“Brands recognize they are competing on experience,” said Jackie Walker, Retail Experience Strategy Lead at Publicis Sapient. “When a customer has a really good in-store shopping experience with a brand, that sets the bar higher for everywhere else they shop.”
Often, these best-in-class store experiences do one of two things: create efficiency or create engagement.
Making the in-store retail experience more efficient
Customers are now browsing, buying, picking up and returning merchandise through various interaction points, and their choices are often made based on what is most convenient in that particular circumstance. Target’s drive-up pickup option is seamless for customers and has been scaled to all their store locations. Customers can rely on it, and it makes their shopping journey simpler.
A key bottleneck point when shopping brick-and-mortar is the point of sale, and with e-commerce, customers have gotten used to a faster and easier checkout. At most grocery stores today, customers or checkout clerks still have to scan each item individually—and for produce, even enter in each product code themselves. Many grocery retailers are testing a checkout-free system that would allow customers to just walk out or scan their entire cart at once, providing an experience almost as seamless as hitting the “Deliver” button after grocery shopping online.
Making the in-store retail experience more engaging
There are also many opportunities for retail stores to up their game on engagement compared to e-commerce shopping. In the past, stores have relied on associate-led or conversation-based engagement strategies. Today, with staff shortages, many stores are turning toward more technology-based experiences to connect with customers in-store. According to Publicis Sapient research, 76% of customers engage with retailer apps in-store to locate products and look for reviews, deals or clothing fit information.
For example, Home Depot’s mobile app allows users to see store maps to navigate to different items, scan product barcodes to read product reviews, take photos of items in their home that they need to replace and reverse image search to find the same products in-store. The app also integrates AR, so customers can visualize how certain furniture items would fit in their own space.
Wawa is another retailer that’s mastered in-store engagement with its ordering kiosks. The kiosks allow customers to quickly and easily browse through menu options to build custom hoagies, get prompted to add certain items to their order and see seasonal promotions.
The PetSmart app goes even further through personalized content and an in-app game called “Treat Trail” that allows users to rack up coupons and rewards. After uploading personal pet information, the app curates customized checklists and articles based on the type of pet to deeply engage users.
Some brands have looked to larger-scale experiential installations in physical retail. And while some of these experimental flagship store experiences can be incredibly engaging for customers, most of them are difficult to scale.
“When retailers are thinking about activations in their stores, they have to consider how to impact the largest number of customers possible,” Walker said. “It really has to be a deliberate choice to heavily invest in experiences that can only ever scale to a small subset of stores.”
Connecting physical and digital shopping experiences together
The best retail in-store experiences are both efficient and engaging when e-commerce and brick-and-mortar blend together. This means that at each stage of the customer journey, whether that’s browsing on social media, entering a retail store or shopping on a retailer’s website, customers have a blend of personalized shopping offers and experiences that are fully cohesive.
One piece of this is consistent branding across channels—from the website, to the app, to the print marketing and merchandising in the store. Keeping consistent, authentic branding in-store and online creates a better customer experience.
This relates to marketing offers, too. Customers that normally shop at a retailer online still expect to be known as customers when they enter a new channel, like the store. The key to building loyalty for retailers is matching experiences across channels to amplify the strengths of each and unify the brand. RFID technology embedded in loyalty cards, like store credit cards, retains customer information and allows retailers to identify when a customer is in a store and prompt in-store kiosks to display relevant ads.