Using Technology to Improve the Shopping Experience

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Customer Engagement
Customer Experience
The proliferation of online stores is giving customers more choices, but at the same time having a negative impact on some brick-and-mortar shops that depend on foot traffic to make their bottom line. Moreover, in their bid to attract more customers to shop with them, an increasing number of online stores are offering free shipping and free returns, making the experience even more pain-free.

The proliferation of online stores is giving customers more choices, but at the same time having a negative impact on some brick-and-mortar shops that depend on foot traffic to make their bottom line. Moreover, in their bid to attract more customers to shop with them, an increasing number of online stores are offering free shipping and free returns, making the experience even more pain-free.Not only does online shopping offer convenience, but it also gives customers peace of mind. If, for example, I find a pair of shoes that I like and buy them online, I know that I will receive them within a specified number of days. On the other hand, even if the brand has a store, I cannot be sure that it would have what I want in the size I need in stock. My option is to call the closest store that stocks that particular brand and ask whether it has a specific style in my size.

Unfortunately, even this might leave me without the answer I'm looking for. When I called Manhattan's Lord & Taylor to ask whether they had a pair of cufflinks in stock for example, I was told they didn't stock items they had available online. As it turned out, this information was wrong--and it could have easily cost the department store a sale had I not decided to go and check anyway.

Rather than depending on customers' willingness to call and staff's ability to give the correct information, companies have the opportunity to make their search a lot simpler with an easy-to-use online tool that allows customers to check whether a particular item is available in store, without having to speak with anyone. Ann Taylor, Macy's, and Ikea are among the companies already leveraging this option to improve the shopping experience for their customers. When customers see an item that they're interested in, they can select their size, click the "find in store" button, and input their zip code. In a fraction of a second, they will be looking at a list of stores in the vicinity that have that particular item in stock. Macy's even warns customers when the stock in a particular store is limited, essentially telling them to act fast to get what they want.

The obvious problem with such a search facility is that, despite the precautions, it may still lead to disappointment when shoppers go to a store thinking that they will find what they wanted only to discover that the item has either sold out since or, when it comes to clothes and shoes, realize that it either does not fit properly or does not suit them. Yet, the company would have managed to get a customer inside one of its stores, and the likelihood is that he'll look around and perhaps spot something else he likes. While online search for in-store merchandise might not lead to a purchase on a particular occasion, it's still great customer service. And because it's so easy to check whether an item is available, customers are likely to use that website again.

With more competition, especially from online stores, companies need to find ways to attract customers to their shops, especially with the holiday season fast approaching. Optimal customer service is essential and making a shopping experience easier goes a long way towards winning people over and turning them into loyal customers.

EXPERT OPINION
EXPERT OPINION