While the way people shop has been shifting from an all-physical retail world full of brick-and-mortar stores to a more online world for many years, the pandemic accelerated the move to ecommerce. What’s stayed the same is this: the retail customer experience is still as critical to the success of your business as ever. But it has gotten more complicated as companies navigate the balance between digital and in-store operations and try to meet and exceed fast-changing customer expectations.
So what does the retail customer experience look like these days, and how can you create one that delights your customers and keeps them coming back again and again. To find out, you’ll need to measure your existing experience and use data and feedback to improve and evolve.
Fortunately, we’ve got your complete guide to creating the best retail customer experience right here. Let’s dive in!
It’s no secret that customer expectations and desires in the retail world have shifted significantly in the past two decades—and those shifts are only becoming more rapid.
The retail experience in years past consisted mainly of in-person store visits and perhaps a quarterly catalogue where customers could browse offerings as presented to them by the retailer. Businesses had a great degree of control over how their products were shown to potential customers and over the buying process as a whole. Options were limited by geography in many places, and customers were accustomed to driving to make purchases or waiting for a catalogue to arrive.
However, the rise of online shopping has completely shifted the balance into the customer’s favor. Now buyers have a huge amount of power because they have an almost overwhelming amount of options literally at their fingertips with ecommerce websites and apps. This has increased the competition in the retail world significantly.
One of the ways companies are working hard to attract customers is by providing an exceptional retail customer experience. Since buyers are now used to seamless, fun digital transactions like the ones offered by Uber, Airbnb, and Amazon, retailers in all industries are working hard to replicate those experiences (with varying degrees of success).
And customer expectations have risen along with these shifts as well. Consumers are no longer content to simply browse your offerings on only one or two platforms—they expect brands to be accessible on many or most digital spaces. They want to look at your website, follow you on Instagram, shop your products on Facebook, and get customer service help via chat or phone. They want to buy your products in-store, or on social media channels, or while they’re browsing their phone in line at the grocery store.
And to top it all off, customers are increasingly wary of traditional marketing. They are skeptical of claims companies make about their own products and prefer to hear opinions and reviews from people like themselves instead. The rise of online retail has also brought an increase in shady businesses who don’t deliver what they promise, and having those experiences has made buyers much more wary of who they will purchase from.
Having a website used to be a nice-to-have years ago, where customers could visit if they wanted and retailers mostly had to focus simply on the appearance of the site. Many local businesses could get away with not having a website at all. But that’s just not the case anymore. Customers expect an attractive, functional website as the bare minimum for your digital presence these days even in more traditionally offline industries.
Your business needs to have a website that gives customers essential information like your address, your contact information, and enticing product pages. But customers now expect even more—they also will head to your website to find additional information before making a purchase, to make the purchase itself, and to leave post-purchase feedback and reviews. Throughout every interaction with your brand, they expect to have a smooth and frictionless online experience.
Another recent shift is in customers’ preference for using mobile to visit retail websites and even make purchases right from their phones. The mobile experience for retailers used to be an afterthought, but now it’s a critical component of the retail experience. Customers expect that viewing your website or app on their phone will be a fast, functional experience with no slow load times or buggy checkouts.
Your mobile website shouldn’t just be a smaller version of your desktop one—it needs to look great on a smaller screen, offer customers just enough information up front, and enable them to make a purchase quickly and without frustration. Those are just a few of the keys to a great mobile user experience.
Customer service availability
While customers may have shifted to making purchases online without human interaction, they still expect to get help from your business when they need it. And that can mean expecting 24/7 availability from your customer service team so issues get resolved quickly and efficiently.
Since customers are shopping less in stores, they can’t simply walk into your brick-and-mortar location when they have a question or problem anymore. Having a customer service team that’s easily accessible and solves issues quickly is essential to creating a great retail customer experience. You can use a variety of methods to provide this, from always-on chat options on your website to a phone number that connects to a real person who can help with more complex issues.
Retail customer experience online
Retail customer experience used to refer only to the experiences of customers in a physical store—how employees treated them in person, how much stock was available, and how the store itself made shoppers feel. But these days, it also includes your ecommerce experience as well. As a percentage of total retail sales, e-commerce sales have risen from 11.3% in Q4 2019 to 14% in Q4 2020. That’s too large a trend to ignore.
And providing a great online retail experience isn’t simple. You need to start from a customer-centric point of view—what are your ideal customers looking for when they visit your website or social media platforms? Where do they spend their time? Does your website make it easy for customers to find information, look at products, make a purchase, and get assistance when they need it? Is the customer experience seamless over all your online channels, not just your website?
Customer experience in retail stores
While online shopping and retail experiences are certainly growing quickly, visits to physical retail stores still make up the majority of purchases in the US. Online shopping offers plenty of choice and convenience, but the experience is simply not the same as stepping into a store.
Many forward-thinking businesses have turned to rethinking the in-store experience for shoppers. Since people no longer need to go to a store to purchase most items, it’s important to think about why they’d choose to do so anyways. Stores that offer unique and memorable in-store experiences continue to attract plenty of browsers and shoppers even when purchasing online is an option, simply because customers enjoy the experience as a whole.
For example, the makeup and skincare brand Glossier started as a direct-to-consumer brand with no physical stores. However, they eventually created a flagship store and pop-up shops that offered engaging experiences like selfie mirrors, secret rooms, and highly Instagrammable backgrounds targeted to their millennial and Gen Z customers. Shopping their products became an unmissable experience, even though it’s simple to order them online, and they received high levels of foot traffic at all their pop-up shops while they were open.
How to enhance customer experience in retail
It’s a tough environment out there for retailers, to be sure. And the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated these trends even more. Brick-and-mortar stores are closing as customers have gotten quickly accustomed to buying almost anything online and don’t seem eager to go back.
But there’s good news in these trends as well—research by McKinsey has shown that in previous economic crises, customer experience leaders had smaller downturns, quicker recoveries, and three times the total shareholder returns in the long run. That means retail businesses can position themselves for a fast recovery and long-term success by focusing on creating an exceptional retail customer experience strategy.
The retail experience doesn’t happen in one place for customers. They’re likely to explore your brand and purchase your products through a wide variety of channels. For example, they may stumble upon an ad for your product on Instagram, sign up for your email list, check out your physical store to touch and feel your products and ask about return policies, and then head to your website to actually make their purchase.
That’s why having an omnichannel retail strategy is vital for your business. Blending your online and in-person channels to engage customers throughout the buying journey is important. Customers are increasingly used to smart, seamless purchasing experiences in almost every industry, and if you don’t have an omnichannel retail plan in place, you’re falling behind.
An omnichannel strategy also ensures that your brand and products stay top of mind for potential customers wherever they are. Since the retail world is saturated with options for consumers, and marketing is so pervasive that many have learned to tune much of it out, you need to approach brand awareness the right way.
A smart omnichannel experience means that customers see your products and online presence frequently on multiple platforms so you stay on their minds until they’re ready to make a purchase. And once they’re ready, customers will know where to find you because you’ve made your brand and products easily accessible.
Recent advances in retail technology, such as contactless payment options and mobile apps, have made it easier to create a great retail experience. Contactless payments remove friction from the purchasing experience, as customers just tap their phone or credit card to pay. Mobile apps allow you to geotarget customers with exciting and relevant offers - the Starbucks app is an excellent example of this technology in action as they offer deals when you walk by a Starbucks store.
Incorporating new technology into your retail experience can help you create more positive customer experiences. They can make checking out faster and easier, create options for on-the-go shopping, and offer ways for your customers to get help whenever and however they need it.
In order to open their wallets, consumers need to feel safe—and that applies whether they’re browsing the racks at a physical store or scrolling through products online. Ensuring customers feel that they can trust your business to keep them safe—both physically and financially—is an important part of a great retail customer experience.
One major trend that has emerged as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic is the need for shoppers to feel safe when they’re shopping in-person. That means retail stores need to pay extra attention to sanitization, cleaning, and ventilation so customers feel safe as they’re shopping.
And the safety needs don’t stop there. Customers have seen lots of data leaks and scams pop up with online shopping in the last decade, and they’re rightfully wary. Your online shopping experience needs to keep your customers’ information safe and secure. You also need to have a secure method of processing transactions so financial data stays safe when customers make a purchase.
You won’t really know what’s working well in your current retail experience and which improvements customers would like to see until you ask them for their feedback. You can do this a variety of ways: offer a “Contact Us” form on your website or a website feedback button, conduct targeted focus groups, or use feedback surveys (more on this option coming below).
Customer feedback is incredibly valuable because it can surface opportunities to improve your customer experience that you hadn’t even considered previously. And you’ll know that the improvements you’re making will delight your customers since you’re doing what they told you they want to see.
Customers expect a much more personalized retail experience from businesses these days. Whether that means remembering and showing the last items they browsed so they don’t need to go through your product page again or Starbucks writing your name on the cup of your beverage, adding in personal touches enhances your customer experience.
It makes your customers feel more like a valued person and less like another transaction, which builds stronger customer relationships. It also creates less friction and saves time in the browsing and buying process since users can find what they want (or might want) very easily when you remember their preferences and history.
Measuring retail customer experience
If you’re looking for ways to improve your retail customer experience, the best place to start is by measuring how your current one is performing. This can provide valuable insights on ways your business can change in order to provide a better experience for your customers.
Retail customer experience survey
Customer surveys are one of the most effective ways to measure how your business is doing at providing a great retail experience. You can ask customers what they think directly in survey format and use the insights you gain to exceed their expectations in the future. There are several survey formats that are very effective ways to gather both quantitative and qualitative feedback from customers.
The Net Promoter Score (NPS) survey asks customers one simple question: “On a scale from 0-10, how likely are you to recommend [business/product] to your friends and colleagues?” Customers who are highly likely to recommend you—rating you a 9 or 10-—are your Promoters, and they’re highly loyal and vocal brand advocates. Your Detractors, on the other hand, rated you a 6 or below and are loudly unhappy. Passives are those that rated you a 7 or 8.
Surveying customers to see what your Promoters enjoy about your retail experience, and what your Detractors find frustrating, can unearth a trove of valuable data and insights that can help you create highly loyal customers.
When customers have an issue with your product or online experience, they want to get help and have their issue solved quickly and efficiently.You can measure how your business is doing in this area with the Customer Effort Score (CES) survey, which asks customers to rate how much they agree with this statement: “[company] made it easy for me to handle my issue.”
A CES survey can help you identify any pain points in your customer journey that are frustrating would-be buyers and current customers alike. And fixing those can increase customer satisfaction and loyalty.
If you’d like to measure how satisfied customers are with any or all aspects of your current retail customer experience, you can’t go wrong with the Customer Satisfaction Score (CSAT) survey. This survey asks customers: “how would you rate your overall satisfaction with [brand/product]?” You can use a CSAT survey to ask about satisfaction with your company as a whole, with products or services, or with a specific element of the customer experience.
Measuring satisfaction, and pinpointing the causes of dissatisfaction, can help you create a seamless and delightful experience for your retail customers.
Creating a satisfying retail customer experience that exceeds your customer’s expectations isn’t easy—but it’s well worth the effort. Becoming an industry leader in customer experience will set your business up for success for years to come.
And the best way to improve your retail customer experience? It’s by gathering feedback directly from your customers so you know what you’re doing well and where you need to improve. GetFeedback’s customer experience platform can help you win on the battleground for CX, and harness the power of new technology in your retail experience as well.