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Guide To Improving The Retail Experience

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E-commerce is on the rise, and retailers with brick-and-mortar storefronts are searching for new ways to appeal to customers more and more accustomed to the speed and convenience of online purchases.

Your customers’ interactions with and reactions to your business are more important than ever. This guide to retail experience will take you through what it is, why it matters and how you can make yours as impactful as possible.

At USA SHADE, we collaborate with clients to design commercial shade structures for any facility and outdoor application. Check out our curbside pickup shade structures and retail shade options today!

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What Is the Retail Experience?

Olivia has been shopping for a new laser printer for months. It will be a big purchase, so she wants to be sure she’s getting what she wants at the best price. She’s browsed through different models and options online, watched for sales, and now she’s finally here. Olivia pulls up to a store with good prices and a great selection, ready to head in and pick the one she wants.
Inside, she follows the signs to the printer section. She talks with a salesperson who tells her that one model she’s considering uses a more expensive toner but that she can order the cartridges for another printer online with free delivery. The salesperson carries the printer she chooses to the register for her, and Olivia checks out. She leaves the store feeling satisfied and excited about her purchase.
Parts of Olivia’s story are easily identifiable as aspects of her retail experience journey — the store signage, her interaction with the salesperson, her checkout process. In fact, every part of the story was a step in Olivia’s journey, starting months before her purchase and continuing well into the future.
A customer’s shopping or retail experience begins as soon as they first encounter your brand or products. That may be in person or via a print, billboard or television ad, though today, that first contact is most likely to occur online. From there, it extends to all of the ways —both direct and indirect — you interact with your customers. Their experience extends through every interaction with your touchpoints:
  • Pre-purchase stage: This stage involves any interaction a customer has with your store or branding before making a purchase. It includes steps occurring before visiting your physical location, such as viewing your ads and interacting with your website — 76% of U.S. consumers check you out online before visiting your physical location. It also includes impressions that they might generate from your store exterior or parking.
  • Purchase stage: This stage involves interactions within your physical store or on your website that lead to a purchase. It includes the customer’s experience with browsing, product packaging, interactions with staff and checkout. Online, it also includes your website interface and scheduling software for delivery or in-store pickup.
  • Post-purchase stage: This stage extends the customer’s retail experience past the point of purchase. They will continue to form opinions and associations through their contact with your business via app, site or phone call. Your social media presence may also have an impact during this stage.
The total experience, rather than describing the customer’s journey itself, refers to their mental and emotional reaction. Their mental response is typically tied to the “buying” process, influenced by price, convenience and satisfaction in the product itself. On the other hand, the emotional response is more likely to be affected by the “shopping” process. That reaction is more often influenced by customer service and the smoothness of the experience. Together, all of a customer’s mental, emotional and physical experiences form their overall impression of your business.

Importance of the Retail Shopping Experience

The rise of Amazon and other online shopping giants presents a new challenge for today’s retailers. Customers willing to wait a little longer or put in extra effort searching can get nearly anything without ever entering a store. An exceptional retail experience is now more critical than ever for businesses that want to stand out as superior options.

Sales and Reputation

When their shopping experience has been smooth and pleasant, customers are more likely to return, and they are also more likely to share their positive experiences with others. Satisfied customers are more likely to post online reviews and mention the retailer on social media.
Along with the boost your reputation can receive from customer advocacy, customers who enjoyed their retail experience are likely to make more frequent purchases. Their online advocacy will help boost overall sales for your retail business as more potential customers see you as a recommended place to shop.

As the quality of the experience rises, your product or service’s perceived value also increases. When the shopping and buying processes are positive and pleasant, it raises a customer’s perception of the value they receive per dollar spent.

Customer Loyalty

Retailers that provide an excellent shopping experience build their customer retention and loyalty. Customers who feel you value them and thoughtfully consider their shopping experience are the most likely to become long-term patrons. Those who consider their in-store experience extremely important base their decision to return to your store on several factors:
  • Is your store sensorily appealing? Is there pleasant music playing? Are there any strong or overwhelming smells? Are the shelves and displays aesthetically organized?
  • Can they quickly locate the products they’re looking for? Is your signage clear? Are the aisles easily navigable? Are you well-stocked and well-organized?
  • Have they received excellent customer service? Were their questions answered? Was it easy to find an employee if they needed help? Was the sales staff friendly?
  • Were they able to check out quickly and efficiently? Were there long lines with few registers? Was the process smooth and straightforward? Was it easy to figure out how to reach the checkout area?

Customer Lifetime Value

Once customer loyalty and retention have been established, they increase customer lifetime value — the profit from a customer over the entire span of their relationship with your brand. In short, high-quality retail experiences encourage customers to spend more with you over the course of your relationship.
There has been a significant shift towards e-commerce recently. That shift is partly attributable to many brick-and-mortar stores temporarily closing, though many customers still prefer shopping in person at a physical store. Retailers’ ability to retain a high customer lifetime value now depends more than ever on providing an exceptional retail experience.

How to Improve the Customer Retail Experience

How can retailers improve customer experience enough to make a difference with so much competition? Today you’re competing against more than the other brick-and-mortar stores serving the same market — you’re up against the entire internet.

There are things in-person shopping can offer that customers can’t get online. Remember, even with increasing online sales, customers want to shop at physical stores when the option is available. Take a look at the processes and services you provide to ensure you’re doing everything you can to increase your business’s appeal. Give customers a reason to prefer shopping with you and take your business from an option to a destination.

If you’re not sure where to begin, this section offers tips on improving the customer retail experience to help get you started.

Stand Out From the Crowd

Offer experiences only possible in an in-person setting, like Canada Goose’s Cold Room that lets people test their coats against temperatures nearly 30 below zero. Offering something they can’t easily find somewhere else increased customer interaction and interest in their products. Live events and celebrations, signings with local authors and in-store-only sales are all ways to encourage customers to visit and set you apart from the competition.

Some strategies to attract consumers for more frequent business include:

  • Create a memorable and fun in-store experience.
  • Offer exclusive in-store-only discounts.
  • Offer exclusive in-store-only products.

While all of these are certain to provide a temporary boost, the best way to distinguish your retail business from the competition is to provide exemplary customer service. When customers have a question for your in-store or online staff, they expect friendly, helpful customer service. Meeting or exceeding those expectations with a personalized, efficient experience can be the first step towards building customer loyalty.

Selection, discounts and sales are things your customers can easily find online. On the other hand, customer service is an area where you can truly shine.

Value Your Employees

To compete against the convenience e-commerce offers, brick-and-mortar retailers need to provide services offsetting the benefits of online shopping. When it comes to customers’ in-store experiences, consider:
  • The quality of the customer service each customer receives
  • Product quality, price, variety and availability
  • The store’s physical layout, including product placement and aisle design
All of these factors rely on having knowledgeable, well-trained employees. Increasing the services you offer, from personal shopping to curbside pickup to faster restocking, will mean asking for new things from your staff. You may require a greater range of knowledge if you add responsibilities across the board or greater depth if you divide the employees into specialized positions.
However you decide to improve and increase your services, it’s vital to reduce turnover as much as possible. Ensuring your employees are trained to provide a top-quality customer experience requires investing time and energy into the process. Any time you lose a member of your staff and hire a replacement, you have to start again from scratch.

Protect your investments by ensuring employee retention. The longer they’re a part of your business, the more knowledgeable they’ll be, and the better the service they provide will become.

Polish Your Buying Process

It’s a challenge to beat the ease of ordering something on your phone from the comfort of your couch. Consumers say that the primary reasons they choose online retailers are speed and convenience. Streamlining your checkout experience and smoothing out your shopping process can help you compete.
Allowing customers to access discounts or coupons through an app will encourage them to shop with you. If you can, expanding your hours of operation may appeal to those whose schedules otherwise kept them away.
Consider improving efficiency at checkout with:
  • Shorter checkout lines: Ensure you have enough staff to cover the registers and keep wait times down.
  • Self-checkout: Include self-checkout options for customers with smaller purchases or those who prefer to check out themselves. Technology allowing customers to scan their purchases as they shop, like Kroger’s ‘Scan, Bag, Go,‘ can speed this up even further.
  • Curbside pickup or buy online, pick up in-store: These options have considerable appeal for customers who want both the convenience of online shopping and the immediacy of purchasing in-store.
  • Guest checkout: Requiring an account to check out may turn off some customers shopping on your website. Instead, allow them to check out as a guest and ask them to create an account afterward.
If you have a sales website, be sure to go through the checkout process yourself every so often to get a firsthand idea of any parts that could run more smoothly.

Value of Adding Curbside Pickup Shopping to Improve the Retail Experience

When it comes to retail experience improvements, offering curbside pickup is one of the most straightforward and concrete things that you can do. In fact, customers in today’s retail landscape may already expect this as a basic part of your business.

Customers ordering from your website is undoubtedly preferable to placing their order elsewhere. However, this makes your limited interaction with them monumentally more important. Leveraging your customers’ retail experience relies on optimizing every potential touchpoint. With curbside pickup, your potential touchpoints are reduced, and you need to make the most of what remains.

What are the things that make curbside pickup most appealing to customers, and how can you offer what they want most?

1. Greater Convenience

Curbside’s primary appeal is its convenience. It offers the ease and comfort of online shopping while allowing customers to skip the wait on shipping.

Consider ways to make the experience even more convenient for your customers:

  • Link rewards and coupons to your online app: If it’s easier for your customers to save money, they’ll be more likely to spend money.
  • Keep a record of their in-app or on-site purchase history: Having this information available will make it easier for them to reorder favorite items.
  • Offer a wide range of pickup times: The more opportunities they have to fit a pickup service into their schedule, the more often they’ll use it.

2. Time-Saving

Time is a customer’s number one resource. Once you’ve convinced them of your convenience, you’ll need to keep your eyes on the clock.
Keep logistics at the forefront of your mind to ensure you’re saving your customers as much time as possible:
  • Keep enough employees available: You’re likely to need extra staff to pull purchases in preparation, deliver the purchases to the customer’s car and still maintain adequate staff to keep in-store operations running smoothly.
  • Consider multichannel pickup: On top of direct delivery to a customer’s car, you might also use lockers that customers can open with a QR or punch code.
  • Watch for holidays, seasonal trends and weather events: Forewarned is forearmed — in addition to ordering extra inventory and adjusting displays with shopping changes, you may add additional pickup times and hire more temporary help.

3. Wide Selection

Online shopping has primed customer expectations that they will find exactly what they want. Meeting that expectation becomes doubly important when someone else selects the items for them.
You can increase customer loyalty by taking steps to see that they get the things they want and intend to buy:
  • Link your app and point of sale system: Having a real-time display of what items are in-stock or out-of-stock gives customers greater security during the ordering process.
  • Offer detailed substitution options: In addition to a global choice to accept substitutions for out-of-stock items, offer the same choice on a per-item level. Adding options to select brand preferences will give customers greater control over their final delivery and increase their satisfaction with the process.

Browse USA SHADE Curbside Pickup Shopping Shade Structures

Adding shade structures to your curbside pickup area is an easy way to make the most of this touchpoint.

USA SHADE has options for everything under the sun. Our cantilever shade structures use minimal columns, so every parking space they cover is available for your customers. You can even customize the color and design to complement your business’s branding.

If you’re ready to improve your customers’ retail experience and you’re looking for quality products that last, request a quote at USA SHADE today.