Improving the In-Store Experience

Customer Strategy
By improving their in-store experience, brick-and-mortar companies can avoid becoming showrooms for online giants and instead incentivize customers to make an in-store purchase.

Smartphones have made it easier for customers to get the best deal. Not only can they search for items they want from the comfort of their own home, but when they find an item they want in a store, customers can scan the barcode and check whether it's available for a better price online.

This practice is so widespread that it's impacting a number of brick-and-mortar stores. These retailers are becoming showrooms for online giants, such as Amazon, which are able to offer better prices. However, according to Craig LaRosa, principal at Continuum, organizations can take steps to reduce the likelihood of customers coming into their stores just to see products before going online to make a purchase.
LaRosa says the trick lies in creating an experience that makes customers want to do business with a company and give customers added value. Here he gives four tips for organizations to change their processes and stop losing their customers to online shopping.

Execute as an organization: Many companies are siloed with different departments not knowing what the others are doing. LaRosa argues that in order to bring the necessary changes that will wow customers into wanting to do business with an organization, business leaders must bring everyone into the same room. "You need to look at your business and make sure that everyone's working together," he says. By having all the departments discussing the whole customer journey, the organization can make changes that improve the experience, increasing the chances that customers will do business with that company. LaRosa says Holiday Inn had an issue with people going outside its properties to get food. It addressed the food problem by bringing all their departments together to find solutions, including 24/7 food options, a better menu, and chef-prepared food to go.

Cater to your best customers: Organizations need to go beyond treating customers as demographics and instead understand them holistically, including their emotions and aspirations. "Retailers need to deliver [experiences] that cater to customers' needs and create stickiness, which makes the purchase happen at the store rather than [the customer going] to a competitor," LaRosa says. Nordstrom, for example, knows that a lot of its customers are mothers who go shopping with their children. Since mothers are focused on their children's development, Nordstrom has held shoelace-tying workshops for kids at its stores. Athletic wear company Lululemon provides classes about nutrition and exercise in its stores, creating a community around the brand so that people want to go to the stores for the added experience.

Turn the store into an experience: Customers expect more for their money, and if they can find the same item cheaper online, they will only go to a store that delivers a great experience. "You need to address the value gap," LaRosa says. Abercrombie & Fitch uses loud music to create an experience for its targeted customers--teenagers, and regularly has a line waiting to get into its flagship stores. Jordan's Furniture designed its Natick, MA, store to resemble New Orleans' Bourbon Street, including a Mardi Gras parade. "They're creating an experience so that people don't just go to the store to shop," LaRosa says.

Live in beta: LaRosa stresses that companies need to constantly evolve not only their products and services, but also their in-store experience. "It's important to continually test how something will feel like in the stores," he says. Sprint, for example, tries out prototypes in a test store to make sure that the idea is working well and that it can make the needed changes in other stores.

While the attraction of online shopping is not likely to go away, organizations can make it more attractive for customers to make purchases from brick-and-mortar stores, especially when they're already there, by providing the best experience and giving added value.