5 Ways Physical Stores Can Reclaim Their Throne

Physical stores are not left without hope. Despite the influx of store closures, physical retailers can make a strong comeback. More than 20 major retailers, such as Kmart and JC Penney, have closed down stores this past year. In 2017 alone, more than 5,000 retail stores have closed down so far. However, customers are still shopping and buying in physical stores. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, more than 90% of retail sales are still taking place in stores today. Retailers cannot change their business model and strategy overnight, but they have the opportunity to revive the in-store experience and use that to their advantage. We’ve compiled 5 ways physical stores can reclaim their throne in today’s digital era.

1. Digitally reboot the store experience

Shoppers want the online experience throughout their entire shopping journey, including in-store.

“Digital experiences are all around us and have become an integral part of our lives,” says Yuval Yatskan, VP of Marketing at Skava. “It is only natural to expect to see digital interwoven into the entire customer shopping experience, including in-store.”

Why? Convenience.

Customers consistently want a shopping experience that is effortless and intuitive. Self-service technologies are powerful and convenient tools to engage and guide your in-store customers. In a survey by Interactions, 84% of shoppers said they expect retailers to successfully utilize technological features to improve their shopping experience in the store. Department stores such as Macy’s, Target, and Walmart have already equipped their physical stores with kiosks and endless aisle experiences.

These powerful technologies provide value and convenience for the customer, whether in the form of a price checker, access to product information, or an inventory catalog. Customers can independently and accurately check prices or product information on these devices, bringing the online experience in-store.

2. Supercharge your store associates with digital tools and knowledge

The first customer interaction in-store should be with a store associate. They’re your brand ambassadors and key experts within the store. However, today’s store associates are often poorly trained and uninformed about the brand and products in the store. In our latest infographic, Physical Stores Are Evolving, Not Dying, we highlighted that 69% of shoppers will switch brands if they experience poor customer service, according to a CEI customer survey.

Store associate devices have multiple roles with opportunities to:

  1.     Train store associates to become brand experts
  2.     Provide quality customer service that shoppers desire
  3.     Upsell and cross-sell in the store
  4.     Personalize the customer’s overall shopping experience
  5.     Administer customer profiles
  6.     Help shorten checkout lines
  7.     Process faster transactions with POS capabilities

Store associates should have up-to-date inventory data and production information at the palm of their hands.

3. Personalize the customer experience without violating their privacy

There is a delicate balance between personalizing a customer’s experience and unintentionally violating his or her privacy. Shoppers want a certain level of privacy and will provide their information only if they’re given a strong incentive, such as a redeemable store coupon.

Personalization in the store compared to online is much more challenging, given the limited amount of available in-store customer data. Furthermore, store associates might want to be careful when leveraging customer data during their interactions. As a store associate, you want to identify your customers in order to personalize their experience. Stores such as Safeway, Ulta, and Sephora have normalized the way they obtain customer information by asking for a phone number, then providing targeted discounts, coupons, and even customer points.

So, how can store associates provide a personalized experience without being creepy? The store associate should be upfront about accessing the customer’s profile information to better serve their needs. Strike up a conversation during which store associates can either scan a customer’s loyalty card, ask for their phone number, or pull up the email address associated with the customer’s profile. This is where machine learning capabilities come into play.

4. Leverage machine learning capabilities to understand the individual customer

Machine learning capabilities are gaining momentum in the commerce space. We are now seeing more machine learning solutions scale the online experience, with chat bots to automate customer service and personalized product recommendations to enrich the customer experience. Imagine leveraging these capabilities to give your customers a much more impactful store experience.

Retailers have an opportunity to deeply understand their customers. Based on a variety of customer dimensions, such as online activities, behavior patterns, and so on, machine learning offers personalized insights and recommendations. By powering store associates with  machine learning capabilities, they can

  1. Generate suggestions for complementary items
  2. Get a sense of the customer taste
  3. Gauge the customer’s propensity to purchase
  4. Better segment customers with like minded peers 
  5. Gain an insight to their pricing preferred range
  6. And much more…

These capabilities enable store associates to provide a much more engaging and personalized customer experience.

5. Bring the brand experience to life

A physical store is an essential part of your brand’s identity. Retailers have the opportunity to go beyond just selling a product. It’s critical to establish a brand identity and build a strong relationship with your customers both online and in-store. Retailers are no longer considered mere suppliers of products; they’re lifestyle partners and experience-makers that connect with and inspire customers.

Sixty-two percent of customers prefer shopping in-store versus online to “touch, feel, see, and try on items,” according to a Retail Dive study. Customers want a store space that allows them to do just that. Interacting with products in the store—whether it’s trying on shoes and walking around in the store, or inspecting the quality and size of a dining table—brings customers closer to the brand.

In a recent white paper, Reinventing Physical Stores in a Digital World, we noted that retailers must think beyond data to further engage shoppers in the store. While data is highly critical to understanding customers and personalizing their shopping experience, you must think about how you want your customers to feel in the store and what kind of a holistic shopping experience you want to give them. For example, if you sell athletic wear, you can offer fitness classes in your store (depending on the store layout), or host a talk with an expert on health and wellness. These are the kinds of experiences that will bring the brand to life, increase brand awareness, and drive more customers to your store.

Physical stores are not dead; they’re evolving, just like the everyday customer. It’s not enough only to provide fitting room assistance and point of sale solutions. Customers want more out of their shopping experience, and retailers have a tremendous opportunity to exceed their expectations. As Dave Barrowman (VP, Head of Innovation, Skava) would say, “you have the opportunity to make your store experience experiential.”

Download our latest white paper Reinventing Physical Stores in a Digital World to learn more.