The retail of yesterday was predominantly comprised of face-to-face interactions. Consumers would visit a store to buy products and services, and to speak with staff about recommendations and questions. Retailers could use those interactions to establish long-term, high-value relationships with their customers.
As the internet proliferated, shopping evolved. Consumers ventured online to save time. And technology began to supersede personal relationships as consumers began to forgo in-store experiences. Amazon’s influence grew and helped consumers grow accustomed to expedited delivery options.
The result was a swing in the “digital pendulum” as in-store relationships were quickly replaced with technology. However, because of today’s consumer demand, this digital pendulum is now swinging back to a mix of online and offline shopping experiences, and retailers are struggling to find the right balance to provide their customers.
What is the right blend of technology and face-to-face interactions that retailers must use to establish stronger relationships? Retailers must use an omnichannel strategy that reaches customers wherever they are, whenever they want, and on whatever device they prefer. Omnichannel is the only way that retailers can connect with technology-driven consumers, usher them in-store, and provide exceptional experiences that generate loyalty and increase conversions.
When retailers use an omnichannel strategy to engage with customers, basket sizes can increase anywhere from threefold to tenfold by allowing shoppers to see products before purchasing, or exposing them to complementary and accessory items. In fact, U.S. shoppers spend 64% of their shopping budgets in physical stores, according to BigCommerce, validating that consumers spend more in stores.
Using appointments to drive customers in-store
One way retailers can unite online and offline experiences is through appointment scheduling, where customers can book in-store appointments online. Appointments are incredibly value-driven, meaning that consumers will freely invest their time in meeting with in-store experts if they’re looking to purchase big-ticket items, such as electronics, and have questions for staff. In other words, these consumers want to proactively develop their relationships with their favorite retailers, and retailers can’t cultivate these relationships electronically.
Perhaps the most important component of appointments is that they provide individualized attention, which is something that consumers can’t receive online. For example, if shoppers want to meet with in-store experts about electronics, they can receive recommendations and demonstrations from in-store staff. This type of service builds loyalty because of the time and attention given to customers; in the end, consumers will leave their appointments feeling appreciated and, hopefully, with additional purchases.
Appointments also provide tremendous upsell and cross-sell opportunities because in-store staff can recommend additional items that complement original purchases. Interestingly, 71% of consumers spend $50 or more when shopping in-store, compared to only 54% of shoppers spending more than $50 when shopping online, according to First Insight Report.
Immersing customers in engaging experiences
Today’s stores are all about experiences. They’re destinations for like-minded customers. For example, Nordstrom is redefining its in-store experience by opening local inventory-free shops that act as convenient and accessible service hubs, allowing customers to pick up orders and receive alterations. Retailers can’t replicate these experiences online for shoppers because they’re hands-on in nature. These experiences can certainly start online, but the relationships must be cultivated offline.
That’s why retailers must turn their brands–and stores–into immersive experiences that foster communities. Retailers can host specific VIP gatherings, new product launches, preview sales, and more to bring consumers from the digital sphere into physical stores. They can offer incentives and promotions for customers who are attending events to use in their stores.
For those consumers attending events, retailers have perfect opportunities to build strong relationships with them via soliciting feedback about their products and services. When customers are in a store, staff can ask for their opinions to show them that they value their perspectives for improvement. This establishes loyalty because it gives customers the chance to share their thoughts face-to-face with store employees. Retailers can have deeper conversations with customers, who can offer more insights than they typically might share in written reviews online. Face-to-face conversations are incredibly valuable because they establish trust and form relationships.
Rooting customer service in personalization
Retailers can’t innovate unless they’re able to analyze customer data. With these metrics, retailers can deliver personalized service that extends from online to offline. Nearly 80% of consumers indicate that personalized service from sales associates is an important factor in determining where to shop, according to a recent BRP survey. And consumers are willing to share their personal data if it helps provide better experiences.
By accessing customer data, retailers can recognize consumers’ purchasing histories, see the best times to connect with them, and gauge their personal interests, so they can deliver personalized promotions and offerings to them. This customer-centric service shows that retailers treat consumers as individuals–they put their customers at the heart of their businesses because they understand their behaviors. In turn, customers see the value of this approach, and they’ll know that retailers truly care about them, so they’ll purchase more from them.
To successfully transcend the digital pendulum, retailers must use an omnichannel approach to connect with their consumers and provide them with enriching experiences that yield greater loyalty and conversion. If retailers use technology on its own, they won’t be able to establish stronger customer relationships because they’re missing the critical in-store element. When retailers couple digital and physical experiences together, they can turn casual customers into brand champions.
John Federman is CEO of JRNI, an enterprise software-as-a-service scheduling platform