The threat posed by e-commerce companies has Brick-n-Mortar (BnM) stores reeling under pressure to stay afloat. More than the range of products and discounted prices, it’s the evolution of the customer expectation that is more disconcerting. Despite the fact that BnM stores are facing lesser footfalls than ever before, it is way too early to declare that e-commerce has completely or will completely replace them.
Right now, the BnM retail picture is murky, with retail strategists still working their heads around the growing pains of omnichannel retail. E-commerce is not new; it along with other forces like omnichannel and mobile has existed for considerable time now. But it’s only now that these combined forces are piling up and retailers are under pressure to act or perish (or at least left far behind). Experts feel that digital technology is the answer to the woes of retailers. Digital technology is just an enabler to implement a well thought out design change in creating a customer experience.This design is more important than the technology-laced execution.
BnM stores have to treat each and every customer as personas that have their own needs and motivations for visiting a store. Once the personas have been chalked out, one should track the persona’s path, right from entering the store till checkout and exit. This will help create a map with the said and unsaid pain-points. It looks easy on paper but it is not. The ‘Retail LIFE Model’ might help in creating a framework for fighting back.
Learn: One should start with creating personas of the customers who walk into a store. It all starts with adding personalities to the footfalls.
Investigate: This entails following the customer around the store (well, not literally) to find their paths. These paths are different for each persona and give insight into the customer journey pain-points.
Figure: Once the ‘said’ and ‘unsaid’ pain points are mapped with each persona, a solution blueprint needs to be created. This could be related to process, customer service, technology, etc.
Effectuate: This is the actual implementation of the design changes that would address the pain-points of the personas.
The speed of change and innovation in the retail industry is so fast (thanks to e-commerce), that BnM stores have to become nimble and try out new things. Needless to say, it is not without significant investment. But then, evolution doesn’t come cheap. Here are a few that I can think of.
In-Store Shopper Persona
It all starts with giving a human face to the customer that walks into the store. BnM retailers should know their customers to create a memorable experience around them. Once this persona has been created, the customer experience can extend beyond the 4 walls of the store. Here’s an example of personas that can be created by a retailer of beauty products.
Creating and organizing personas would help retailers plan targeted marketing campaigns, product placement and recommendations better (based on past history of purchase for instance).
Transform into Digitally Enabled Stores
The ultimate satisfaction for any website is when users bookmark them on their browsers. In the same way, BnM stores should have their own app that customers can install and vouch by. This is easier said than done (given that fact that 70% of the apps installed in our phones are rarely used.) If the store has a mobile app, then they should shout about it across their real estate. Using gamification to download the app to get incentives (like discounts or vouchers) would surely help. To take it a little further, why not throw in free Wi-Fi inside the store to download the app.
Mobile app is the starting point of tracking the personas (as creepy as it may sound) and providing a differentiating customer experience. The app can have a Barcode or QR code scanner to do price comparison with online or offline stores as well. This leads me to a fairly controversial way of enhancing customer experience: Location based targeting. Think of the possibilities of location based targeting of promotions and recommendations based on the personas’ purchase history and their specific location inside a store. This can extend beyond the store as well. Think of a notification sent to an “Ingredient Sensitive Persona”, informing him/her about a new organic hair shampoo when they are in the vicinity of a store. Intrusive? Yes! Effective? A BIG YES!
Advocates of personal privacy would have a field day but posting signs at conspicuous locations around the store which informs customers that they are being monitored for better experience would work. They can even opt-out of getting tracked.
The idea is to take the in-store experience to a different level. Since digital behaviors of personas are crossing a chasm, BnM stores need to create a differentiating experience to bring back the joy into shopping again. It’s more than the ambiance or friendly service that will keep BnM stores going; it’s much more than that.
- Think of a full length screen convert into mirror when a customer stands with a dress.
- Think of augmented reality based screens to create virtual trial rooms.
- Think of ordering an out of stock item from another BnM store location.
- Think of being welcomed into a store as a priority customer because the store has already identified your persona the moment you walked in.
- Think of self-checkout using e-wallets or touchless payment to ease the pain of PoS execution
- Think of encountering store associates who are as knowledgeable about the products as the customer wants them to be.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. There are so many innovations that BnM stores can bring in to keep shopping fun. It will take some years for retailers to make each idea a reality but it’s about time they start creating an experience that is convenient, consistent, connected and contextual.