What’s next for the in-store experience?

Luring shoppers away from the comfort and convenience of their online shopping basket has been the challenge of the century for bricks and mortar retailers. And now, with Amazon, who already claim half of all retail sales in the US, introducing a new Augmented Reality function to help shoppers visualise products in their home before they buy them, the challenge is just got tougher.

Doubtless, you know of at least one example of a creative if not radical solution implemented by a high street store to create an extraordinary in-store experience worth leaving the house for. Sometimes these experiences, ranging from treasure hunts to immersive theatre, are only very tenuously connected to the products and shopping opportunities offered by the stores that host them, but some are squarely on brand. In its central London store, The House of Vans, a skateboarding and BMX fashion retailer, has installed a cinema, café, live music venue and art gallery, with its piece de resistance in the basement, in the form of a fully functional skateboard/bike park.

However, on brand or not, not every retailer has the resources to add multiple new functions to their store, and even those that do are likely to have to limit this approach to their flagship branch. The question of what’s really, practically going to dictate the future of the in-store experience, for both retailers and shoppers, is one that was at the heart of the National Retail Federation’s NXT meeting in July 2019. It turns out that extraordinary store experiences were only one of the three answers they presented. The other two were data and digital marketing. Furthermore, they are the ones that are going to tell you what is going to make for an extraordinary store experience.

Being a high street retailer can seem like a huge disadvantage when you are competing with online stores, because online stores can be accessed by anyone from anywhere, including from inside a high street store. However, online retailers would kill for the quality of data you can capture with a shopper standing in front of you, where you can hold a conversation with them and be responsive in real-time to the information you take in.

The evolution of websites no match for direct contact with the customer

Websites may have evolved the ability to carry out sophisticated behaviour analysis using heatmaps and other user data, but they cannot directly observe their shoppers and modify their approach to better suit the dynamic of each individual, or successfully judge if now is the right time to ask for information that will improve how you connect with them as a brand. These kinds of interactions are not everyone’s forte, but for those who can master them, they can provide far richer data about a customer’s shopping needs than you can get from analysing the same person’s mouse movements and clicks on a website. If you want to know if the changes you are making to your customer experience online are working you can ask your visitors. A retail associate’s observation of a shopper in a high street store could give you a far more accurate, real-time feedback on the success or failure of the customer experience.

Digital marketing and data are closely linked because what makes digital marketing so powerful compared with traditional marketing is the scope it provides to analyse its impact and the speed with which that can be done. When trying to measure the impact of an advert on TV or in a magazine, the two best measures used to be: how many people saw it and, if possible, how many people called the telephone number given in the ad.

Whatever the form of your digital marketing – email, blog, video, banner, pop-up, it is relatively easy to A/B test different options that with old marketing media you would simply have had to commit. Now you can change words, colours and images in marketing, making sure that you can identify which version of which marketing asset a person saw when they answered a call to action (clicking, completing a form, printing a coupon) and get real data as to which marketing effort had the most impact.

This is critical because for most customers in the high street their experience begins with an exposure to digital marketing. It is also critical that the experience offered in-store is looked at holistically alongside the digital marketing effort so that there is congruence between all the digital marketing touchpoints leading to the high street store and the physical space of that same brand.

KIT – helping brands capture real usable data

One way of achieving that is with KIT, which runs on an iPad or Android tablet, and can be adapted to fit any retail brand. KIT is a tool that works at the intersection of all three of the answers offered by the NRF’s NXT meeting. Using customer profiles, it captures incredibly useful data to help the brand improve its customer experience. By linking to the brand’s website it integrates with other digital marketing efforts and powers digital marketing by providing store associates with various means to message customers directly. Finally, there are numerous ways KIT can be used as part of the shopping experience. It can help to locate particular products, both in the catalogue and the store. It can be used to compare products or help educate customers about products. And it can be used to close a sale when otherwise a customer would have a much longer process to follow and run the risk of not completing the purchase.

It is also worth noting that while the assisted selling features of KIT can rescue a retailer from putting too much thought into the frills and not enough into the nuts and bolts of selling stuff to all its customers, KIT can also help with a particular category of shopper, identified in a paper written in April 2018, titled: Selling the Extraordinary Experiential Retail Stores – who will feel particularly let down if she or he can’t make their purchase with a minimum of fuss. 

That is to say, as important as it is for retail stores to think about the customer experience and how to make it rock, they must also understand that broadly speaking, shoppers come in two forms. The ones who do planned, task focussed shopping and those who are more spontaneous and open to being entertained. As well as helping immerse the spontaneous, entertainment-oriented shoppers in the brand and its products, KIT can be the perfect tool for a store associate who needs to help a task focussed shopper transcend the distraction of the entertainment, to simply execute their task. Thus, instead of leaving frustrated because they were not interested in trying a face mask made from Koala droppings, task focussed customers can be made grateful that your store understood and catered to their individual needs.

To learn more about how KIT can form part of your data-driven, digital marketing integrated, extraordinary customer experience, just contact the KIT team on +44 203 691 2936. They will be very happy to answer any questions and schedule a demonstration. You can also email info@instore.technology with any questions or to request more information, or if you prefer you can also complete the short form on our Contact page.

What customers expect from their experience on the high street

If you have worked in retail today, for any length of time, you know about the importance of the customer experience. However, with so many different ideas floating around about what the customer experience is and how to provide it, you could be forgiven for not being very clear about either of those things. For some, designing the customer experience means a floor to ceiling refit of the store to create an entirely different space or ambience. For others, it is about offering an experience that is both appealing and not what you would traditionally expect from a retailer.

For example, this summer, Showfields, a retailer in New York, launched ‘an immersive theatre experience that bridges art and retail,’ which customers begin by going down a black-and-white striped slide. From there actors guide shoppers through a surreal combination of art gallery and product demonstrations, which concludes in a space called ‘The Lab’, where guests can buy the products they’ve seen on the tour.

As these kinds of examples are being set by peers, for too many retailers, focusing on the customer experience means missing the point. As Retail Prophet, Doug Stephens puts it in his blog post: ‘Why Retail Is Getting “Experience” Wrong‘ – “Most retailers assume customer experience is primarily an aesthetic concept and more about how stores look and feel. Other retailers assume that customer experience simply means better, friendlier or more personalised service. Thus they invest in recruiting and training, and work harder to capture data about their clientele.”

Understanding the customer experience

The efforts of retailers who think this way will almost inevitably fail because they haven’t understood the task at hand. Doug goes on to explain: “True customer experience design means deconstructing the entire customer journey into its smallest component parts and then reengineering each component to look, feel and most importantly, operate differently than before and distinctly from competitors.”

Why is it that retailers struggle to understand this? It is the same reason why most people couldn’t describe the dynamics that make one story good and another one bad, but they can tell when they hear a good story and when they hear a bad one. They haven’t thought about it for long enough or been taught by someone who truly understands it and therefore is probably no coincidence that when you do think about it, you can see very similar dynamics at work in both a great story and a great customer experience.

A great story engages all five senses of the world where it takes place – sight, sound, smell, taste and touch. As the saying goes, people may forget what you said, but they will never forget how you made them feel. The same is true of retail experience. A story worth listening to is one that transports you to another world. And because the characters who live there inhabit such a different world from yours, when you feel empathy for them they lift you out of the forest where you live and can no longer see the trees, and allow you see again. The products you are looking at in a store that has redesigned its customer experience may be similar to a thousand others you have seen, but when they are presented in a completely different light from every other store you’ve seen them in, you can see and feel them anew.

Some stories deliberately make it harder for their audience to relate to their heroes, and typically those stories develop a cult following from the few who love them. But most stories aim to tell stories about protagonists the audience can relate to fairly easily in a very deep way. You know when a story has succeeded in presenting you with such a protagonist because you enjoy and look forward to the time you spend with them. This is what a personalised store experience is all about – making a customer feel seen, happy to visit, glad they came and eager for the next chapter.

A great story surprises its audience, by knowing what they expect and delivering something different. A twist in the tale or a subversion of expectations at each turning point in a story is far more satisfying than a ‘jack-in-the-box’, which is a surprise with no particular logical or emotional connection to what led up to it. It also works in retail. Expectations are deeply ingrained in shoppers but there are many ways to deliver unexpected and delightful surprises all along the customer journey.

While amazing stories are not formulaic, great writers can bring us back to new episodes of stories and repeatedly deliver, with necessary variations, what we have come to expect from the world in which these stories are set. It is just as vital that a customer, returning to a store that has mastered its customer experience as described above, is offered a similar quality, though not a cookie-cutter copy of the experience they have had and loved before. So far so ideal, and in his blog, Doug Stephens makes a valid point that simply handing a retail associate a tablet and expecting the customer experience to hit new heights of excellence is naive at best.

He also points out that achieving this level of customer experience is not easy, and even when you get there, if you are armed with a tablet that gives you a live view of every product available in that store at that precise moment, you probably have the most valuable thing you need to delight a customer who neither has the time nor the patience to jump on a black and white slide before embarking on a 20-minute tour that ends in the gift shop. There’s every reason to use your imagination and creativity to make every one of your customer’s experiences compel them to return, but it shouldn’t be at the expense of some basic relationship management activities that foster an authentic connection between your retail associates and your customers. Furthermore, with the right app on that tablet, you can make that relationship management easier.

Arrange a free demo of KIT

KIT is the ideal solution for retailers looking to equip their store associates with a tool that makes it easier to personalise a customer’s experience so they look forward to returning again and again. The most helpful thing KIT can do in the first interaction may be to quickly connect a customer with the right product, but building on that success KIT can help store associates to accumulate data that helps them and the brand build a relationship with that customer. The longer and stronger that relationship, the better the chances of increasing the lifetime value of that customer.

KIT includes a range of assisted selling tools to help customers find, evaluate and compare products, then complete the sale – taking the pain out of shopping for even the most retail-unfriendly of customers. After that, records of the customer kept automatically through sales and interactions with the brand on other channels can be added to manually, which means a store associate doesn’t have to memorise the granular details of a multitude of customers who only visit the store once a month or less. Being able to easily access this information helps a store associate make a customer feel far more cared for than they would otherwise be able to.

As part of a conscious revolution in your thinking about what customers expect from their experience on the high street, introducing KIT should not be the only change you make, but it can be a powerful performance enhancer. And the challenge of igniting and leading your customer experience revolution should not be underestimated, but by way of contrast, it takes very little effort to arrange a demonstration of KIT. Simply contact the KIT team on +44 203 691 2936 and they will be happy to assist. You can also email info@instore.technology with any questions or to request more information, or if you prefer you can also complete the short form on our Contact page.

Using customer data to drive customer loyalty and sales

Data comes in many forms. It tends to get divided into quantitative and qualitative, although it can be more helpful to think about the quality of the data, whatever kind it is because that’s what determines how useful it is. Good quality data is robust and unequivocal, for example, if a customer spent X amount with a certain retailer over a period of time, that’s a simple, no denying it, fact.

If a customer buys shoes 90% of the time they shop with a particular retailer, that’s also an indisputable fact. But poor quality data is ambiguous or open to misinterpretation. For example, if you ask anyone what they would do in a set of hypothetical circumstances relating to a product or brand, your data tells you what people think they would do, it doesn’t tell you what they would do. This means that quantitative data is often better quality data, but it isn’t as simple as that either.

Customers asked to rate their satisfaction with a purchase using a number between 1 and 5 will not necessarily answer consistently despite how well they are instructed. One customer may feel perfectly satisfied and rate their experience as a 5. Another customer may feel similarly satisfied by their experience but may also believe in reserving top marks for an extraordinarily satisfying experience. The data may be recorded as quantitative, but it is not as robust a reflection of reality as data showing how much a customer spent over time.

Conversely, qualitative data that is a record of customers’ written feedback may provide a more accurate picture of each of the above customers’ level of satisfaction. This data isn’t as easy to search through if you have thousands of customers, but when you are looking at records relating to individuals, it can provide the vital details that complete a story suggested by other more easily searchable data.

Capturing meaningful customer data

Capturing good quality data about your customers is a gift that keeps on giving because quality data about recent activity can be useful both as soon as it is captured and long into the future as a means of comparison against new data. In other words, the more of the same data you can capture over time, the more easily you can distinguish patterns in that data. For example, the longer you record customers spend in your store, the clearer the pattern of his or her purchasing behaviour. It may take a while, with a customer who only makes a purchase every few months, for their purchasing behaviour to show a pattern, but when it does and it tells you what that customer is interested in then you can more effectively target that customer with products or services you know will appeal to them.

Another benefit from capturing data about a customer’s purchasing behaviour over a long period is it gives you the ability to spot deviations from the norm. For example, a customer’s monthly spend might suddenly go up or down, or the frequency with which they purchase shoes might rise or fall. While, on its own, data like this will probably not be enough to establish the underlying reasons for changes in a pattern of purchasing behaviour, it can be enough to guide further enquiry through conversation with a customer. When a retail associate learns what has changed for a customer this information can be used to improve their retail experience with your brand, making them feel more seen, more cared for, more satisfied and more loyal to your brand. However, no one will know to ask what has changed without an indication from other data to prompt the question.

Meanwhile, triangulating records of which branch a customer makes which purchases in, with social media posts containing photos of the customer and their mother, in which the brand is hashtagged, can inform a retailer that twice a year a customer visits their mother and takes her out shopping. Armed with that data, various options open up to the retail associates of that store to enhance and personalise that shopping experience, promoting sales and brand loyalty. There are many layers of data you can capture about a customer, within which you can then search for insights to help you to personalise their experience with your brand. There’s a lot of data you can collect about your customers’ relationship with your product or service. Such as when, what and on what did a customer-first spend with you? For some retailers, this alone has proven to be a big predictor of future behaviour, though it won’t always be.

Additionally, how much does a customer spend per shop, how much over time, how frequently over time and in what locations? What type of product is a customer most interested in, do they favour design or function, beta products or more fully developed, the latest fashion of end of line bargains? There’s also data you can capture that is more to do with a customer’s relationship with the brand. What is their preferred contact method, how do they like to be addressed, what is their contact history, have they provided feedback before – was it good or bad, do they follow or have they mentioned the brand on social media?

Finally, there’s data you can capture that helps store associates build a truly personal interaction with your customers, and avoid making every conversation about the brand or its products. What is their favourite colour, favourite music, pet’s name, job title?

To help store associates make the most of available customer data, KIT can create individual profiles for each customer, to record information captured at different ‘touchpoints’ in their journey to and beyond every sale. This includes products viewed or favourited online, as well as information added by the store associate. Using insights from this data, store associates are in a much stronger position to create deep engagement with these customers, nurturing customer loyalty and driving sales.

Easy to pick up, store and retrieve data on, KIT is the perfect tool for the modern store associate. It can also be used as an assisted selling tool, providing illustrations and information about products that allow the customer to feel in control of their research and choices, while the store associate plays the role of assistant. For more information about KIT and to arrange a full demonstration, please contact the team on +44 203 691 2936. You can also email info@instore.technology with any questions or to request more information, or if you prefer you can also complete the short form on our Contact page.