Rethinking the in-store customer approach: focus on a data-driven customer experience

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By Alex Timlin, VP, Retail & E-Commerce, Emarsys

Despite the seismic shift in the retail industry towards online shopping, brick-and-mortar stores still remain relevant. However, there’s an underlying problem that many of these stores are ill-equipped to handle the multifaceted nature of today’s multichannel, connected consumer. In order to address this issue, brands need to take part in the industry-wide shift towards encompassing omnichannel strategies that bring rich data from physical stores together with the abundance of available digital data.

The challenge of meeting customer expectations in-store

Today’s retail experience is quite different from that of 10 years ago. In the past, many people expected a greeting by name and friendly exchanges when they entered a store. Today, the onus has shifted away from general warm hospitality to quality customer service that signposts the right product. It is difficult for a retail associate to remember an individual customer’s information or know off the top of their mind if a certain product is in stock. Many brick-and-mortar stores are also stuck with outdated point-of-sale systems that don’t have portable devices, in-store, staff WiFi or connection to digital databases. In contrast, when a customer visits a store’s website, the experience can be automatically personalized. Traditional retail stores are finding themselves incapable and unprepared to compete with online shopping options. 

The simplicity of an online experience

When customers shop online, specific preferences, product recommendations, and inventory can populate within milliseconds. The experience is also set up to be tailored to the user’s device, location, language, and screen size. Online shopping is geared to create an experience that’s pre-loaded with knowledge of previous buying and browsing behavior, making creating an amazing customer experience easier online than in-store, along with being more cost-efficient. For example, the average “live assistant” on a website provides more conversions to buys and a better experience than an actual person does in the majority of stores. The rise of mobile has also contributed to the need for brands to bridge the gap between the online and offline world, instead of just having a mobile app they need an omnichannel or at the very least a mobile strategy to remain competitive.

The need for brands to adapt

Physical stores are still having success with conversion rates and purchase values that are higher than online. Many traditional brands are still thriving, but they are the brands that are bringing innovation into their stores, literally putting customer data in the hands of their retail associates to provide more personalized customer experiences. Brands are moving, slowly but surely, away from multichannel initiatives into omnichannel or channel-agnostic initiatives oriented around the customer. An example is Sally Beauty, which is connecting online behavior and digital marketing campaigns to its thousands of points-of-sale to ensure offers are personalized down to the individual using past behavior to predict future outcomes.

Brands want to make it as easy as possible for customers to have a seamless personalized experience and, as a result, turn them into a loyal shopper. Brands need to rethink their approach to customers in-store by focusing on customer experience as it will become increasingly more difficult to compete with online-only retailers who don’t carry the overhead of a store. Brands need to keep seeking opportunities to optimize their business approach with solutions that improve customer experiences, drive and reward customer loyalty, and induce customer retention for years to come.

About the Author

Alex Timlin is the vice president of eCommerce and Retail at Emarsys. In his role, Alex oversees Emarsys’ Client Success organization, helping to drive the adoption and growth of 2000+ clients in more than 100 countries to better reach their customers across billions of engagements. He is a long-time member of the Direct Marketing Association’s CustomerEngagement Council, Marketing Intelligence Hub, and is a regular industry speaker where he discusses the challenges and opportunities in Marketing, Customer Success and SaaS technology.

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