Excellent customer experience is critical to the success of any brand yet, surprisingly, few retailers know how to deliver a truly excellent retail experience to their customers. This article will focus on what makes customer experiences better and what retailers can do to enhance overall customer experience.
1. Pricing and Stock
A recent study of the best and worst online retailers
, conducted by consumer magazine Which?
shed light on the factors that customers take account of when selecting where to shop. High on the list of what criteria customers use to differentiate trusted brands from less trusted brands included an up to date website where stock was replenished quickly. Homebase
was voted the worst online retailer for 2018 in the latest Which? study and one of the biggest consumer concerns about the brand was the high incidence of items labeled as “out of stock
”. Homebase was found to be continuing to advertise items that weren’t actually available to buy. Many products had product descriptions still available to view, only for further “clicks” to reveal that the item was not available for purchase. Another concern that led to Homebase being voted worst online retailer of 2018 was the problem that pricing was not updated frequently enough, leading to a situation where other online retailers stocked the exact same products at cheaper prices. Despite the availability of price monitoring software
to address the problem of keeping up to date with competitor pricing, Homebase was still falling behind their competition, with competitors regularly undercutting their prices, leaving great swathes of customers across a myriad of product areas, disappointed.
2. Wish Lists
Research has shown that customers increasingly value convenience as a factor in selecting which brands to trust and make purchases from. A wish list is an online facility where customers can save items they are interested in online, and return to them at a later date to decide whether to purchase them, or simply compare them to other items that area available. Many large and established retailers have them, for example Amazon and QVC
3. Choice and Convenience
Many commentators agree that retail excellence involves giving a wide array of choice to customers about how to purchase products. This is highlighted in the demise of toy retail giant Toys R Us whose bankruptcy sent shockwaves through the world of retail. One of the factors that led to their demise was their failure to understand that customers wanted more convenient ways to make purchases. The catalogue method of shopping, though rapidly losing popularity was never updated despite competitors offering new methods of shopping like “click and collect
”. The newly launched Toys R Us brand has now introduced click and collect as part of a wider plan to address the reasons why the Toys R Us brand failed
Research has shown that a number of delivery options such as next day guaranteed delivery, standard delivery or offers that include free shipping are highly desirable factors that customers take account of when determining brand loyalty.
Click and collect is a new shipping option whereby a shopper clicks on the item they want to buy, then pays for it and the retailer arranges for it to be made available for collection at a convenient location. This adds a lot of convenience into the process of purchasing, for customers because many of the click and collect locations are small shops that tend to be open for longer hours than post offices or larger department stores. As such, customers are able to receive their purchases on their own terms and in a convenient way. An additional feature of click and collect is where a customer selects and buys their items online, then goes to the shop to collect them. This decreases the amount of time a customer must spend waiting in queues or waiting to be served. Click and collect has become popular due to its convenience, but also because it has less of a harmful impact on the environment, and it has been shown that customers prefer it to home delivery.
Click and collect has become very popular as a result and it is used by large retailers including John Lewis
and Amazon. In 2018, Boots
reported that 75% of their online orders
had later been collected as part of their click and collect facilities. Marks and Spencer
reported 71% of their online orders collected in shops. In 2018, Argos
reported that 60% of all their sales were started online and then collected as part of click and collect, with a surge in the demand for click and collect reported to have occurred when Sainsburys bought Argos in 2016
as part of a 1.4 billion GBP takeover. After the takeover the number of click and collect collection points was expanded to 1200. Similarly growing levels of interest in click and collect services have been reported by John Lewis and Next. In 2018, John Lewis reported that 50% of all of their online orders had been collected in-store, or had been collected from click and collect locations in Waitrose stores (Waitrose is owned by the John Lewis group). Next reported, in 2018 that half of its total online sales had been ordered and subsequently collected in-store via click and collect.
Click and collect popularity has also been fuelled by the additional shopping experiences that customers have on their way to collect their parcels. One market research survey suggests that up to 70% of people collecting click and collect purchases make additional, spontaneous purchases while waiting to collect, as visual displays surrounding click and collect points encourage customers to make spontaneous purchases of popular items like LOL dolls. Brands like Sports Direct
have taken advantage of this, and linked some of their promotions to the use of click and collect facilities, for example in 2018 Sports Direct issued 5 GBP online vouchers
, which were only redeemable when a click and collect parcel was being collected. Other retailers for example John Lewis and Selfridges have offered incentives like free and dedicated parking spaces, to make click and collect more convenient for customers.
4. Integration of Facilities with Physical Premises
When the decline of the high street bricks and mortar shop first started to be recognised, retailers immediately flocked to enhance the retail experience offered within bricks and mortar shops. Retailers asked themselves how it was possible to make the customers’ experience of the retail shop more appealing. Many agreed that integration of facilities that could not be replicated within the customers’ online shopping experience made the experience of shopping in physical premises a better one. As a result, retailers like Waterstones
began to add facilities like coffee shops to their premises so tired shoppers could enjoy refreshments without having to go far from the premises. Other retailers began to integrate ‘experiences”, for example Toys R Us
integrated NERF experiences for children and created large displays of toys on their shop floors. Debenhams
and John Lewis focused on enhancing the customer experience within the shop by adding concierge services – in some cases it was possible to order services like nail polishes and blow drys through the personal concierge. Other retailers made parking more convenient, with free and dedicated parking spaces available. In some cases the integration of services with retail premises has not worked out though, so any integration needs to be well planned and researched. Three UK-based Debenhams stores
, for example planned to open gyms at their premises, only for the gym brand to declare bankruptcy, causing massive disruption and inconvenience to their customers.
5. Exceptional Staff
As the high street began to decline retailers started to understand more about what customers actually want in bricks and mortar stores, and equally what repelled customers. The importance of well-informed and knowledgeable staff has never been more important in high street bricks and mortar shops, and this has been exemplified through Apple
, whose staff is one of the reasons their high street stores thrive, even in locations that are mostly in decline. The Apple brand emphasises the importance of having staff with a deep knowledge of their products and high levels of training and technical proficiency in their use and applications. The Apple brand has even added value to their retail premises experience by introducing the “genius bar” where Apple customer can go and seek (in some cases free) advice and technical support.
Provision of excellent customer service is more and more important as brands compete for customers, particularly on the declining high street. In light of this retailers have turned to new strategies to increase levels of customer satisfaction with their shopping experiences. Overall, increasing satisfaction involves providing more convenience and choice to the customer and as recent research from retail giant Which? has shown, having up to date stock and pricing strategy is also a must. Shipping options have proven to be vitally important as the surge in click and collect services has highlighted. Other retailers have increased customer satisfaction levels with better staff training, novel innovations designed to make the customers’ experiences more enjoyable and making changes to store layouts, and website layouts.
6. A Seamless Experiences Across Physical and Online Platforms
Arguments that online retail is more in demand than retail experiences in bricks and mortar stores have given way to the argument that customers want both a good online retail experience and a good experience of shopping online. Moreover, retail experts are suggesting that the best customer experiences are created when online and bricks and mortar retail experiences integrate seamlessly and conveniently. An example is that a customer may wish to buy an item online, but return it in a bricks and mortar store.
has recently thrown support behind the contention that an integrated approach involving both online and bricks and mortar retail outlets is best, with their popup shops initiative
. Dubbed the “clicks and mortar
” approach Amazon plans to roll out a number of popup shop premises across the UK in 2019, where retailers can offer an integrated retail experience to their customers using online and bricks and mortar outlets.
Amazon plans a year-long pilot which will allow more than 100 small retailers to trade from modern popup shop premises, and it involves a collaboration between Amazon, Square
and a business support network called Enterprise Nation
. The results of the pilot are expected to be analysed by the UK government as part of their drive to understand modern retail, and what steps it can take to reinvigorate the British high street.
The initiative builds on the success of similar initiatives in the USA, for example Shopify
who have opened successful popup shops across the USA, gaining better exposure for their brands and catering to a wider range of customer preferences at the same time. The initiative is also supported by up to date studies of consumer behaviour and preferences
, for example the International Council of Shopping Centers study which revealed that opening a new store led to surges in web traffic on integrated websites.
7. Novel Features and Innovations in Bricks and Mortar Stores
Certain brands have devised innovations
that are specific to the brand and to the products that are sold, to enhance the overall customer experience. For example, Charlotte Tilbury
has introduced the ‘Magic Mirror’, which allows customers to apply makeup and products “virtually” on a large screen display of their face. This dispenses with the need to remove and reapply makeup. It has changed the traditional dynamics of makeup assistants applying different makeup brands onto a customer’s face while in-store, or customers trying on makeup during their visit to the shop. As a result prospective makeup customers can apply a wider range of products without the inconvenience of having to apply and reapply and remove makeup and other products.
has created an app that measures and fits shoes very precisely
, having picked up on the fact that traditional shoe measurement techniques are, and have for a long time, been wholly inadequate. Traditional shoe fitting techniques would often, for example disregard the fact that people can have different sized and shaped feet. Nike addressed this problem, with their shoe-fitting app, Nike Fit which can measure individual feet down to a few millimetres.
8. Loyalty Schemes and Engagement Promotions
Loyalty schemes are tried and tested methods of improving a customer’s experience of their shopping trip and they are becoming increasingly important as recent studies suggest that as much as 65% of a brand’s business comes from existing customers making repeat purchases
. It is a way to both encourage people to return and reward higher value spending. Loyalty schemes
are typically run in conjunction with engagement strategies, for example where leaving reviews on products can earn loyalty points that can be spent in-store.
9. Shop Floor Layout
Bricks and mortar shops have started to pay more attention to the customer experience of navigating the shop floor. As a result brands have stripped their stock displays back and provided helpful screens and displays to assist customers getting around the shop, without having to ask for assistance from shop assistants. Some brands have gone as far as creating “smart virtual walls
” in their stores. These can process orders and check out items, without any need to have contact with a human sales assistant. Some stores introduced them after surveying customers who stated that they did not want to feel “judged” by shop assistants when checking out their purchases.
Debenhams, as a brand has changed considerably since a new management team was hired after its acquisition by Sports Direct. Its stores’ shop floors have been simplified
with less stock on display, and a number of new, cheaper lines of clothing including own brands have been introduced.
Personalisation is something that has enhanced the shopping experiences of millions of customers and it has been achieved in a number of ways. Some retailers have devised personalised apps, which when downloaded to a customer’s smart phone can store their payment and delivery preferences. These apps can make personal recommendations and, as such are useful for delivering targeted advertising messages to their users.
11. Checkout Options
Many retailers are selling so-called “upsells” at the point of checkout. This is where additional personalised suggested purchases are made to the customer before they make their final purchase. Upselling can also take the form of promotions aimed at increasing the value or volume of an overall sale.
12. Virtual Reality
Virtual reality is being used to make customers’ experience of shopping better. In Macy’s for example, customers can use Oculus headsets to see what a piece of furniture
would look like in their homes. Otherwise, virtual assistants are being used to ensure that common questions like questions about opening hours and store layout and facilities are answered quickly and conveniently, without requiring a customer to find and wait to speak to human assistant.