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Rolling Out the Red Carpet for Customers

Maintaining product availability with competitive pricing at convenient locations are important hygiene factors in today’s retail business. customer convenience and a good service being the next basic premise, retailers are increasingly focussing on enhancing the overall shopping experience which envelops and encompasses the transactional and convenience aspects within the store.
How many times have you wondered how a particular piece of furniture in a retailer’s catalog or store will look in your living room? This is exactly what Crate and Barrel, a massive home furnishings and décor retailer, answered for its customers. The latter can now bring in or email their room photos to the retailer who converts them into a 3D environment. Store personnel can then help the customers try out, with the click of a mouse, how various products, fabric and colours will look in their rooms. This is simply one of the many ways in which today’s retailers are creating a “Wow!” factor in their stores.
E-commerce and mobile channels are gaining an increasing multi-channel share, yet it would be extremely premature to think that the store would be of a lesser importance in future. In fact, the reality is exactly the opposite. Customers do have a very inherent need to touch and feel the products and additionally, store shopping is still an important activity in our societal framework.
The online and mobile channels play a supplemental role to the store with factors such as convenient options and product information. In a larger context, the store alone can be a factor in improving the customer experience. But since the Internet and mobile phones have become such an inherent part of our lives, the customer’s purchase path has extended beyond the boundaries of the store.
The dimensions of the store experience vary to a great extent with the product segment and also with the customer demographics. In the case of a fashion retail store, the customer experience factors would be primarily related to a customer’s connection with the brands, size and style availability of stock, and the experience in the dressing room. For retailers of white goods and consumer electronics, the factors would range from the depth of product information available within the store and with store personnel, product comparison tools, and delivery and installation services. Department stores retailing products have it more complex for themselves as convenience is closely linked to the customer experience through factors such as checkout time, product availability and value-added services.
Retailers need to map out the customer experience factors not only at the store level but also at the product department level. The experience factors need to be clearly laid out and shared between various departments such as merchandising, visual merchandising, store operations, IT, marketing and customer service. The high level factors should be broken down into further areas weighted for each department. This activity helps in defining store customer-experience KPI’s and attributed to each department.
These factors and associated attributes should find their place into various customer surveys, check-out activities and lost-sales assessment activities. They can also be derived from activities such as mystery shopping initiatives, customer store-path , and shelf accessibility study, among other things. The end objective of store customer experience management is to turn casual customers to loyal customers and further turn loyal customers to brand ambassadors.
Retailers employ a variety of options to improve the store experience from the technology point of view. This comprises a combination of hardware and software options. Fashion retailers are known to use technology in brand communications to the customer in the form of digital displays that enhance the visibility of the brand and its products. Another example is when products saved in an online wish list or cart can be accessed from within the store for trying and check-out in store. White goods and consumer electronics retailers can allow customers to perform product comparisons and access detailed product-feature information and usage videos. For supermarkets, the most important thing is to improve the availability and check-out experience. Supermarkets in developed markets are deploying self-checkout machines where customers can scan and pay for their products themselves without any assistance. Truly, for supermarkets, superior customer experience can be equated to an advanced level of customer convenience.
Some of the common technology initiatives that can be applied across multiple retail segments to improve the store experience are in the area of mobility and store workforce management. Store mobility – mobile devices in the hands of the store staff – go a long way in augmenting the customer experience, especially in segments such as fashion and white goods. Store associates are easily accessible to customers with product information in terms of features and availability. Depending on the investments, a retailer could take this further by deploying a mobile point-of-sale with a portable card reader. The receipts could be accessed through a portable receipt printer or a wireless printer located elsewhere in the store. Queue busters can be employed by supermarkets where an associate with a mobile point-of-sale can work through a queue by scanning items in a customer’s shopping cart. The customer is provided a barcoded receipt by the associate that can be taken to a payment terminal to complete the check-out process.
Mobility and other store experience initiatives are dependent on the fact that the store is adequately staffed, the store associate is well aware of products and customer profiles, and the associates are available for customer assistance in the shortest span of time. A robust workforce management initiative ensures that stores are optimally staffed through scheduling and task management, taking into consideration the intensity of footfalls and also the skill levels and product specialisation of the associates. These tools ensure that associates are available and accessible to customers in a scenario of assisted selling by providing all relevant information related to product features and personalisation.
Store experience is a very subjective term and a combination of a multitude of factors that drive its success. Store customer experience management is a vast area involving aspects related to the product, customer segment, store layout and technology used. A good customer experience can result out of something as simple as a smile from an associate, a stocked shelf and a clean store, to as grand as clothing trials on 3D displays. Retailers need to start layer by layer beginning with factors of customer convenience and working upwards to provide a spectacular experience.