Lessons from the Retail Apocalypse
The traditional way of ‘stock up and wait for a sale’ has already spelt the doom for thousands of brick and mortar retailers across the globe. However, the retail apocalypse has somehow propagated the false notion that consumers have all of a sudden stopped shopping from retail stores and malls.
On the contrary, 61% of consumers would rather shop with brands with a physical store than with pure-play ecommerce brands, according to Google. Also, nearly 80% of shoppers go in-store when there is an item they need or want immediately.
The likely hypothesis for this disconnected demand and supply trend is that customers are visiting the stores but leaving without making a purchase. How can retailers fix this?
A good north star would be to analyse brands like Nordstrom, Walmart, and Ulta who were not only unaffected by the doom and despair but in fact, thriving in this turbulent retail landscape. They achieved this reimagining their retail experience through a combination of experiential shopping, new-age technologies like VR and AR and loyalty program restructuring.
While the implementations and solutions might have been different, the common thread that ties these brands together is the fact that they no longer treat customers as a one-dimensional, passive participant who wants to mindlessly scour aisles of inventory.
Instead, they rely on a deeper understanding of customers to anticipate their needs and create hyper-personalised micro-moments throughout the purchase journey.
Why In-Store Engagement is Critical for Retail Success
Over the last few years, customer experience has deftly evolved from a ‘good-too-have’ to ‘critical-and-indispensable’ for retail brands. According to Garnter, over 80% of organizations expect to compete mainly based on CX in 2019. The likely reason for this sudden obsession with CX is most likely a commodified market, where the lines between competing brands and products get increasingly blurred. Therefore, the only way your brand can stand out is through stellar experiences. And your customer engagement strategy forms the crux of your overall Customer Experience.
According to Qualtrics, brands that lead in CX, outperform laggards on the S&P 500 index by nearly 80%. Moreover, these brands enjoy a higher wallet share, repeat purchases and positive word of mouth.
‘A well-executed in-store engagement strategy creates a win-win situation for the brand as well as the customer.’
From a brand perspective, combining customer data and analytics with friendly, face-to-face staff interaction reveals a whole universe of opportunities for maximizing Average Order Value (AOV), brand loyalty and repeat sales. From a customer perspective, a personalized interaction flips the experience from that of a purely transactional one to one that is emotionally-fulfilling and memorable.
While online customer engagement strategies have been debated and discussed to death, not much attention has gone the other way – the In-store engagement. So here are the major ways you can overhaul/enhance your in-store engagement:
Best Practises for Boosting In-Store Engagement
- Leverage Real-time Promotions and Deals
These days, most retailers offer some kind of promotional voucher that goes: get a discount voucher for transaction value above X amount. Unsurprisingly, these types of generic and one-size-fits-all promotions rarely get any traction. Instead, what if you could analyze and connect the dots between the customer’s in-store behaviour, previous purchases, and online browsing patterns to generate a dynamic voucher that’s personalized for them, right before checkout. The rate of redemption drastically increases simply because you are offering them something exclusive and value-driven.
- Empower Your Store Staff with 360-degree Customer View
A personable and friendly staff interaction can definitely improve customer experience but it might not go a long way in increasing store sales. Today’s connected customer like it when retailers are going beyond the usual ‘hellos’ and ‘have a great days’ and start paying personalized attention to them and their shopping habits. It can be as simple as reminding them that their anniversary is coming up next week or remembering their preference for slim fit trousers. Technology can play a key role in powering these personalized interactions by offering employees in-depth customer information like demographics, past purchases, online and in-store browsing behaviour, special occasions, etc. Advanced retail analytics can even empower store staff to offer predictive recommendations by comparing purchase patterns across customers of similar personas.
- Avoid Loss of Sale due to Stockouts
‘We don’t have that in stock’ is a much-dreaded phrase in retail circles and for a good reason: it has a collective negative impact on sales, customer loyalty, and customer experience. While preventing stock-outs seem like a fairly simple task to the outside world, you as a retailer, understand the precarious and delicate balancing nature of ‘having enough stock’ and ‘over-stocking’. Fortunately, armed with the right technology you can now know precisely when to stock up and even better – offer customers the option of buying exactly what they are looking for even when you don’t have it in stock at the store.
Here are some of the ways you can reduce stock-outs :
- AI-Powered Inventory and Order Management: Inventory systems powered by Artificial Intelligence are often cited as the most effective way for retailers to reduce stock-outs. These intelligent systems maintain a centralized inventory and automatically predicts the fastest and most cost-effective means of fulfillment. Moreover, they also offer predictive insights on stock replenishment by analyzing multiple factors like store traffic trends, customer demographics, weather, historical data etc.
- Endless Aisle Interface: Endless Aisle refers to the concept of using enabling customers in your stores to virtually browse or order a wide range of products that are either out of stock or not sold in-store and have them shipped to the store or their home. For the retailer, the endless aisle provides the ability to offer a much broader product assortment without the cost of having it put on shelves or stored in the store. Several retailers have already synced their Endless Aisle interface with Magic Mirrors and Virtual Trial rooms to further elevate the shopping experience. An important factor to consider while implementing an Endless Aisle interface is store staff training. If the associates aren’t well versed with the interface or doesn’t understand communicate the benefit to the customer, it has little chance of succeeding.
- RFID (Radio Frequency Identification): RFID chips enables retailers to track and count merchandise with a hand-held scanner. This helps in efficient inventory management through a combination of speed, cost-effectiveness and minimal inaccuracies due to human error.
- In-store Analytics: Sophisticated footfall counters let you know your customers better and measure peak store traffic hours. These insights will help you schedule your store staff efficiently thereby minimizing the chance that shelves are not being restocked due to lack of resources. For instance, an AI-Powered Footfall Counter can give you insights like female customers in the 25-29 age group are more likely to visit your store from 8 PM to 9 PM on Fridays.
The Way Ahead
Regardless of which engagement solution you choose to implement, personalization should form the crux of your in-store engagement strategy. Imagine it as a layer that permeates across all in-store customer interactions, right from greeting, to product recommendations, to after-sales interactions.
Implementing an in-store personalization strategy essentially involves three steps
- Acquiring customer data like age, gender, purchase patterns, browsing history, etc
- Analyzing the data to determine customer preferences
- Serving relevant, personalized shopping experience based on the data
As emerging technologies like ML and AI mature, they will add a new dimension and depth to retail personalization by offering powerful capabilities like voice, facial and sentiment analysis to gauge emotional states and predict behavioural patterns of customers.