When It Comes to Shopping, Brick-and-Mortar Takes the Prize

But store associates must deliver the customer experience shoppers crave

Store Experience
August 28, 2019

For the last few years, consumers have watched some of their favorite retail businesses decline. Think Toys “R” Us, JCPenney, Macy’s, Abercrombie & Fitch, Kmart, The Foot Locker, and more. They may not all be down for the count just yet, but they’re gasping. And, of course, it’s all the fault of that ogre — online shopping — whose sole purpose is to destroy retail as we know it. 

Not so fast. 

While it’s true that online shopping is huge, things are looking great for brick-and-mortar retailers who picked up on something all of the doomsayers missed: the importance of customer experience. Just like FaceTime can’t take the place of giving your loved ones a hug in person, online shopping can’t take the place of the real thing when it comes to making lasting relationships with customers.

Why brick-and-mortar retailing is the real thing

Brick-and-mortar stores can’t be beat when shoppers are in “need-it-now” mode

Let’s face it: Sometimes important events sneak up on you. Or maybe they’re nice surprises! Either way, sometimes shoppers need something to wear that very evening. For those times when even free, next-day delivery isn’t enough, it’s brick-and-mortar to the rescue. 

Brick-and-mortar stores deliver “total brand immersion,” creating deeply loyal customers

When customers visit a brick-and-mortar store, they immerse themselves in the entire brand experience, something that can forge a bond that lasts far beyond a single purchase.

Paul Hedrick, founder and CEO of direct-to-consumer cowboy boot startup, Tecovas, saw this in a pop-up the brand launched close to its Austin headquarters. 

“We found that people still really love strolling down a shopping street, and checking out products in person,” he said. “And we’ve found that interacting with the brand in store makes a customer more loyal.”

Customers aren’t interested in cutting ties with brick-and-mortar stores

Despite the convenience of being able to shop in their pajamas and receiving their purchases overnight, customers see online shopping as a complement to brick-and-mortar shopping -- not a replacement.

  • Brick-and-mortar sales account for 94% of all retail sales.
  • 49% of Americans prefer to shop at brick-and-mortar stores.
  • The main reason customers prefer to shop in brick-and-mortar stores is the ability to touch and feel the products, primarily because they’re concerned the products will look or feel different than they appeared online. Other reasons include concerns about data security and objections to high shipping charges, long delivery times, and complicated returns processes.
  • Despite retailers’ concerns about Gen Z-ers, a study conducted by IBM and the National Retail Foundation showed that Gen Z-ers are three times more likely to shop in a store than online.
  • Over the next five years, digitally native companies are expected to open 850 physical stores.  

How to deliver customer experiences that build loyalty

That’s great news for brick-and-mortar retailers, but they still have to deliver repeat — and meaningful — customer experiences. And that only happens in person, where real shoppers interact with real store employees.

Engaged employees transform the customer experience

Engaged employees are experts at identifying customer needs and resolving them with solutions that strengthen the customer’s relationship with the brand. To do that, they need up-to-date information on their products. Consider these examples:

  • A customer says he needs a new suit: Time to ask questions. Does the customer need a new suit for a particular event? Is the event formal or casual? Personal or business? Are they going to have fun or to impress the boss? 
  • A customer says she needs something for an event that same night. Is it a particular type of event...something her current wardrobe doesn’t cover? If so, what does she know about the dress code? Or is she just looking for something new to wear? If so, is she more concerned about comfort or making a certain impression?

By making a connection that reveals what the customer really wants and combining that with an in-depth knowledge of the store’s products, engaged employees can create a great customer experience by showing customers the products that will fulfill those needs. 

For the first customer, that might be a traditional suit with a trendy tie and statement socks. For the second, it might be something indulgent -- something pricier than she would usually spend.

That type of retail magic only happens when store employees have the knowledge and tools to meet customer needs. That’s where a strong store communications program comes in. 

How do you know if customers are delighted? Ask them. 

Not all customers are the same. Some traditionalist shoppers like increased levels of personalization and attention, while Millennials expect some sort of digital interface in their transactions. They expect store employees to have technology available for visibility into inventory, shipping, pricing, etc.

Your sales associates are your best link to what your customers think about their experience with your brand. Giving employees an easy way to pass that information on to headquarters --  whether it’s customers’ reactions to a product, the store’s lighting, or the volume of the music being played -- gives you the chance to react quickly. That makes customers feel valued and gives you the chance to strengthen that relationship even more.

Accountability helps drive the retail store customer experience

Your store employees are the face of your brand. They’re the ones who must deliver on your promises and commitments to customers. When employees receive clear messages from headquarters that tell them what to do, why it’s important, and how and when to do it, they’re more productive because they know exactly what to do in-between customers.

But anyone who’s ever worked in a retail store knows that even the best employees can struggle to stay motivated throughout a long shift. Sometimes they see a break between customers as a chance to catch their breath rather than an opportunity to complete a task. 

Because everybody is human, management needs the tools to help make sure store employees are creating consistent customer experiences, and that includes completing tasks. If displays aren’t restocked, the store loses a sale and gains a disappointed customer. If a recall isn’t completed on time, customers are endangered, and the company can face staggering fines. 

But if multi-unit field managers can access information about message open rates and task completion, they can course-correct quickly and build a culture of execution.

Customer experience is the real thing

Want great customer experiences? Communicating with your retail associates in a meaningful way is key. Find out how Retail Zipline can help you connect with your employees so they can connect with your customers. Request a demo today.