As the future of physical stores is subject to heated debate, we draw on psychological research to help you create more memorable retail experiences.
The Physical Store Is Dead, Long Live the Physical Store
Technology has been at the centre of attention for quite some time in the retail world. Whether by the means of new digital distribution channels like marketplaces or technological elements like smart mirrors and augmented reality tools, a lot of pressure is put on good old physical stores to reinvent themselves.
The consensus seems to be that stores will have to become places that offer memorable experiences if they want to maintain a role in the shopping landscape of the future. Why?
Because almost everyone now has access to the internet and therefore also has access to a virtual store at arms-length on their mobile phone. Because shopping needs can be fulfilled within 24hrs (or even same day in bigger cities) and the physical store’s advantage of immediate availability is no longer valid in many product categories. Because, to many, trying on and testing a product at home (and returning what doesn’t fit) is more convenient than walking to a store and trying things on in a changing room.
Looking for that personal service? Let’s see what the likes of Amazon’s Alexa and Google Assistant will be able to deliver over the coming years. Recent examples of their skills have certainly been quite promising and that element of personal service, once a stronghold of the physical store, might soon be less of a lever for differentiation.
So what’s left to set yourself apart, give consumers a reason to visit your store in the first place and to come back to your physical store? Much has been said for creating memorable retail experiences, and the recent opening of the L&T Sportswear Store in Osnabrück, Germany is testimony to that.
The L&T store is truly amazing and certainly built on the shopping as memorable experience maxim. So why don’t you just take €35m and build you own nice store with some impressive technical features like the standing wave pictured here? Oh, you can’t quite afford that? Ok, let’s think about how to create some memorable retail experiences on a somewhat smaller budget.
A Framework for Creating Experiences That Leave a Lasting Impact
Last month, I found a book on my wife’s night table. It had been lying there for quite some time and seemed untouched, so I had a look at it to see what it was all about. It is called The Power of Moments (by Chip Heath & Dan Heath) and I found it very helpful in explaining some of the fundamental elements of any experience that our customers might consider memorable. And isn’t that what any retailer really wants, given the current digital distribution environment?
It took me only two short flights to read this fascinating book, and I would like to share three ideas with you that struck me as particularly useful, but trust me, the book holds many more.
1. Start Thinking in Moments
Fundamental to being able to truly differentiate your store from the competition is to begin thinking in moments. This means taking your customers’ perspective. Why do they come to your store? What do they expect from their visit? They might visit to shop for a very special occasion like a wedding, a first job, or simply having friends over for a nice dinner. Or they might visit because they need their favourite basic white T-shirt but have only three minutes to spare before their bus leaves.
Train your store staff to understand and appreciate the very different needs and desires that prompt your customers to visit the store. And how that translate to vastly different expectations as to what they will consider a great shopping experience in those particular moments. Failing to do so will heavily stack the odds of achieving happy customers against you.
2. Create a Peak for Your Customers by Exceeding Their Expectations
Having your customer’s selected style available in their size? Meets expectations. Friendly and helpful staff who recommend items that suit your customer? Meets expectations. A price that can compete with open marketplaces on the internet? Meets expectations.
Greeting a regular customer by name and remembering their favourite styles and colours? Exceeds expectations! Sending a loyal customer a short ‘Thank you for your purchase’ letter or email a week after their purchase with a 20%-off coupon for their next purchase? Also exceeds expectations. Exceeding expectations by creating pleasant surprises becomes increasingly difficult, but there is certainly a high level of merit in thinking about the many ways in which you and your staff can make surprises happen for your customers. It doesn’t even have to take a lot of time, effort or money.
While working with a recent client in fashion retail, I saw another small example of this idea at work. Over a long weekend, the retailer executed what in today’s attention society would be classified as a ‘low-tech’ event. The idea was simply to have some music in the store, pour a couple of drinks and just be that little bit more welcoming in inviting customers into the stores, coupled with a 15%-off coupon valid for the day. And BAMM! Revenues over those two days amounted to 20% of budgeted sales for the month, and the event more than paid for itself due to its very modest budget.
3. Get Your Shoppers Personally Involved and Make Them Feel Proud
Let’s say you have a toy store and sell puzzles, amongst other fun stuff. How about hosting a competition where people can compete in putting together a small puzzle as fast as they can. Their names and times are written on a scoreboard that is prominently placed in your store and, every week, a winner is announced who receives a small prize.
You will be surprised how much a little bit of personal involvement and pride can go in creating customers who are loyal to your store. You’ll also benefit from all the word of mouth this can generate when people start talking about the fun experience they had at your store.
Create engaged and proud customers (Source: Giphy)
Of course there are many other ways and other elements you can use to create memorable retail experiences. But, hopefully, the three teasers presented in this article were able to whet your appetite to dig deeper. In contrast to the often very cost-intensive tech-gadgets retailers tend to experiment with these days, I think there is a lot to be achieved by putting yourself and your team truly in your customers shoes and thinking hard on how to positively surprise them. Small things can make great moments and thus all the difference. Have fun!
About the Author:
Christoph Berendes built his expertise as a consultant and brand manager in the brick and mortar world. His passion and confidence in the changes turned him into a digital manager. He currently helps businesses grow their digital distribution. To discuss this post and your own methods to create memorable retail experiences, comment below or reach out to Christoph by email.