How to Improve Customer Experience in Retail Stores

Posted by David Kindervater on Feb 18, 2020

When modern-day marketers are searching for ways to improve their customer experience, they're usually focused on their website or service team's phone lines. That's where CX typically begins. But what do you do with a retail store? How can you improve the customer experience so your visitors browse more, buy more, and return again in the future to repeat the process? Let's find out.

Here's some practical advice on how to improve customer experience in retail stores.

Engage Your Customer's Five Senses

retail marketingOne of the best ways to learn how to improve customer experience in retail stores is to appeal to their five senses. This is something you can't do online (yet). The more shoppers use their senses at your retail store, the more time they'll spend there and the more products they'll buy.

The dreadful modern-day retail apocalypse has seen over 9,000 stores close. That was in 2019 alone. You're familiar with the names that have dwindled or disappeared over the years. Brands like Sears, Kmart, Family Dollar, Walgreens, Barneys, Payless ShoeSource, and many others.

They all determined that a reduction (or total elimination) of their retail real estate was the best business move.

How to Avoid Being Part of the Retail Apocalypse

The best way to help your retail brand survive is to make your in-store CX as fulfilling as possible. You'll have a difficult time appealing to ALL five senses, but you should give it a shot. In an interview with Forbes, author Darren Coleman claims it's never been done in a "truly unique and personalized way." But he challenged all retail brands to try to achieve it—especially when a store's very survival depends upon it. Here are some customer experience examples that focus on the five senses.

  1. Visual. Keep your customers engaged with your store's design, color, style, and lighting. This is the easiest and most obvious sense to target.
  2. Smell. If you want to build a brand experience, give your customers something pleasant to smell. This will help them remember you. Studies show that smell is the one sense that's most often linked to our emotional memory. When it's associated with your retail store, that can produce financial rewards.
  3. Sound. Music influences memory, emotion, and movement. Rather than selecting random tunes, pick something that captures the heart of your brand.
  4. Touch. About half of consumers don't like online shopping because they can't touch the product before buying it. The more people can touch your merchandise while shopping, the more likely they are to buy it.
  5. Taste. This will be a lot easier to accomplish if you sell food. If not, consider the ways you can incorporate taste into your retail experience.

When New York City retail landmark Barney's declared bankruptcy, plans were immediately made to replace it with a “pop-up retail experience” that promised art, culture, entertainment, creativity, and community. This is known as an experiential retail concept that's redefining the brick-and-mortar business. The customer is busy—and/or lazy. They need a reason to visit your store. Otherwise, they'll save themselves the effort, order online (possibly from a competitor), and have it shipped to their doorstep.

Embrace Omnichannel Marketing

Smartphones are a way of life, so there's no point in avoiding them, even when you're focused on your in-store marketing strategy. Embrace the omnichannel way of marketing and coordinate your website's content with your in-store inventory. What is omnichannel marketing? Let's look at some examples:

  • If you offer a product online, allow your customers to reserve the item from their mobile device and pick it up in-store. This could increase your purchase frequency by 250%. Plus, your customer retention rates could be 90% higher.
  • Sync your in-store and web-store inventory. This way, customers can check to see if you have the product on-hand before they make the trip to your store.
  • Make sure your website is responsive and optimized for mobile devices. Bypassing this step can have harsh consequences. An astonishing 94% of people judge websites based on whether the design is responsive. Also, according to a Google study, 75% of smartphone consumers will buy products from companies whose mobile websites or apps allow them to make fast purchases.

Omnichannel marketing involves all of your marketing channels. Use it to coordinate all your marketing efforts—from your retail store to your website, social media accounts, direct mail campaigns, and more.

Cater to Customers That Like to Browse

marketing for retailThere are some people that still like to walk into a retail store and wander around. They like to browse through the merchandise to see what's new—or maybe discover something they missed on their last trip. Sometimes they're just planning for the future. You can accent their adventure by providing a special "find," an unexpected gem or maybe just an incredible deal they can't get online. It's like one of those "you have to be present to win" contests. Find a way to reward those customers who visit your retail store. Not only will it make them feel special, but it will also create an incentive for them to return again.

Turn Your Retail Store Into an Event Space

Retailtainment. It's happening. And if you want to improve the customer experience strategy in your retail stores, you'll start working on an agenda starting—yesterday. Retail needs help if it's going to survive. Providing entertainment for your in-store customers could very well be the answer. It's a worthwhile investment.

Now, you may be envisioning a local folk band playing their songs in a corner of your store. That's fine if you have a café. But you can do anything you want. Be creative. The idea is to get more people into your store and studies show retailtainment works. Millennials and Gen Z shoppers are visiting retail establishments more often because those stores are paying attention to the customer experience trends and offering some kind of entertainment or food experience.

So yes, you can have a band playing music, but you could also have:

  • Refreshments
  • Celebrity appearances
  • DJs
  • Fundraisers for local causes
  • Speakers
  • Classes or demos
  • Social media-worthy displays
  • Kid-friendly options

Let's look at a couple of real-world examples to spur ideas for your retail business.

Barnes & Noble Opens Concept Stores

With Amazon's astronomical success, you would think all retail bookstores would be out of business by now. Crown Books closed in 2001. Borders and Waldenbooks folded in 2011. B. Dalton ceased operating in 2013. But brands like Books-A-Million and Barnes & Noble are still hanging in there.

Despite shrinking revenue for several straight years, Barnes & Noble opened four concept stores to gauge the reaction from their customer base. At these locations, B&N offers full-service restaurants/bars with varied seating options and mobile power stations. It's not entertainment in the traditional sense, but it provides a reason for customers to "sit and stay" rather than "grabbing and going." The retailtainment concept is to elevate the shopping experience and that's what Barnes & Noble did.

Macy's Has a Retailtainment STORY to Tell

Macy's created their STORY at Macy's brand as a way to "reinvent retail" (their words). In retail reality, it's a store within a store and you can find them in approximately 36 Macy's locations in the U.S. Once you find STORY, you'll discover products from up-and-coming brands and small businesses via varied themes. Their new "Feel Good" theme provides wellness wares like workout essentials, healthy snacks, and expert advice on how to be your best self.

Create an Engaging Customer Experience for Your Patrons

AR shopping retailA big part of making CX successful is to create a more immersive experience for your visitors. This could mean retailtainment, as we just discussed, but there are so many other possibilities, too. Here are some examples you can try.

Augmented Reality Leads to More Sales

AR is popping up everywhere and retail has embraced its many possibilities. About 40% of consumers will likely spend more on one of your products if they can first experience it via AR. How do you do that? Let's look at a few brand examples for inspiration.

  • Sephora. The beauty retailer lets you try on makeup virtually, matching your skin tone to a foundation with AI. You can also test a fragrance with a touchscreen and scented air.
  • The North Face. IBM Watson, the AI question/answering computer system, helps customers find the perfect product match. Watson takes phrases like “I need a jacket for running during Pittsburgh winters” and delivers a personalized recommendation in return.
  • Walmart. The retail giant sponsored Jurassic World's AR game and used it as a way to drive traffic to their stores. Consumers have to be in a Walmart to access virtual supply depots in the game. These are items players can't get anywhere else.

Use Digital POP Screens to Draw Attention to Specific Products

In an effort to showcase certain products, place a digital POP (point-of-purchase) screen next to them to draw more attention. A successful retail marketing mix relies on print and digital POP materials. POP displays have been proven to increase sales by as much as 20%. That's because they draw your customer's eyes to your products. This, in turn, increases the chances they'll add it to their shopping cart. Simple, right? When you combine both digital and print into your POP strategy, you get the ultimate in-store marketing mix.

Offer Free Wi-Fi in Your Retail Store

Free access to the internet should be a no-brainer, but just in case—don't forget to offer free Wi-Fi at your retail location. In a survey, half the shoppers polled said they were comfortable making a large purchase in a store with Wi-Fi access.

Create a separate network for guests. Post "Free Wi-Fi" signage in your storefront and at your check-out counters. Then make it easy for your customers to hop on your network. Welcome them with a custom landing page, then ask for some contact details (like their email address, at least). You may or may not want to make it mandatory, though. If you do, incentivize the ask with a special offer that gives them a reason to provide their info.

Note: You should consider some "Terms of Service" verbiage that limits your potential liability, especially if you're tracking customers and their spending habits.

How to Improve Customer Experience in Retail Stores: Say Thank You

handwritten thank youLast but certainly not least, don't forget to thank your customers. You can offer a heartfelt smile and a thank you when they're arriving and leaving your retail store.

If you really want to kick it up a notch (and you should), send them a handwritten thank-you note. We're not saying to send one after every sale. That would be weird. But pick a time when you can appropriately say:

"(Customer's first name), thank you for your business."

Naturally, there are many different ways and times to say thank you. Pick the ones that best suit your brand's style. For example, you could send a handwritten note after a customer's first purchase. Or you could send one on their birthday or during the Christmas/holiday season. However you decide to do it, a handwritten note is a gesture that will not go unnoticed.

With Simply Written, handwritten correspondence is easy. You can create connections that last a lifetime by showing how much you care. Contact us to learn how you can improve the customer experience in your retail store with digitally handwritten business notes.

Topics: Customer Experience, thanking your customers