tools in retail stores include QR codes, digital price tags, VR technology and more. Some types of technology can come at a high price, so trying to go high-tech may not be the best strategy for every store, but it’s a great idea to consider if you want to better engage young, tech-savvy shoppers.
5. HOST EVENTS IN-STORE
Hosting a special event is a great way to attract new customers and engage your current customers in a new way. When customers have fun or learn something new at an event in your store, that will surely leave a lasting, positive impression. To ensure your event is a success, be sure to plan it well in advance and promote it through your various marketing channels.
Of course, you also need to plan an event that relates to your business and will add value for customers. For instance, a grocery store could host a wine tasting or a cookie decorating class. A clothing retailer could host a trunk show. A book store could host an author meet-and-greet. A toy store could plan a day of free carnival games and activities for kids. The possibilities are endless, so consider what type of event would mean the most to your customers.
6. INCLUDE A PLAY AREA
Any parent knows that bringing young children along on a shopping trip can be a challenge. Most retail stores are not designed to engage children’s attention, so kids are easily bored by trailing behind Mom or Dad and can become restless. For many parents, this means cutting the shopping trip short and having an underwhelming experience. Fortunately, retailers can cater to their smaller customers and help the whole family have a great customer experience.
The solution is to include a play area in your store. Some malls have embraced this concept, but any retail store can follow the same model within their own store. Imagine parents choosing where to shop and knowing your store offers a place their kids are actually excited to go to — a place where the kids can play while the parents leisurely browse and fill their basket. Children and parents alike will love the experience of shopping at a store with such a fun amenity.
The Benefits of an Improved Retail Customer Experience
What does implementing some best practices for retail customer experience mean for your business? Here are a few benefits you can expect to see when your customers have a great experience at your store:
- A positive reputation: With positive customer experiences come positive reviews. With so many consumers reading online reviews before visiting a business, it’s essential that your store has an outstanding reputation. If consumers read about how much other people love shopping at your store, this can strongly encourage them to visit your business for the first time.
- Strong customer loyalty: One of the most significant benefits of enhancing your customers’ experience is that you can build stronger bonds of loyalty with your customers. Customers want to continue to support a company they feel cares about their experience, so you can expect their repeat business. Research shows that 84 percent of U.S. adults are loyal to retailers, so make sure that retailer is you.
- A competitive edge: In a competitive retail environment, your business needs to differentiate itself from the competition. Give customers a solid reason to choose shopping at your store rather than a store that offers similar products down the street. A non-standard amenity like a coffee bar or a play area for kids may be just the thing to help you gain a solid competitive edge.
- Increased revenue: The previous benefits we’ve looked at all add up to one major advantage for your business: increased revenue. A customer who is enjoying their experience is more likely to stick around longer at your store, spend more and come back again in the future. Rather than trying to cut costs to improve your bottom line, investing in the customer experience can be a great way to increase profits.
Let Soft Play Help You Create an Enhanced Customer Experience
If you want to include a playground area in your store, Soft Play is the ideal partner to help you create something unique, safe and fun for your smallest customers. You can find our amazing play equipment in all sorts of commercial places, such as airports, theme parks or schools. Our very first play space was created for a mall, and we’ve continued to provide playground equipment for retail spaces across the country.
Our team works to create custom interactive play equipment that ties in with your brand and is appealing to both parents and kids. We understand how to make play equipment that engages kids’ imaginations and encourages them to have fun, so the adults with them can enjoy shopping, knowing their kids are also having a fun day out. Contact Soft Play to create a play area that will improve your customer experience today.