The world of retail is changing at a fast pace and quickly shifting to e-commerce in large part because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Consumers are going into brick-and-mortar stores less and less. This new arena of retail will likely persist after the pandemic ends because people have grown accustomed to the ease of online shopping. So what are the brick-and-mortar stores supposed to do?
The answer is simple, yet profound: create an unmatched customer experience.
Why is Customer Experience in Retail Important?
In short, the better a customer’s experience in a store is, the greater connection customers will build with the brand. As a result, the more they will buy. If a brand is able to create a connection with their customer, they can easily turn that person into an enthusiast of that brand – someone who purchases from them frequently.
Online, on the other hand, there are a plethora of retail options for any product. Simply clicking through the website does not allow for a consumer to connect with a brand and the promise behind that brand. That does not lend itself well to repeat customers. Stepping into a physical store allows for consumers to be immersed into a brand and grow a connection which will, in turn, grow sales.
Retail stores have to give consumers a reason to visit their stores. The question a retailer should be asking themselves is: “What can I give my consumers in-store that they cannot get online?”
The simple answer to that question is a customer experience like no other. Retailers can look at this in a variety of different ways such as focusing on employee-to-customer interactions, store setup and aesthetic, in-store events, and anything else that will draw in a physical customer.
How Optimism Brewing Adapted its Retail Strategy Amidst COVID-19
One retailer that has adapted to provide an enticing experience to accompany their business during the pandemic is Optimism Brewing in Seattle. The brewing company noticed that the pandemic has made their customers come in to work remotely as early as noon on weekdays to seat and work while having a beer.
Optimism Brewing saw this opportunity for creating a unique experience for their customers. They adapted to changing consumer behaviors by adding a new feature to their business where customers could reserve a desk and get a complimentary beer while working in their new co-working space.
This was a new, interesting, and practical experience for those who wanted a change of scenery while working from home. Besides, as far as we’re concerned, in a pandemic, it’s always five o’clock somewhere, right? Optimism Brewing saw this unique opportunity to draw people out of their houses during these unprecedented time and get them into their store for extended periods of time.
This new strategy increased purchases and visits frequency for Optimism Brewing.
Customer Experience Over Price
Customer experience is a key differentiation strategy and is quickly outperforming price strategy in terms of what customers care about. Any store can offer its products at a discounted or premium price. A successful retail experience is what can set one retailer apart from another.
Instead of competing in the landscape of discounted prices, a way more fruitful strategy would be offering an unmatched customer experience that consumers won’t mind paying a higher price for.
Consumers already relate higher prices to luxury experiences. Giving them a personalized experience that they won’t be able to find elsewhere creates leverage towards increasing margins. Retail stores should focus on converting visitors into lifetime customers who won’t mind paying that premium because they know they are getting a unique customer experience.
I have the first-hand experience in the retail industry seeing a company put experience for the customer above the best price for the customer. Mimi’s Prom, which sells prom dresses, makes sure that each shopper has an individual stylist that is working with them for the duration of their appointment. The stylist walks them through their experience, helping them into dresses, making recommendations, and providing industry knowledge along the way.
Girls are not going to get that individualized experience if they walk into the mall to buy a prom dress. In turn, Mimi’s Prom carries designer prom styles costing anywhere from $200 to $1,000 while other stores might give you lower quality for less cost. That has not stopped the high school girls from booking Mimi’s Prom full though, proving that girls want that experience and selection over a low price.
Creating an experience like this in Kansas City, where no other boutique firm can compare, enables Mimi’s Prom to achieve tremendous growth due to word of mouth as well. I make it a habit to ask my customers how they heard about Mimi’s Prom and where they are from and I will continually work with girls from the same high schools because their friend came last weekend and loved it. I have also heard positive comments from the moms about their experience because they can sit, relax, and enjoy the experience with their daughter and not worry about trying to help them into the dresses.
This has really changed my outlook on the experience because it really shows how much the employees can be responsible for shaping the consumer’s shopping experience. Everything should be intentional when creating an experience for a customer. This means making sure all aspects of the retail space reflect that company’s values and brand promise. If everything ties together, it will make for an optimal customer experience.
Retailers are having to adapt how they think and sell in this time of change. However, the answer isn’t always in the next big trend or technology find. Sometimes the greatest thing a retailer can do is go back to those basics and create relationships with their customers through an unmatched customer experience.
Remember, it may not be the newest trend, but greater customer experience will always equate to greater customer satisfaction, increased sales, and improved customer retention.