The battle between bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce is reaching new heights. Not only are online stores stocking more of our favorite items and shrinking shipping times, but in a cutthroat retail world, they're making it easier for us to shop and return items that aren't up to our expectations.Yet, as 1to1 Media highlighted in this article, there is still hope for bricks-and-mortar stores, as long as they're willing to adapt to a changing environment and customer expectations. The article highlighted the need for store associates to become more than check-out clerks, but really deliver a personalized experience, act as trusted advisors, and help shoppers make a decision.
Unfortunately many retail locations have a long way to go before they really become the stores that today's customers expect and are willing to shop from, making it even more important to highlight the ones that are already turning a simple purchase into a great experience. This happened last week when I accompanied my husband to John Varvatos, in New York's SoHo to look for a light jacket.
We walked into a relatively empty store to be greeted by a female sales associate who was friendly but didn't pounce on us the moment we walked in. Unfortunately many retailers haven't found the right balance between making sure that customers can ask any questions without making them feel like they're intruding into someone's space. In this case, the associate nailed it perfectly, allowing us to take a look around the store before asking whether we needed any help. My husband let her know what he was looking for, which is where the great experience started.
The associate--I think her name is Cheryl--asked him a few questions to determine what he was looking for. She then offered to pull a number of options in his size, offering us a glass of water before leaving. Cheryl came back a few minutes later laden with different jackets, ascertained my husband's style and then went back to get a few other options. It was a proper personal shopping experience that even made me feel included since Cheryl asked me several times what I thought about different jackets. When my husband had made his choice, Cheryl introduced him to the tailor and asked a number of questions about alterations.
We left without the jacket, which is being altered, but with a great feeling. Even my husband, who hates shopping, admitted that this was far from the painful experience shopping normally is.
Can every store deliver the same great experience to its customers as we had at John Varvatos? Maybe not, but there are certainly some takeaways that other retailers can try to include in their day-to-day operations:
1. Courtesy is a must. Associates need to be able to read customers' body language to determine the right moment to approach them and ask if they need help.
2. Include anyone accompanying the shopper in the conversation. More often than not the customer will ask that person for advice anyway.
3. Try to understand what they're looking for and help them narrow down the search, but don't just push your favorite options.
4. Help customers make their decision by providing them with all the information they need, for example whether a material is waterproof. If you don't know the answer, just admit that and try to ask someone else or look it up, but never say what you think a customer wants to hear to make a purchase.
As we said in the above-mentioned article, physical stores are unlikely to disappear even in this age of online shopping. Yet, in order to survive, bricks-and-mortar need to focus on delivering a fantastic experience that will wow customers and make them want to return.