by Calvin Cheng -- February 14, 2018

Retailers continue to evolve and invest in the experiences they provide their customers. This is especially true for retailers with brick and mortar stores, in which providing a unified and Omni-Channel experience is critical to remain relevant, raise foot traffic and revenue in stores, and increase operating margin.

 As direct to consumer and pure play ecommerce retailers like Amazon begin to explore physical layouts (e.g. Amazon book stores, partnership with Kohl’s, acquisition of Whole Foods, Amazon Go), now is the time for brick and mortar retailers to differentiate themselves by providing engaging and relevant experiences with assets that they already have – physical stores, inventory, and associates. Brick and mortar retailers can apply lessons learned from their prior investments in customer experience via digital channels.

Apply Digital Learnings to Physical Stores

For more than a decade, brick and mortar and ecommerce retailers alike made considerable investments in their digital experience platforms. Whether it was in the form of a new website, ecommerce or mobile commerce platform, or social media listening, retailers learned a tremendous amount about customer experience, behavior patterns, engagement preferences, and purchase intent. New digital engagement points enabled brands to understand customers better and to personalize those experiences through dynamic content, promotions, and recommendations. Retailers are beginning to extend their learnings from digital customer experiences into their physical stores through the following strategies.

1. Engaging at Moments that Matter

Customer Experience (CX) continues to be a growing discipline within retail organizations, and understanding the customer journey before, during, and after a retail interaction continues to be important. Knowing the relationship between CX across channels helps to identify those Moments that Matter relating to customer awareness and acquisition, purchase intent and conversion, and post-sale service and engagement.  REI, long a favorite of industry organizations like the National Retail Federation (NRF), and industry journalists for their commitment to the customer experience, has begun to leverage that same commitment as the basis for unifying their digital and in-store customer experiences. Knowing “when” to engage customers at critical points enables retailers to design “how” they may want to engage.

2. Building Consumer Confidence to Make a Purchase

By researching their customer experience, Lowe’s found that many customers were uncertain about how to complete home improvement projects.  Lowe’s created virtual reality holorooms in their stores expressly designed to educate their customers and build their confidence. Using a combination of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR), Lowe’s stores provide a safe and educational environment for customers to learn new skills that directly influence purchase intent and conversion.

3. Investing in Digital Technology in Stores

For brick and mortar retailers, the store continues to be a primary channel for their customer experience and purchase decisions. In grocery, Kroger is rolling-out new digital signage on their shelves in 2018 to provide their customers with relevant digital content including price, nutrition and dietary information (i.e. gluten free), video and promotional content. In addition to providing customers with important information at the shelf (where most purchase decisions for grocery are made), the digital signage also improves operational efficiency by increasing the speed and accuracy of price changes, which are usually done manually. Other digital signage vendors like AWM and Perch enhance their digital signage with camera technology that enables facial recognition for anonymized data and segmentation for age, ethnicity, and emotional sentiment for proximity marketing at the shelves.

As lines blur between digital and physical interactions for both customers and retailers, understanding the customer experience remains a critical first step in the delivery of a unified, relevant, and engaging experience. Retailers who can build the confidence of their customers to help them make a better purchase decision will have a distinct competitive advantage in future retention and loyalty.  Finally, to differentiate the brick and mortar store experience, retailers must be able to more effectively leverage digital and virtual technologies as part of the retail customer journey.