Customer expectations have changed rapidly for retailers, and the pressure to provide great shopping and checkout experiences is more critical than ever. In the last 5 years, it’s become clearer that you’re not just competing with the shops in your community – you’re competing on a global level with every online business. There’s even a new app that will send competitors’ coupons to your customers when they walk into your store.

2015_JULY_ALL_MARKETING - 3 Ways to Improve Your Customer Experience Strategy

Furthermore, your customers are already checking out your competitors when they are browsing in your store or on your website. 42% of in store shoppers are using their mobile phones to compare prices, products and availability online. And even the slightest amount of hassle when shopping in-store – like the product being out of stock, poor service, or even just a long queue at the checkouts – can drive retail customers online or to a nearby competitor.

While I can easily remember my last bad checkout experience, checkouts that went really well are not as memorable. And in fact, that’s probably the exact reason why they were good checkout experiences. Surprisingly, when I go to the store, I don’t want to be delighted and amazed at a simple process. Instead, I want reliable, quick and simple service: the kind of service where I can sail through the checkout with ease.

Customer service is a major driver in the overall retail experience. American Express recently found that 60% of customers have abandoned a purchase in-store due to a poor customer service experience.

Poor customer experience can also be defined as a “high effort” experience. Research agency CEB found that an astonishingly high 96% of customers report that high effort experiences make them more likely to be disloyal, in comparison to only 6% of customers likely to be disloyal who had a frictionless, easy experience. Customers have spoken – 47% say that a “simple purchasing process” is the most important element in the ideal customer experience.

In order to reduce the effort customers experience in your store, retailers must focus on being approachable, reducing surprises and embracing innovation.

1. Be Approachable

It’s really great when you can solve a customer’s problem, and that leads to a purchase. But what about the problems you don’t know about?

In the book Customer Experience 3.0, author John A Goodman reveals that for every 1 customer that complains, or reaches out for help, there are 25 others that say nothing. That’s a lot of customers who have unresolved questions. A main goal of successful retailers is decreasing this ratio, and being more available and approachable to those customers that may not otherwise make inquiries.

It’s more than worth it to invest time in soliciting customer questions – a recent report from Timetradefound that sales increased 25-50% when shoppers had received assistance from knowledgeable sales associates. It’s also not hard to do. Simple tricks work really well here:

  • Target, for example, identifies all retail associates by dressing them in bright red clothing
  • Apple Stores station a greeter at the front door to welcome customers to the store
  • Associates at Trader Joe take customers looking for an item directly to it instead of giving directions

By realizing that most customers with questions won’t ask for assistance, you can better equip your staff to help those silent complainers and reduce purchase-ending friction.

2. Reduce Surprises

Negative surprises, like a lack of inventory or out-dated pricing, leave a sour taste in a customer’s mouth when they’re looking to buy. Meeting customers’ expectations makes it easy for customers to do business with you, and easy for them to become repeat customers.

To reduce surprises and make it easy, ensure pricing is up to date, and that promotions are keyed in across multiple stores. This is a much easier endeavor when all channels use the same systems.

J.Crew offers a great example of how consistency on the back end operations can improve front end customer experience. If an item is on sale online, they honor it in-store too, which results in fewer surprises when customers see their receipt. J. Crew’s online and in-store locations operate in perfect omni-channel harmony. One store, one experience. No surprises.

3. Embrace Innovation at the POS

Long line-ups and frustrating payment experiences can drive even the most fervent shopper mad. With constant POS system innovation, there’s no need to ever have a queue at the front of your retail store.

For example, Sephora reduces the time and effort customers spend when paying by embracing innovation in their retail stores. Each make-up artist is provided with a mobile POS terminal. When the makeover is done, the customer can choose and pay for their favorite products right then, without needing to stand in line. In-store, about 30% of Sephora’s transactions go through a mobile POS. More and more retailers are embracing a mobile POS with 70% of brick and mortar retail chains expecting to provide mobile devices to their store associates by 2015.

The key is to use new omni-channel products to relieve even the smallest irritation to customers. Williams-Sonoma offers a “Shop In Store, Ship to Home” service, which reduces customers’ worries about delivery charges and getting their new items home. As long as the shipping time is within reason, this is a great opportunity to help bring a sale across the line.

Take it one step at a time

Loyalty is earned over time, but one poor experience can bring it crashing down. It’s up to today’s retailers to make in-store shopping an easy effortless experience. But this change doesn't have to happen all at once. Start by identifying the biggest drivers of friction or purchase abandonment in your store, and see if you can innovate to reduce it. By slowly but surely eliminating friction on your customer’s journey to the checkout, you’ll drive higher sales and have customers coming back for more.


Francesca Nicasio Vend

Francesca Nicasio is Vend's resident retail blogger. She writes about trends, tips, and other cool things that can help retailers increase sales, serve customers better, and be more awesome overall.