While it’s far from an apocalypse, the revolution that’s happening across brick-and-mortar stores is undoubtedly shaking up their foundation. Major department stores are either closing locations or retooling their store footprint. Household brands traditionally sold through a network of retailers are now going direct to consumer. Even digitally native brands are opening their own physical storefronts, while just about everyone is experimenting with rental and resale business models.
No matter how different these business models may be, their core is always the same. From establishing trust to meeting expectations and providing great shopping experiences, retailers are putting in place all the elements needed to fuel productive, loyal, and profitable consumer relationships.
So, where did retailers with a “going out of business” sign in their display window go wrong? The reason goes back to how personal those consumer experiences are.
So many options, so little time to get it right
For decades, retailers have opened chains of stores with the same floor format, inventory levels, and shopping experience, regardless of location. Whether they are shopping in Warwick, R.I., San Francisco, Calif., or anywhere in between, consumers always know what to expect.
Unfortunately, that level of familiarity does not necessarily mean that consumer needs are met. What consumers really crave is a tailored experience – across all channels and at all phases of the buying journey.
The level of personalization that’s desired today goes beyond segmenting consumers into neat, well-defined buyer profiles. Instead, the experience should reflect the mindset, values, and practices that are unique to the store’s location.
How to deepen consumer experiences with local personalization
When shopping in New York City, I find it very easy to spot local shopping experiences that are setting a new standard for the industry:
- Nordstrom Local is a convenient service hub for online order pickup and returns, express alterations, styling, capsule collections, and more, with two locations in New York City and three in California.
- Lord & Taylor reemerged as a small concept, pop-up store over the 2019 holiday season to introduce shoppers to a more economical way to stay in fashion: renting clothes.
- Bergdorf Goodman opened a beautiful bar within its men’s department, began to feature pop-up takeovers of locally popular brands, and aligned its website with the shoppers’ local store.
- Digitally native brands are choosing unexpected neighborhoods to open their locations.
These retailers are unquestionable adding their unique flair to the local vision of the consumer experience. More importantly, every single one of them is demonstrating that they know their consumers with three common-sense steps.
1. Ask for feedback
Having a disciplined, repeatable approach for collecting actionable data directly from consumers enriches how retailers target and engage with them. And when those insights are combined with product data and purchase behavior, retailers can position their marketing efforts to increase conversion rates and consumer spending.
However, consumers are not the only ones with useful feedback. Sales associates often observe sentiments and consumer preferences that no one in headquarters is seeing. Employing similar methodologies for understanding consumer feelings and behavior, consumer-facing employees can provide advice on how to deliver the best shopping experience and service possible.
2. Measure the consumer experience
Tracking consumer experiences against clear key performance indicators enables retailers to not only achieve their goals, but also motivate every employee to reach better outcomes. Leveraging experience-management tools to determine whether the brand promise is being fulfilled can keep everyone on the sales floor focused on delivering services that align with consumer needs, values, and mindsets.
Remember, experience-management strategies should evolve – just like consumers do. By using monitoring and measuring regularly, retailers can refine the shopping experience gradually over time – and in step with changing consumer demand.
3. Train consumer-facing employees continuously
Great consumer experiences always start with well-trained employees. The key here is not just attracting amazing talent, but also allowing them to learn about their consumers and improve their skills continuously.
For example, sales associates can be given the opportunity to reflect on and discuss the wants, needs, behaviors, and motivations of their consumers as a team. Then, they can apply their personal, human touches together in a way that keeps consumers engaged and intrigued enough to come back again – and again.
Ready to make your consumers love you even more?
Physical stores are indeed an integral part of the retail shopping experience, but not for the reasons that industry traditionalists say.
The store-level experience must now dramatically change to offer more profoundly personal experiences. Retailers need to help every store location stand out with individualized offerings, optimized services, and a local flavor. All of this can be accomplished by taking the right first steps: asking for feedback, measuring the experience, and training the workforce nonstop.
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