How to give the customer exactly what they want

Andy Tow (pictured), managing director of Retail Marketing Group, a customer service expert, explains the importance of customising the buying experience, and how in-store brand specialists can be vital in creating more sales opportunities

Our retail experiences have changed significantly over the past 10 years. With the limitless product information at our disposal, we’re now far more enlightened on what we’re purchasing. This means that what we, as consumers, want from a retail store is also changing.

The evolving customer journey has brought about a rise in the number of consumer touch-points. We now engage with brands through online stores and forums, mobile apps and social media, to name only a few. Customising customer service now poses a very different challenge. It means reconsidering how to create value amid these changes, understanding what the customer wants and tailoring this to these emerging touch-points.

The far-reaching scope of technology has transformed the way we live our lives. This rapid rate of innovation looks set to continue, but some traditions will always hold true. The in-store experience remains fundamental to the customer journey, because human interaction will never completely be replaced by technology. With this in mind, retailers mustn’t lose focus on what makes a store a store.

Consumer motivations

In our research, the top three reasons consumers give for shopping in-store indicate that they want to experience a product before purchasing. Just over half (51 per cent) prefer to go and look at a product, 27 per cent want to check its quality and 24 per cent want to feel and use the product before buying.
The main reasons consumers cite for shopping online are centred around price (42 per cent), choice (24 per cent) and the ability to have the product delivered (38 per cent).

Our survey shows that in the electrical category, 35 per cent prefer to shop online, 20 per cent prefer to buy in-store and 45 per cent prefer a combination, depending on the item. So it’s less important for in-store and e-commerce platforms to compete on an imaginary battleground and more emphasis should be on learning what differentiates the two for the consumer.

Consumers can now spend hours learning about a product before deciding to make a purchase and, in most cases, online research is the starting point on the consumer’s journey. But it’s all well and good being told that a TV has a picture quality index of over 1,000 PQI, but what does that even mean? For most of us, this means very little, unless we’re able to experience this ultra-high definition first-hand. By displaying the latest products and having interactive demonstrations, retailers and brands can create a stronger connection with consumers. Combine this with an on-hand brand ambassador to cut through the jargon and the consumer is empowered to make the right decision for themselves.

This makes the in-store offering a valuable and necessary accomplice to the online experience, rather than a competitor.

The value of impulse-purchases

One clear example of the influential role of the in-store experience is the case of a major camera brand. Data from Retail Marketing Group’s brand ambassadors showed that a startling 44 per cent of consumers who purchased this brand’s camera in-store had not planned their purchase, instead deciding to impulse-buy.

Interestingly, in this study, 70 per cent of shoppers who bought the camera were also first-time buyers in this product category. This means that a clear majority required more information from the sales team before deciding to purchase, with the purchase being dependent on them actually being in-store.

Converting such a high-ticket item to a sale without prior intention to buy, highlights the significance of in-store brand ambassadors. In this case, had the brand ambassadors been absent, the potential missed sales could have accounted for a hefty 43.8 per cent increase in revenue.

The power of human engagement

Retailers and brands are continuing to grapple with customer wants and needs in this age of technological transformation. Digital customer data can offer us a huge amount of knowledge on patterns of behaviour, but it doesn’t give us a true indication of an individual’s motivations and emotions. Instead, the best way to achieve this, is through human interaction provided by bricks-and-mortar of retail.

What makes the in-store process so valuable is that people understand people. The future of customer experience strategies must be shaped by identifying opportunities to promote greater satisfaction, personalisation and engagement. Here lies the secret for making customers feel appreciated and cared for.

Ultimately, there must be more awareness among brands for the role that they play along the road to purchase. Each touch-point represents a stepping-stone of further consumer know-how, as they gradually build an understanding for their requirements and what attracts them to a product.

Of course, it would be incredibly naïve to assume that bricks-and-mortar stores will not be threatened by online shops if they remain mere places for transactions. In order to have a great future, high street and outlet stores need to innovate and captivate the customer’s attention. Above all else, stores should be an enjoyable experience, that make consumers want to keep coming back.