Day by day, millions of people purchase goods around the world. Whether it’s a small shop on the corner, a stand at a local fair, a high street location, a huge mall with hundreds of stores or an online business, the journey we go through impacts our perception. Sometimes, it’s a completely neutral experience; just ‘means to an end’ with nothing specific happening on the way.
On other occasions, it can all be frustrating, painful or complicated. Such disappointing moments erode the relationship between the company and the person without any doubt.
Then, there are the great moments. Shopping experiences that live on in our memory, because they’ve provided us with joy, excitement or satisfaction. Is there any recipe for such success?
Retail & E-commerce experts share best practices
Based on the great success of our recent compilation, ‘Top 40 list of omnichannel retail influencers to follow’, we thought it would be a good idea to ask some of our favorite experts to share their thoughts with the rest of us.
Which companies do they find remarkable?
What experiences and innovations would they like to see more of – and what mistakes should retailers avoid?
What are their best-kept memories – or even secrets?
Let’s see what they have revealed…
Omnichannel capabilities lead to better retail experiences
A surprising fact:
By 2016, almost 90% of companies expect to be competing mainly on the basis of the customer experience they provide. Focusing on the needs of the individuals will gain growing importance.
Brendan Witcher, principal analyst at Forrester Research believes that this customer-centric mentality is what sets the best retailers apart:
“Omnichannel fulfillment capabilities — the ability to provide customers with cross-channel inventory visibility and ordering options — has become a standard offering for leading multi-channel retailers.
The very best of these retailers are paying attention to the way customers are using these programs for the purposes of optimizing the organization’s marketing, processes and policies in ways that more closely align with customer behavior.”
“This next phase of making improvements to mature programs has created an even greater competitive gap between retail leaders that offer omnichannel fulfillment services and the laggards that do not.”
Ernst Kruize, customer interaction consultant at BrightONE thinks it is important to make the distinction between multi-channel and omnichannel clear:
“I think it is important to make clear what omnichannel is. In the Netherlands, we very often talk about multichannel, cross-channel and omnichannel meaning just the same.
I think that is a pity.
From my perspective omnichannel means giving your clients the opportunity to switch channel while interacting with you (Cross Channel).
And as an organization you support these kinds of journeys by providing a seamless experience (Consistency), by actively transferring relevant information from one interaction to a subsequent one (Context).
These 3C’s (Cross Channel, Consistency, Context) make up a good fundament for omnichannel practices.
I very often refer to Decathlon (here is the example of a Singaporean branch – the editor) with their possibility to speak to an expert even when shops are crowded. When the specialist you would like to talk is unavailable in store, there is a possibility to have a video conversation with an online expert who might be operating from another store.”
Jason Michaels, who recently became VP Brand Strategy and Integrated Communications at Lumens.com, names Nordstrom as a great example:
“Retail experiences are meshing:
a) customer insight and intimacy (needs and pain points)
b) operational (fulfillment) excellence
c) product innovation (the right products, expected and unexpected, yet relevant for the customer)
Nordstrom especially shines as an omnichannel retail leader.
They deliver the right product at the right time, to the right place, all the while managing customers’ expectations before, during, and after the transaction.”
“They have translated their success in managing personal, 1:1 expectations to the digital space. That type of excellence takes hard work that compromises in the right place and is always focused on the customers’ needs.”
Kristi Soomer, strategy and brand coaching expert for online retailers at Retail Bliss also supports Nordstrom:
“Nordstrom is a truly omnichannel retailer, and offers a seamless experience to customers regardless of the medium by which they are accessing their store — online, mobile, tablet, or on social media.
Their success appears to be rooted in their ability to consistently look for new ways to innovate in the retail experience.
Also, in their ability to align their people, product and policies to their omnichannel goals.”
Mihai Dragan, omnichannel consultant at Metromind and editor of Netonomy.net has picked another leading US retailer:
“My favorite example of retail experience has to be Macy’s.
I think they have a great mix of strategy, marketing and excellent customer experience that transcends sales channels.
I have studied many omnichannel implementation examples and they have really the best approach to engaging the customer. Online, brick and mortar, mobile – they work great.
I also like the fact that they made ‘ship from store’ a reality and they did it in a really smooth manner.”
Online players and digital channels still dictate pace
The contemporary customer generation lives and breathes technology and seeks convenience. Experts found that certain online services and projects are especially great for such consumers.
Carol Spieckerman, retail strategist and consultant at New Market Builders admires Amazon’s service excellence:
“Although there are so many interesting and innovative retail concepts out there these days, I have to give credit to Amazon because it continues to ‘steal’ my business away from other retailers in a growing number of categories.
Amazon makes it so easy for me to purchase any number of items, particularly as a Prime member.
The reassurance and specificity that Amazon provides with delivery time frames removes any doubt.
When my purchases arrive right on time, I start thinking about how many other products I could ‘switch’ to Amazon.
I also use Amazon’s barcode scanner app when I’m in retail stores in order to compare prices and, in many cases, to complete purchases while I’m in a competitor’s store.
It is my go-to choice for convenience, user-friendliness and reliability. I’ve also been impressed with Amazon’s original entertainment programming. Yet another amazing benefit of Prime membership and one that keeps me coming back.”
Bryan Eisenberg, founder and CMO of retail location optimization company IdealSpot also mentioned Amazon:
“Amazon Prime Now has begun to roll up in certain parts of Austin.
I will tell you that as soon as you try it your “local” purchase patterns will fundamentally change.
Just wait until they offer the Amazon refrigerator.”
Katarzyna Romanowska from omnichannel & e-commerce news site Evigo cited an exciting online project in a specific vertical:
“Parisian fashion label Kenzo created an interactive island on its website to give consumers the opportunity to browse products from its recent collection.
When clicking on different locations and browsing images, viewers get both engaged and entertained by the brand. Consumers learn more about the brand while enjoying an interesting digital experience.
It inspires them to purchase products online and makes them more likely to absorb the information.
It’s a smart solution to target a key demographic of young, tech-savvy consumers.”
Rewarding, seamless in-store solutions are key
Studies have pointed out that the physical in-store experience is one of the leading retail weak spots that definitely needs improvement. No wonder that store-related issues came up as well.
Karl Meier, senior consultant at Stibo Systems and advocate of omnichannel retail solutions thinks digitization is a key area:
“One very good example of a great retail experience is Burberry Regent Street.
They use RFID chips attached to their products. When a customer approaches one of the video screens in the common areas or in a fitting room, product-related content appears. All store associates are equipped with iPads where they can check the customers’ purchase history and preferences.”
“The store shows how technology can benefit shoppers and create a great customer experience.”
Bridget Johns, Head of Customer Engagement at in-store analytics solution provider RetailNext adds another key element:
“Often a great retail experience involves discovering an item that I wasn’t looking for and didn’t really know I needed, but was super excited to find.
That type of discovery usually happens in brick-and-mortar stores, as most online journeys are very search-specific.
What completes that great retail experience is a painless trip through the store.
No queues at fitting rooms or other potential friction points, the right amount of service and a quick, efficient checkout.
I’m a customer for life if the store follows up in just the right way – with just the right amount of personalization, including offers specific to me.”
Success is in the hands of store associates as well
As a recent study has found, a huge part of customers in every age group think that the interaction with store assistants and sales representatives is very important.
Tim Parry, managing editor of Multichannel Merchant knows how good staffing policy is part of the success:
“My favorite retail experience involves an omnichannel happy ending. If I am going to buy online and pick up in store, I’m doing it for the purpose of convenience. I want to know I can get in and out of the store in record time, and then go about my business…
I want to be able to find the pick-up location as soon as I get to the store, I don’t want to guess where the pick-up location is. I do want the in-store experience to mimic the online experience, and I believe this is where most retailers fail with their experience.
It amazes me how many retailers understaff their in-store sales staff at peak times, because they want to keep their costs down, and then wonder why their customers are not happy.
If a store is horribly understaffed, and cannot swiftly complete my omnichannel purchase, then I’m not going to give that retailer a second chance (unless I’m getting a really, really good bargain).”
But it is not just the ‘Human Resources side’ of store staff operations that can put the whole retail experience on the wrong track.
The attitude and empathy of retail associates are just as critical.
Worst case scenario, store assistants play hide-and-seek with customers – explained by retail strategist and speaker duo Rich Kizer & Georganne Bender:
“For years, we’ve shared stories from our tongue in cheek “KIZER & BENDER Invisibility Tour” in our presentations.
It’s a running joke, but it’s not funny.
We keep a tally of the number of times we’re ignored in stores, and when we have a good experience we broadcast it all over social media.
We are continually amazed by the number of places we visit where we are never acknowledged the entire time we are there.
It happens too often, and at all sorts of stores. We could also share plenty of stories about remarkable associates who delivered over-the-top service.
For us a great retail experience starts with the little things: a smile, eye contact, a warm welcome, and being acknowledged by the associates we encounter as we walk through the store.”
Last but not least, the touching personal memories of Nicole Reyhle (founder of RetailMinded Magazine and co-founder of Independent Retailer Conference):
“Years ago, I was at a local grocery store in my then hometown of Chicago. It was December 27th. Unfortunately, I had just lost my father and instead of buying wine and goodies for a New Year’s Eve celebration, I was buying things for the upcoming Celebration of Life my family and I were hosting in honor of my father.
As I was checking out that cold afternoon, the sales associate implied that what I was buying will help bring fun to my upcoming New Year’s Eve party. I kindly told him what I was buying everything for, and he softly apologized and gave me his regards.
He was very kind, and I didn’t think twice about it.
Within what seemed like seconds, another sales clerk walked over with a beautiful bouquet of flowers. The first sales clerk took them, then gave them to me with a heartfelt apology and best wishes. I was truly taken back, as it was above and beyond the expected customer care I am used to receiving.
The retail researcher in me has carried this story with me over the years.
It is a wonderful example of how customer service should not be black and white – and instead, customer care should be delivered with respect, sincerity and genuine interest.
While I think customer service standards are important and specific guidelines and actions can benefit merchants, having some flexibility can also make memorable impressions.
In other words – each customer is unique, so why not allow for unique moments when caring for customers, as well?”
Written by Zsofia Kerekes / Whisbi
This is a great roundup, and the stores in this post have certainly set the bar high for providing excellent customer experiences.
My favorite experience comes from Apple. A couple of years ago, I dropped my iPhone in the toilet and had to get it fixed ASAP.
So I made a Genius Bar appointment on Apple’s website, then drove to the nearest store a couple of hours later. When I arrived, I was taken aback at how busy the store was. “I’m going to be here forever,” I grumbled.
But, to my surprise, there was hardly any wait. Moments later, I was approached by a staff member who checked my appointment using his iPad, and we immediately got down to talking about what I needed.
He listened as I told him what happened, and when I was done, I braced myself for the fate of my phone. How long would I have to wait to get it fixed? How much was it going to cost?
I waited for the bad news, but instead, the Genius smiled reassuringly, and said that there was a faster and less expensive option. I could just “trade in” my broken phone and get a new one for a fraction of the cost.
“That’s it?” I asked, my panic simmering down.
“How long is that going to take?”
“I’ll do it for you right now,” he said. He disappeared into the back and not two minutes later came back with a new phone. I was good to go in no time.
On my way out, I passed a shelf of iPhone cases, and decided to buy one. There happened to be another associate a few feet away, and he not only rang me up on the spot with his handheld POS, but he also installed the case for me right then and there.
I walked out of the Apple Store feeling relieved and blown away. “This,” I thought to myself, “is what every in-store experience should be like.”
Thanks for sharing your great story with us, Francesca! We’re lucky to have such engaged and experienced members of our community like you!