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As the COVID crisis continues to ease, more and more customers are returning to brick-and-mortar stores. Physical stores still have to compete with online retailers and offer competitive prices and a superior customer experience. 

How can you improve your retail customer experience? Experts agree that it's all about thinking like the customer – and delivering an immersive, engaging and safe shopping environment.

Key takeaways

  • Improving the retail customer experience helps you better compete with both online and offline retailers.

  • To improve the retail customer experience, create an immersive, engaging, and fun environment – while still emphasizing convenience and efficient shopping.

  • Post-COVID, providing contactless shopping is essential.

  • Superior service will set your business apart from the competition. 

Why improving the retail customer experience is essential

In today's environment, you're competing with other physical retailers and an increasing number of ecommerce websites. Online retailers offer customers the convenience of shopping from the comfort of their own homes and often offer a seemingly limitless selection of merchandise. Up your in-store game to compete with these online sites. 

Price is important, of course, but offering competitive pricing is just the cost of admission today. What matters more is the in-store experience, from the moment the customer drives into the parking lot until they walk back out the door with their purchases in hand. 

Price Waterhouse Cooper found that 73% of shoppers say that a positive retail customer experience is more important than price – and more influential than advertising. Almost half (40%) of those surveyed said they were willing to pay more for a superior in-store experience. You can't afford not to offer the best retail customer experience possible. 

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Image: https://www.groovehq.com/blog/why-customer-service-is-important 

Best practices for improving the retail customer experience

There are several surefire ways you can improve your retail customer experience. Here are a few of the best:

1. Create an immersive and engaging experience

One of the most important things that a physical store offers that an online retailer can't is an immersive and engaging environment. People, products, posters and displays, and sights, sounds and smells surround customers walking into your store. They can't get that sitting in front of their computers at home. 

How can you immerse and engage your customers? It's more than just putting products on the shelves. You need to show your products in action, offer live demos and special events, and create interactive displays and kiosks that pull customers into using the product hands-on. You may even want to embrace advanced technologies, such as augmented reality (A.R.), to personalize the experience for each shopper. Make visiting your store more than just shopping – make it an experience they can't get elsewhere. 

2. Make it fun

To be memorable, shopping needs to be fun. This can involve "smart" technology that enhances the shopping experience, such as interactive displays that show how a piece of clothing looks on the shopper. It can also involve experiences outside traditional shelving, such as the climbing wall at REI stores, in-store beverage service like Nordstrom offers in some locations, or the live trout swimming through select L.L. Bean stores. None of these items generate revenue themselves, but they all help engage customers in a fun way that results in a more memorable retail experience.

3. Emphasize convenience and speed

Not every customer wants to be immersed in unique experiences. Some people want to get in and get out as quickly as possible. Slow, inefficient service will drive these customers back to online retailers, so offer them a shopping experience that is convenient and efficient, time-wise. 

That means mapping customer flow throughout the store, providing an easily understood layout that minimizes traditional friction points. In-store technology helps anticipate customer needs and shopping patterns and arranges products that make the most sense for different shoppers. 

4. Offer contactless shopping

If the COVID-19 crisis has shown us anything, it's that contactless shopping is critical. That goes beyond contactless payment – which is also a must – and includes removing unnecessary physical touch points throughout the store. That may mean replacing touch-based interfaces with touchless systems that employ voice control or facial recognition, as preferred by 84% of Americans today. It may also mean rethinking fitting rooms for clothing purchases, introducing more self-service options, and minimizing face-to-face contact with store personnel. 

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Image: https://www.capgemini.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Touchless-Interface_V4.pdf 

5. Think local

Amazon is a global company, offering a similar experience to users wherever they're based. Any physical store's advantage over an online retailer is that it's local – even if it's part of a regional or national chain. Cater to your local customers by offering products and services tailored to localized needs. That could mean offering products from local suppliers or creating a store design that focuses on the unique demands of local customers. It's all about creating a localized shopping experience for customers in your town or neighborhood. 

6. Emphasize service

Customers can buy many products in many places, both online and down the street. Set your store apart from the competition by offering superior service. This can range from extra assistance in the store to extended support after the sale. You may even want to consider unique but related services in addition to your daily product offerings. Go above and beyond what customers expect. Woo them away from online and offline competition.

Let Optimizely help you improve your customer experience

When you want to improve the retail experience for your customers, turn to Optimizely. Our Digital Experience Platform helps you create unique shopping experiences across all customer touch points. Let Optimizely help you deliver a personalized shopping experience that your customers will remember – both online and offline. 

Contact Optimizely today to learn more about improving the retail customer experience.