The Importance of the In-Store Shopping Experience in the Digital Age
As eCommerce grows it is imperative that the store, now more than ever, not only welcomes other customer touchpoints with open arms and integrates seamlessly but strategically rethinks what the store experience should be. Each touchpoint needs to play its part and so, I ask, what does this look like for the store? For me, it is customer experience over product. Whilst the store remains the most important selling channel for most Retailers let us be open and frank – the store must compensate for the Web’s growing convenience and the experience is a sizeable chunk of the pie in this respect. Whilst the store’s edgy, younger sibling can bestow upon it a wealth of rich customer data, what the Web cannot give is the interaction – done well I argue that the in-store experience cannot be matched by its online alternatives.
In Retail today we see a stronger emphasis placed on a richer, personalised in-store shopping experience; facilitated by pleasant and attentive staff equipped with rich customer and product knowledge. But before you put this into action how do you ingrain a culture of superior customer service into a workforce?
Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner’s Think Like a Freak draws out inspirational tales of exceptional customer service. It notes how Zappos employees are encouraged to go the extra mile in an effort to provide superior customer service. Call centre employees are not bound by scripts or limits on call times and tales of just how far employees will go to satisfy the customer are legendary. In March 2011 a Zappos customer service representative physically went to a rival shoe store to get a specific pair of shoes when Zappos had run out of stock. Employing this strategy since its inception as a business has been pivotal in maintaining the customer-centric culture that permeates throughout Zappos. As tribute to the success of Zappos’ customer service strategy take a look at the customer testimonial page on their website – 10162 glowing reviews to date!
In similar fashion we see an American Retail Company instil an emotional incentive of somewhat to motivate and drive employees to provide exceptional customer service. It all started with a tale of an extremely satisfied customer being placed on the wall of one of the companies stores. A self-sufficient model surfaced with one clear goal for the entire workforce – could they get their story of phenomenal customer service etched on the store wall? This initiative benefited all those involved – customers get to see first-hand the brilliant experiences others have had whilst staff are publicly recognised for their efforts.
Fast forward to Retail today and you’ll find the digital equivalent of the customer service tales written on the wall featuring prominently in the purchasing decision of customers. Online reviews. Perhaps more pertinent to Hospitality the effects of a successful customer service strategy in Retail is still plain for all to see with the success of Zappos and its customer testimonials. A positive review is invaluable in championing your business; if someone has taken the time to write about their experience with you, chances are they have also told people about their time with your business. It’s free marketing in its finest form.
Lest we forget the opposite end of the spectrum and the disastrous reputational effects a negative review can have though – whilst bad reviews can and will crop up, continuous negative feedback over a long period of time will have significant influence over purchasing decisions (and vice versa for continuous positive feedback). Indeed, to put some facts around this a study by Go Fish Digital found that 67.7% of consumers report that their purchasing decisions are influenced by the reviews they read online. Personally, I almost feel that modern consumers (particularly millennials) need a taste of exceptional customer service to remind/educate them as to why they should come to the store.
The importance of store staff in the digital age must not be underestimated either. The occupational shift from “Store” to “Enterprise” or “Estate” Sales Associates has its wheels in motion already given the exposure store staff now have to a network of inventory, as opposed to purely what is in the store. Staff can leverage applications such as “Save the Sale” to ensure that stock unavailability in-store is no longer a valid reason for a customer abandoning the purchase of products, arranging instead for customers to receive the products via an array of different fulfilment options. The increased emphasis on store staff to sell in the store can be attributed to the wealth of rich customer information now available to them. Customer spend trends, preferences, contact history and even footprints left on-line are now available in store, empowering staff to engage in a more personalised dialogue with the customer. This personal engagement is in stark contrast to the ‘cold’ and unassisted engagement customers will have on-line and this is where I believe the marriage of technology and people harmonises– an enriched customer experience facilitated by staff who are empowered by technology.
The concept of technology empowering people is crucial to creating the personalised experience in-store. The human interaction element of this is also pivotal in creating a unique experience for the customer – technology does not yet have the level of creativity humans possess and instead is predominantly used for basic and repetitive tasks. It is, for this reason, I emphasise the importance of technology empowering people rather than replacing them. The fundamental principle behind Zappos’ customer service is to use human creativity to deliver superior customer service.
A great example of technology empowering Retailers is the use of self-checkouts nowadays. They are prevalent across a range of different store types, from supermarket to variety store chains such as Poundland, and are fantastic for speeding up the purchasing process for those customers with (typically) a smaller basket. However, it should be noted self-checkout machines are manned by store staff for those times when technology is unable to complete the purchasing process (here’s to my favourite line to hear at a self-checkout – ‘Unexpected item in bagging area’!). Herein lies the benefit of self-checkout – operationally it empowers Retailers by reducing the number of staff needed on tills, cutting staff costs and opening up new customer engagements. Human involvement is still required though for when technology fails. Whilst we wait for technology (specifically Artificial Intelligence) to be able to make informed decisions and not wobble at the first sign of unfamiliarity it is imperative that we clutch to one of our greatest strengths as a species – the ability to do the unpredictable.
“I fear the day that technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots” – Albert Einstein