Rethinking the customer experience for bricks and mortar stores

by jcp
Editorial & Advertiser disclosure

By David Maisey, CEO of MultiPay Global Solutions

Customer experience (CX) is constantly evolving. What worked six months ago can fail today. Staying on top of consumer demands and expectations is a key battleground for retailers and one that has become harder than ever to succeed at thanks to the pandemic. 18 months of shopping mostly online has made features like on-hand expert advice a must-have feature for consumers whether shopping online or in-store. This change has presented retailers with two options, either reengineer stores to match the new consumer demands or shut up shop.

Already we are seeing major high street retailers decide that closing shops is easier than reengineering them. In the last month alone well-known brands such as Gap and Hema have confirmed they will be closing all their physical stores. While waving the white flag and switching to an online-only model may be the right move for some retailers, for many others, it risks undervaluing the power of their stores. For retailers that have physical retail ingrained in their brand identity and CX then, it’s time to look at what needs changing if they are to keep pace with the latest customer demands.

Online in an offline world 

During the pandemic, customers have become used to certain online features and tools. For instance, product comparison tools have grown in usage and importance as customers looked to ensure they evaluated products correctly before purchasing. In a similar vein, too, expert advice became a click away. Whether it meant conducting a Google search or speaking to an online advisor, customers expect to receive expert advice before making a purchase. These features are no longer ‘nice to haves’ and are instead expected for both online and in-store shopping experiences. While online can quickly adapt to changes by rolling out a software update, for in-store the solution requires bigger changes and even a rethink in strategy and approach.

One way to improve the in-store CX is by freeing and empowering staff to spend more time speaking and interacting with customers. To do this retailers need to use a blend of technology and training. Firstly, retailers can look at employing and training staff up to know and understand the products they sell in greater depth. By doing this, sales assistants can provide a better level of advice and insight and meet customers’ demands.

Going further, and businesses can build teams of product experts that can be contacted by in-store staff for extra assistance. For example, a bike retailer could create a team of cycling experts that work from a central location. When a customer arrives with a specific question that an instore member of staff is unable to answer, they can then be put in contact with the in-house expert team via a video call. Staff in-store can be armed with a tablet device that can make these video calls and immediately act on the insights that the expert team provides. So, when a customer is looking for advice on how to set up their bike or understand which chain set to purchase, they can speak to a highly trained expert who can answer any questions before being hand back to the in-store sales assistant to complete the action.

Tablet devices offer another way to improve the CX too. By providing staff with tablet devices that can host video calls and take payment enhances their flexibility and reduces the need to queue. However, while most devices can handle transactions via Visa and Mastercard credit and debit cards, they often cannot handle payment from other providers like China Union. Therefore, when customers do come to pay via these other methods, they are often forced to use a different terminal in the store which can lead to queuing and damaging their experience. This is especially true if a payment needs to be taken by a terminal or cashier that requires physical contact. Data from Visa has shown that 48% of customers wouldn’t shop at a store again if it forced them to pay by a method that needed physical contact.

The good news is that technology once again can come to the rescue. The latest payment APIs can handle any form of payment – including China Union – via one reconciliation system. This in turn creates a seamless payment experience and regardless of a customer’s preferred payment method, all transactions can be completed from the same terminal.

Boosting CX with technology

Already changes are taking place. Sports Direct for example recently launched its new flagship store which aims to provide customers with a more engaging experience. As well as featuring the latest products for customers to try and buy, the store has also been kitted out with the latest technology for customers to try. One popular device is a new selfie mirror that allows children to see what they would look like in their favourite football kit. Standing in front of the mirror and they can easily try a product without needing to put it on.

Taking this approach has allowed Sports Direct to create a retail experience that takes the best features of online retailers such as expert advice and detailed product information and combines them with the unique aspects that a physical retail space can provide including competitions and interactive product demonstrations.

For businesses like Sports Direct that have their physical retail spaced ingrained in their brand identity and CX, it is vital to ensure they keep pace with the latest trends and customer demands. 18 months of primarily shopping online has changed the game for CX and retailers need to react accordingly. By leveraging the latest in-store and payment technologies to free staff and deliver new experiences, bricks and mortar retailers can provide the experiences customers demand and once again turn their physical retail locations into prized assets.

You may also like