Updated on 06/02/2023
Why focus on customer experience?
For retail, the customer experience is a key element of success. But what characterizes a truly effective shopping experience? In this post, we’ll learn from the best retailers to understand what makes a truly great customer experience.
As we’ve mentioned in previous posts on this blog, it’s clear that successful retailers will be those who develop a customer experience of the highest level. The famous retail apocalypse several years ago that led to the closure of large shopping centers and well-known brands, is proof of this. The large retail space with a variety of products are no longer the main features that attract customers. For today’s customer, the beginning of a memorable experience is not just the storefront.
This is because consumers’ needs and expectations have changed; as a result, retailers’ offerings need to change as well.
Obviously supermarkets, small neighborhood shops, and discount stores will continue to exist. But what’s also certain is that they will have to rethink their business, especially considering the fact that digital transformation has radically changed the rules of the game.
Customer Experience in retail sector: 4 fundamental characteristics
The advent of e-commerce platforms and their remarkable growth in recent years is evidence that the market is no longer as it once was. Instead, it follows a new logic and has a new target audience, one that is made up of a consumer base that is digital and more demanding than before.
Despite the market pressures to which all traditional retailers are subjected in this period, digital transformation offers many useful tools and concrete solutions for growth and development. The important thing, it must be repeated, is to focus on improving the customer experience, which is a strategic lever to increase customer satisfaction and, consequently, to grow revenue.
But what is the experience that customers expect? And what are the characteristics of an effective customer experience? Let’s see them.
The first characteristic, without a doubt, is to be personalized. Whether on a platform or in a physical store, the customer wants to be considered unique and placed at the center of an experience that is calibrated to their characteristics and designed specifically for them.
That’s why customers find it satisfying to enter a store and be recognized as a loyal customer or to receive personalized messages or videos that are addressed to them directly and which intercept their needs perfectly, wherever they are on the customer journey. Among other things, it is not only the customer experience that must be personalized, but we can go even further, personalizing other elements that make the consumer’s experience even more memorable, such as the product, for example.
This is exactly the service offered by many retailers in the fashion sector. The customer has the opportunity, online or in store, to choose a product and, starting from a standard model, to personalize it as he or she sees fit, creating a unique object that is perfectly suited to their expectations and desires. Among other things, the ability to personalize products is not only favored by new solutions provided by digital transformation, such as the body scanner, but above all it intercepts a growing trend.
About half of Italian millennials who buy online say they are willing to pay 40% more to have tailor-made, personalized clothing or shoes.
The second characteristic of a modern and effective customer experience in retail is the immersion. This means that the consumer, when making a purchase, must feel fully involved and at the center of a coherent and complete experience that adapts to their choices and inputs.
One way to achieve this is to develop an omnichannel network that combines information, regardless of device used. This means that companies must be able to reach customers by relevant messages through as many touch points as possible, which work in unison when the user decides to activate them. In this way, the consumer will be free to choose when and on which device to embark on their consumer experience. For example, a customer must be able to check the availability of a product from their PC, personalize it with their smartphone while going to the physical store, register on the retailer’s website through a kiosk in the shop, try the selected product with the advice of the salesperson, and then pay by app.
All of this must take place in a homogeneous and continuous way, without repetition or overlaps of any kind. According to Accenture, having to repeat certain actions several times generates a sense of frustration in 9 out of 10 consumers, who may decide to abandon the experience in the long run.
Another feature of the customer experience in retail: it must be memorable. The modern consumer, by now, finds himself literally immersed in an environment full of stimuli, messages, and impulses. This means that in order to be noticed, the retailer must be relevant, since the consumer naturally tends to filter out impulses and messages perceived as annoying or irrelevant. In this sense, the customer experience must be memorable, and it must be one of the strategic tools that a company activates in order to stand out from the competition. How to do it?
Obviously the features listed above contribute to this, but concretely the best thing the retailer can do is to enrich the consumer experience with new technologies. One example is augmented reality, which represents a promising tool to immerse the consumer in a shopping experience that stimulates all the senses (digital4.biz).
Another example is the use of intelligent speakers, which are increasingly widespread in the homes of consumers around the world. In fact, allowing consumers to buy a product from home by interacting with a digital assistant makes the shopping experience memorable.
4. Mobile friendly
Finally, a truly effective customer experience is inevitably mobile friendly.
This means that if the retailer is digital, then the browsing experience must be fluid and light so that it can also be enjoyed from a smartphone or other similar device. If the retailer is physical, they must integrate the in-store experience with the use of the phone, so that the two communicate and almost intertwine. This particular need arises mainly from the analysis of new habits; here, we can see that the future of retail passes through smartphone screens.
More and more people are now using mobile devices and for a variety of reasons: from communicating via chat to enjoying video and other content, to purchasing products and services (insidemarketing.it). Among other things, many people use their smartphones before they go to a physical store or even while they are in the store to get more information, tips on usage, and to read opinions from other customers (business2community.com).
Secondly, being mobile, in the broadest sense, means changing how you communicate in order to take advantage of non-traditional channels for the retail sector, such as social networks. After all, users already use their mobile devices to surf Facebook and the like and, moreover, the mix of social and e-commerce is becoming more and more consolidated, becoming one of the most important trends in the sector.
Successful Customer Experience in the retail sector: some examples
Given these four aspects, there is only one thing to do: go from theory to practice and look at examples of successful customer experience in the retail sector that have at least one, if not all four of these characteristics.
Let’s start by looking at some examples.
1. Nike, the paradise of personalization
Nike is a brand that understood the importance of personalization even in physical stores long before the others.
For this reason, in many of its stores, Nike allows customers to choose their own pair of shoes and then make modifications such as changing the color, the materials, the sole, etc. In this way, anyone can leave the store with a unique pair of sneakers.
According to Nike, the store is not only a place of purchase, but above all a place of product experience. For this reason, the SOHO location in New York has been conceived as an interactive store, where the customer can use his smartphone to frame the label of products related to a specific basketball team and thus access special content, videos of games, interviews, Spotify playlists, and much more.
Maximum immersion is achieved by the fact that before buying the shoes, each customer can try them on a basketball court equipped with kinetic sensors capable of capturing body movements and then project them onto a maxi screen.
2. Natuzzi, diving and augmented reality
To be immersed in a shopping experience, you don’t necessarily have to enter a physical place.
Natuzzi demonstrated exactly this by using augmented reality to create its first Augmented Store, where reality merges with digital reality.
Thanks to the use of special mixed reality viewers, the so-called Microsoft HoloLens, customers can immerse themselves in a 1:1 scale virtual showroom where they can see the different Natuzzi products as if they were real, changing colors and finishes according to their desires and positioning them in the environment so they can observe them from every point of view.
In this way, the consumer can test the whole range in its different versions and materials and, afterwards, receive a rendering to take home that can be shared with the family via smartphone or through a virtual reality viewer. In doing so, Natuzzi has managed to integrate innovative technology with the customer’s use of the smartphone, which becomes a key component of the consumer experience.
3. Alibaba, the smartphone protagonist
When it comes to smartphone integration throughout the customer experience, you can’t ignore Alibaba with its first physical stores, where the consumer enters and can do everything with just a tap.
Thanks to a fully automated organization, the consumer can collect product information by clicking a QR Code, which also shows recipes and comments from other customers. Customers can also place orders (and make payments) for the refreshment areas, directly from their phones. In this way, Alibaba offers a customer directed experience for purchasing and experiencing their products.
4. The Zara retail experience
The use of an innovative solution can serve not only to provide new consumer experiences but also to improve existing ones.
This is exactly what Zara has done. In 2018, the retailer introduced a click-and-collect technology in some pop-up stores that allows customers to choose the garments they prefer and pay for them directly through cash machines or smartphones. In addition, Zara offers upselling opportunities through RFID devices inside each dressing room that provides advice on complementary items once a garment is scanned.
Mobile, innovative technology, and personalization: Zara’s customer experience promises to be textbook.
5. Ted Baker’s interactive window
But the shopping experience can begin to transform even just from the window.
This is exactly what Ted Baker has done by placing an interactive screenshot inside some shop windows to promote the “Keeping up with the Bakers” campaign. Passers-by were asked to place their hands on the screen, look into the room and take part in interactive content that was then shared on social networks. In this way, the company obtained a series of content created directly by users and, in addition, involved them, putting them at the center of an experience in which they were the absolute protagonists.
Customer centrality, innovative technology, immersion. Once again, the combination of the ingredients mentioned above result in an effective strategy to make your brand relevant and make your customers feel satisfied.