Retail Experiences: Differentiate To Win

April Tomlin

As I’ve grown older, my shopping needs have evolved and become more stringent. Let’s face it – I’m needy. I’m needier than I’ve ever been! I expect for the store to have the product I want, especially if I’m physically making the trip in. I expect for the price to be competitive unless it’s a product that is hard to find or special in some way. If the product is being shipped, I expect it in fewer than five business days (at the very latest). I expect to have my questions answered politely by knowledgeable customer service reps. Did I forget to mention that I hate waiting in lines to give people my money? Yep, that’s a thing too. To top it off, I’ve spent my career in retail and I fully understand how challenging it is to deliver on all of these expectations.

This is the world that retailers are living in – a world where giants determine the price of most products as well as drive where the bar is set for shipping speeds. What should retailers do when they can’t survive competing on price? What happens when retailers can’t afford to foot the bill for 2-day or same-day shipping programs?

My suggestion? Don’t try to beat the giants at their own game. Focus on meeting customer expectations that are table-stakes and then try to go where the giants seem to have little interest in going. Here are some key areas of focus where retailers can differentiate and win:

  • Customer service
  • Loyalty programs
  • Product
  • Community

Today, we’ll focus purely on differentiating through customer service and we will address the other subjects later in this four-part series.

Excellent operators

Building relationships through great customer service is essential to standing out in a crowded retail landscape. I  recently had a standout experience that has made me a customer for life of a certain retail organization. I ordered a preassembled dresser online because it had great reviews and free delivery. I expected the delivery guys to be late, unprofessional, and generally unhelpful given what I’ve experienced in the past with furniture delivery – so I was prepared for the worst.

Instead, the delivery service was perfectly on-time and polished. The men put the dresser inside my home in the exact spot I wanted it, unpacked it and took the massive box and packing materials with them. This over-and-above customer service made my day!

The reality is that the delivery service was outsourced, but the retailer found the perfect delivery service to drive an awesome customer experience, which reflects on their brand – and will drive my future purchases with them instead of others.

Aspiring experts

Sucharita Kodali, VP & principal analyst at Forrester, states in her article, “Retailers Still Struggle To Differentiate Through Customer Experience,” “For multichannel retailers, whether shoppers feel appreciated, happy, and valued has the biggest impact on loyalty. For digital retailers, the most important emotions for loyalty are feeling appreciated, confident, and happy.”

One way that retailers can make their customers feel happy, appreciated, and confident is by sharing expertise and time with them. People love to be treated like VIPs, and organizations that recognize this and execute customer service accordingly are winning.

Next up

For more information about how retailers can differentiate and win, check out the next part of this series, where I will discuss differentiating through loyalty programs.

How can you set up your organization for success and be sure you’re providing products and solutions customers can trust? Visit us at NRF: Retail’s Big Show, SAP Retailto learn more about experiences you can trust.


April Tomlin

About April Tomlin

April Tomlin is Global Head of Retail, CX Advisory for SAP Customer Experience. April is a proven business executive with over a decade of omnichannel and pure-play retail experience. In early 2018, April joined SAP in a new role that leverages her background and expertise to provide strategic and tactical-level business support to the Customer Experience ecosystem. Prior to this, April led digital teams in achieving incremental growth through innovative merchandising, customer experience and marketing initiatives.