Is customer engagement still a top priority for physical retailers?
Today, digital technology often trumps face-to-face interactions. Retailers are doubling down on online channels and outreach to drive sales and increase customer loyalty. However, when it comes to customer engagement, consumers are almost equally split between online shopping and physical retail.
One advantage that brick-and-mortar shopping continues to hold over online channels is the ability to cater to the sensory experience of shopping in-person. Customers still enjoy the ability to see things in person before they buy. They want to touch items to feel their quality, try on clothing to get a correct fit, and try out items in the store before handing over payment.
By tapping into real-time experiences, physical retailers can consistently improve customer engagement and not only keep shoppers in the store but also encourage them to return.
In-store customer engagement has to be a priority
Customer engagement includes every interaction a retailer has with a customer. It makes the customer an active participant in the brand, whether it’s an in-store shopping trip, a coupon in their email inbox, or a conversation with an employee.
Engaged customers are paying customers, but most importantly, they’re loyal customers. And this loyalty goes far beyond basic sales transactions because they also become ambassadors for the brand. Studies show that 59% of loyal customers say they tell family members and friends about a brand, while 36% say they spend more with brands they’re loyal to and 41% of customers are more likely to do their holiday shopping with the stores they’re loyal to.
But to get to that level of customer loyalty, nearly seven out of ten customers need to purchase from that brand at least three times before they become loyal customers. For most buyers, products and price inspire loyalty, but one out of four say it’s all about the customer service.
Physical stores have more opportunities to deliver on customer service and engagement than online channels because retailers can actively interact with each customer at least once during their visit.
Compare this to online channels, where customers may only interact with someone from the company if there’s a problem with their order, if they have a pressing question, or if they absolutely need to get a hold of customer service. In these cases, customers often have no choice but to send an email and await a response, call a helpline and remain on hold, or chat with a bot that may or may not be able to help.
No matter how many targeted emails you send or online product recommendations you make, there is no substitution for in-store engagement and real human interaction.
Customer engagement strategies for brick-and-mortar retailers
Customer engagement is all about making interactions personal and impactful. Let’s look at some practical strategies retailers can implement to drive sales and spur loyalty.
Create an in-store mobile experience
A decade or so ago, retailers would cringe every time a customer pulled out a smartphone on the showroom floor. They feared the worst, believing that customers were looking for a better price for the product in front of them. And if they found one, they might lose that sale and drive their customers to their competitors.
However, that’s not exactly the case today. Mobile has become just as much a part of the in-store shopping experience as it is for online shopping. Larger retailers have developed their own apps specifically for in-store use that create a better shopping experience for the customer. Users can rely on the app to find product information, find an item’s location within the store, check for coupons on an item, and even review the store’s entire sales catalogue to find more deals.
Smaller retails can take a page out of this mobile playbook and start using smart devices to help shape their own in-store experience. One example of this is using proximity marketing, where retailers can engage with the customer via their mobile devices.
This technology uses Bluetooth and beacons to send messages to a user within a certain proximity. You can send them special promotions while they’re in your store to encourage same-day purchases and prevent them from heading to your nearest competitor.
You can also incorporate mobile payment options that give your customers a faster way to pay. Most modern point-of-sale systems can facilitate mobile payments.
One of the key reasons people pull out mobile devices while on the sales floor is to look up product information and reviews. You can go the extra mile by sourcing this information on behalf of your customers for your most popular products. Add a QR code to a product’s signage so users can simply scan it with their mobile devices to learn more.
Host in-store events
Product launches, demos, and other events drive foot traffic to physical stores. But more importantly, they rely on a captive, engaged audience to be successful.
Hosting in-store events brings all of your customers into your brand. It gives them a chance to experience the products you’re offering, ask questions in real time, and actively participate in what can feel like a special and exclusive customer experience.
It also encourages customers to spend more time in your store, which increases the number of impressions they receive from your brand. The longer they’re in your location, the more likely they’ll see more of what you have to offer and remember their shopping experience.
Go beyond transactional sales
Despite the advances in retail technology and the use of store apps, customers still want and need human interaction and engagement. In-store visits are your opportunity to go beyond transactional sales and focus on delivering greater value to your customers.
Retailers should view store visits as opportunities to connect with customers through experiences, not just sales. Concept stores are a perfect example of this: they offer new, exciting, and sensory-driven experiences that can’t be replicated online.
Offer optional customer engagement opportunities
It’s fair to say that the era of shadowing your shoppers while they’re in your store is long over. In fact, many customers want the opportunity to browse on their own without employee engagement.
To cater to this segment of the market, many retailers are implementing measures that offer optional engagement that’s triggered by the shopper. For example, many fitting rooms are being outfitted with call buzzers in case they need assistance. Some Sephora locations offer two different colours of shopping baskets: one for customers who don’t want help on the sales floor and one for customers who welcome interaction.
The simple move towards unencumbered sales assistance and customer service allows retailers to cater to both types of customers, no matter their preference. It personalizes the experience almost effortlessly and meets customers wherever they are on their shopping journey during their visit to your store.
Customer engagement bridges the online and the offline
Human engagement is still critical for customers while in store, even if they’re using mobile apps or online channels as part of the decision-making process. At the very least, relying on humans for customer engagement can give you a leg up over your larger competitors who are turning to chatbots to drive the experience.
Physical retailers should focus on bridging the gap between digital technology and offline interactions to keep customers engaged, drive sales, and promote loyalty.
But more than that, it’s important to consider customer engagement as a key selling point of your retail business. Customers remember negative experiences more often than positive ones, but customer experiences that put the customer first can go a long way in keeping them coming back for more.
IS YOUR STORE OPTIMIZED FOR UNFORGETTABLE CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES?
We’re here to help you optimize your retail location so customers can’t help but want to return, time and again. With CBSF, you not only get a team of expert retail design professionals, but a company backed by decades of experience and knowledge (with the trust of countless retailers, too). Discover how we can help you take your store (and customer experience) to the next level.