Seven Ways Retailers Can Keep Customers Coming Back

By Sherry Orel, sorel@brandconnections.com

Retail today is supposed to be all about the experience. After all, it’s so easy to shop online. And yet so many retailers could be providing a much richer customer experience if they only made a few simple changes that meet customers needs and expectations.

Retailers are losing customers’ attentions because shopping online is so darn easy and, according to the Seamless Retail Study by Accenture, 89% of consumers want retailers to let them shop where they consider most convenient, whether that’s in-store, mobile, or online. Because in-store experience doesn’t come close to the ease of online, retailers may be losing out.

Convenience is key. What if you could walk through a department store and scan the labels of everything you want to try on, from shoes to shirts to jewelry? Then, you receive a text that says everything is waiting for you in dressing room number nine? Or what if you skipped the dressing room and scanned and checked out from your smart phone and everything was shipped to your house overnight?

Since customers say they’ll buy where it makes the most sense for them, they’re always one-click away from your competition. That means that whether you’re a value store or a luxury retailer, delightful or surprising experiences (or both) will keep your customers coming back and brand-loyal.

Here are seven ways retailers can keep customers’ attention and loyalty, using some new tech tools and rethinking some old, tried-and-true processes:

1. Training, training, training
This seems simple and obvious, but too often salespeople are not educated about the brands they sell, even though it’s easier than ever to teach them the ropes with online training programs. Test often, then get on the floor, and be your best “secret shopper.” Salespeople are your brand ambassadors -- the one thing that isn’t as easy to mimic online. Make sure they know what they’re talking about.

2. Make upsells easy
This is where online beats in-store, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Replicate “customers who bought this also bought this” recommendation engine in-store. If your customer needs the perfect dress for a special event, chances are she’s open to matching shoes, jewelry or eye shadow. You can train your staff to suggest these pairings, but typically only your top sales clerks consistently go this extra mile. Consider adding QR codes to every item in your store that suggest pairings. Your customer can select the items she wants to try on, scan a QR code in her dressing room and text the request to sales clerks on the floor to alert them exactly what to bring to which customer in which dressing room.

3. Keep cool but not too hot
My least favorite part of holiday shopping is sweating in the department store.  While all the store staff is comfortable in their short sleeve shirts, customers who come in from the cold are either baking, struggling to hold their coats while they shop, or must trek to a coat check buried on the 9th floor. Anticipate their needs by adjusting the temperature based on what your customers are wearing. Put a coat-check near the entrance. Or, if you need to keep your environment chilly, follow the example of Fairway on NYC’s Upper West Side, offer jackets to customers to wear near the freezer section of the supermarket. Don’t have customers, excited and eager to shop, leave frustrated because they’re sweating or covered with goose bumps.

4.  Frictionless checkout
Today’s customer wants an in-and-out experience without waiting in line. Remember, your customers know how easy it is to check out online. Take a lesson from Apple, and let your customers buy in the aisle. Give them the option of adding a ship-to address, and deliver within a few days. Sell your customer on the convenience of having items shipped wherever he needs. Customer A, for example, wants it shipped to his cousin in Phoenix while customer B wants it shipped to the Delano Hotel in Miami. Why? That’s where she’ll be this weekend.

5. Be super-convenient within your larger store
Cater to the shopper in-a-hurry. Consider this: A single dad has the kids this weekend and has items to pick up on his way home from work. He needs bread, lunch meat, milk, cereal, chips and soda. That’s six aisles in a typical grocery store, and the reason to skip Kroger and head to 7-Eleven. Make his life easier by offering a quick-pick department that has one brand of each of the essentials and a self-checkout option.

6. Win in one category, even if you are a multi-category chain
When I was pregnant, I walked into Wal-Mart’s baby department, then promptly walked OUT of Wal-Mart’s baby department and drove to The Land of Nod.  Being so uneducated, I was overwhelmed, so I was willing to pay a premium for the hands-on support at a specialty store. Consider supporting one key department a little more than others. Target is doing this with their Beauty Concierge team of cross-category experts trained to assist guests in all things beauty. And certain markets lend themselves to special services.  Stores in retirement communities could earn loyalty from aging customers who require more help, from reaching items on high shelves, to helping them remember essentials. Retailers in communities with young families could anticipate the needs mom has while shopping with children in tow.

7. Offer the same deals both offline and online
Consider how you can provide continuity across the online and offline experiences. According to the Seamless Retail Study by Accenture, 61% of shoppers expect retailers to offer the same promotions both online and offline. Likewise, 73% expect stores to offer the same prices (regardless of sales) online and offline, despite recent news that suggests that algorithms serve up different prices on the same items to different shoppers. Understanding that it’s much easier to change prices on-line than in-store, offer a price-match option. This will encourage consumers to shop both on-line and in-store at the same time.   

Keeping your customer engaged while in-store is imperative in a market where there are so many distractions and your customer can shop the competition from your dressing rooms, sales floor and aisles. Give them a reason to love you by delighting them in unexpected ways, using technology and on-site amenities, and you’ll have them coming back for more – both in-store and online.

Sherry Orel is CEO of Brand Connections (brandconnections.com) is an independent global media and marketing company that specializes in “Making Marketing Easier for Marketers.” The company reaches consumers when they pursue their lifestyle passions, motivating them to engage with and share brand experiences, and provides tailored solutions that link critical marketing disciplines to help marketers connect the dots to deliver a better business outcome. She can be reached at sorel@brandconnections.com.


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