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Customer experience must differentiate your brand

Yes, retail is about convenience, ease, and seamlessness, especially when it comes to categories associated with utility, but on the flip side, much of retail is still about immersion and interacting with physical products. When shopping for fun, a slight majority of U.S. consumers prefer to shop online than offline. But brick-and-mortar stores aren’t going anywhere; shoppers head in-store for the opportunity to socialize, to touch and see products, and for a welcome break from everyday routines. To stay ahead of the competition, marketers are stepping up their customer experience game: in a recent Gartner survey, two-thirds of marketers expect their customer experience capabilities to be industry leading or much more successful than their peers within five years. Gartner predicts by 2017, 50% of consumer product investments will be redirected to customer experience innovations.

Discerning shoppers are drawn to experiences that they can't get online. Just as the “slow” movement made its mark on food, "slow shopping" has been one secret to success for brick-and-mortar retailers. Creating an experiential alternative for consumers who are increasingly living in a world of hyper-convenience and quick transactions means designing stores as a place to linger and use one’s senses.

The increased consumer time spent in stores designed this way has a positive business impact: Origins enjoyed a sales increase of 20-40% after outfitting 87 of its stores with ample seating, communal tables, a sampling sink and a wall for selfies to amuse shoppers' senses and keep them lingering longer. Restoration Hardware is winning shoppers with offline-only features at select locations. Mixed among comprehensive vignettes of bedrooms, living rooms and dining rooms, are libraries, floral boutiques, cinema rooms, billiard lounges, gardens, and swimming pools. If your retail space is more modest, think about what you would like to offer, then explore ways to bring that experience to life: a pop-up happy hour, movie night, delivery subscription, or a local artist corner.

While some retailers are still catching up to a world of buying on tablets and smartphones, now it’s time to gear up for retail that’s integrated into every surface of people’s homes, cars, clothing, and Apple Watches. In the age of the omnichannel consumer, digital is infused throughout the buying process. Digital interfaces are becoming increasingly intuitive, touchable, and personalized.

Online retailers are borrowing personalized service tactics from the offline world. The North Face has been an early adopter of artificial intelligence in retail. Using natural language, online shoppers respond to a series of questions about what they want, and the tool narrows down and presents suitable options. The hope is to offer a more intuitive, enjoyable approach that matches the way consumers think, rather than relying on the retailer’s own system for categorizing products.

Artificial intelligence lets brands look far beyond just the typical demographics of their current purchasers. AI is helping brands look at millions of variables about a customer and then find lookalikes across those variables. Retailers can use a more psychographic approach to find groups of consumers more likely to be interested in their products. Brands can even use “visual listening” that allows algorithms to examine photos on Instagram, Pinterest, etc. to see what consumers are “saying” in visual terms about a brand.

Sephora kiosk

Sephora Fragrance Kiosk

Innovative companies are blending digital and experiential into their retail environments. Slapping screens here and there around a store is not enough. Today’s retail theater ranges from entertaining to helpful; it’s a chance to use technology that creates greater engagement with the physical space, products, or brand. Collaborating with Reebok, fitness brand Equinox introduced Pursuit, an immersive cycling experience in which data is instantly visualized from participants’ movements and participants are on a journey trying to travel a collective distance. Sephora has been a leader in this space for years, making big bets on digital experiences. For example, at Sephora’s San Francisco and Boston locations, a Fragrance IQ kiosk asks a series of questions on a touch screen, spritzes sample “InstaScents” from a nozzle, then displays on screen and emails the users suggested perfumes. Not just tech for the sake of being cool, these examples show ways to make users’ experiences better, faster, and more fun.   

What does all this mean for the future of retail? Change, opportunity, and a permanent need for agility. As more shopping moves online, brick and mortar stores must not only create an experience that is as streamlined and easy to use as the web version, but figure out how to improve upon the web, taking advantage of what a physical environment can provide – entertainment, inspiration, and helpful personnel.

Start by documenting what is working with your current experience and what is missing. Ask what new opportunities can be enabled through your current assets? Will adding a new experience be consistent with your brand? Does the new experience match consumer preferences or are customers being forced through a process that doesn't match their current (or future) behaviors?

Online or off, optimized, seamless, branded shopping experiences will strengthen customer relationships to win tomorrow’s shopper on their new shopping journey. If you'd like to see examples of how Traction has reimagined the customer journey using technology to design compelling experiences, contact us here.

Restoration Hardware and Pursuit by Equinox

Lauren McGehee Senior Strategist

As one of the bigger brains at Traction, Lauren makes sure that everything we do has a damn good reason to exist. As the champion for the consumer, she steers our discovery and research to insure that we have relevant insights into our audiences’ behavior and desires. When she’s not making our team better, she is learning about the world through travel, food, books, art, and chasing her very fast dog, Greg.