With more than half a million small businesses popping up every year, it’s more important than ever to find your competitive edge to make it in the cut-throat retail industry.
One way to do that is to simplify: Create a streamlined brand experience.
But actually implementing a such an experience is anything but simple.
What Is a Streamlined Experience?
If you look at the definition for “streamline” as an adjective, you’ll find that it means “free from turbulence.” But we aren’t talking about airplanes here.
Turbulence, as it relates to retail businesses, refers to the amount of friction or pain a customer experiences as they engage with and make a purchase from your brand. The smaller the amount of friction, the more pleasurable the interaction.
One easy way to think about it:
Less Friction + More Simplicity = Higher Customer Satisfaction
Jessica Thiele, marketing manager at VL, Inc., sums it up like this: “At minimum, [a streamlined retail experience] must be error-free and smooth, otherwise your customers will notice. And most of the time, they won't say anything about it — they’ll just shop somewhere else next time around.”
…which brings us to our next point:
Why Streamlining Matters
Siegel+Gale’s Global Brand Simplicity Index 2015 found that a simple brand experience led to more customer loyalty. And more loyalty means more sales.
The report also states that 69% of consumers are more likely to recommend simple brands.
Word-of-mouth marketing is crucial, so that’s not a stat to take lightly. A 2014 Google report found that the top point of influence for consumer behavior is word-of-mouth, Nielsen has uncovered that word-of-mouth is what consumers consider to be the most trustworthy source of information, and Ad Age has reported that word-of-mouth increases marketing effectiveness by 54%.
But a streamlined experience affects more than just referrals. More than half (63%) of consumers are willing to pay more for a simpler experience. That means you can offer a quality experience, and reap financial benefits from doing so.
Examples of Streamlined Retailers
Let’s take a look at some of the brands that consumers consider to be simple, according to the Siegel+Gale report:
The German grocery retailer with locations across the globe earned the No. 1 spot on the list of simple brands. Why? Because it’s easy to understand (both the brand itself and their offers), has consistently satisfactory customer service, and sells high-quality products at affordable prices.
Dollar Shave Club
This brand was included in the report as a featured disrupter, which Siegel+Gale defines as a retailer that has simple customer experiences at its core while “continuously changing consumer expectations.” Dollar Shave Club has a consistently high-quality product and an easy shipping process.
The Swedish furniture retailer is known for not only the simplicity of its products, but the simple approach they take in their marketing collateral. Catalogues display the products in a visually appealing and intuitive way. IKEA delivers a cohesive, simple experience from product selection through assembly.
Why Is Streamlining Good for Customers?
Customers benefit from streamlined experiences because a simpler business allows for less frustration, easier purchasing, and more satisfaction.
Take this scenario from David Potts, CEO and founder of SalesWarp: “One of the benefits of streamlining is the ‘endless aisle.’ Let’s say after finding some interesting products online, I come into your physical store, but you don’t have the same products as you do online. Brands that use a seamless brand experience can still fulfill that brand experience with the consumer by getting the items even though they aren’t physically in the store.”
Streamlining goes beyond the actual purchase process. As a customer, there isn’t much worse than feeling taken advantage of by a company. But when there is a level of trust in and loyalty to a brand, consumers feel empowered, valued and part of the company itself.
Brian Minkin, CEO of Kaylah Designs, says his customers benefit because “they know that there is nothing more important to us than making our customers feel like family.”
Minkin also makes his products easy to understand for the consumer. They can easily research and decide on product prices and packages on their own, without the help of a sales associate, should they choose.
Why Is Streamlining Good for Businesses?
Happy customers = happy businesses. The positive impact that a streamlined experience has on a business is almost immeasurable.
But at the core of every successful business is its people — beyond customers. Your success is dependent upon your team as well.
Streamlining isn’t only beneficial for the customer experience, but for the internal workings of your business as well.
Take Minkin, for example. After creating his company’s core set of values and getting everyone on board, his customers weren’t the only ones who felt empowered. His employees did, too.
Employees don’t feel stuck when making a decision, because they know whether it’s within our values. It allows them to use a certain level of creativity without having to check for feedback every few seconds.
One of his employees took the initiative to manage the Kaylah Designs Instagram account. Minkin’s opinion of her work? “She’s done a fantastic job at it.” It’s a clear example of how employees can add value to your business and contribute to your growth proactively.
When employees can relate to and trust the brand for which they work, they will feel motivated. A motivated team will only help take your business to the next level.
How to Streamline Your Retail Business
Every business is different, so what works for one may not work for another.
One of the first steps you can take is to establish a set of core values and a brand voice — and make it transparent and well known. Then everyone knows what you stand for, and they can get behind this mission.
Aligning your business to a clear vision makes it easier for everyone to understand and support.
For Max Robinson, co-founder of Ace Work Gear, creating a brand voice has allowed him to streamline his social media marketing. “I’ve tried to establish some consistency,” he says. “I’ve been able to be a bit more adventurous with my marketing tactics.”
This brand voice makes it easier for him to hand over the reins to any of his employees. “[They] can manage the social media profiles and represent the business, because we have clear guidelines for how our brand should act.”
Every new idea and business endeavor should ladder back up to your core values that can serve as the baseline for what you should and shouldn’t do. There are plenty of great ideas, but not all of thems align to your company’s philosophy.
These core values can also serve as a benchmark for auditing your business when looking for ways to simplify. If it doesn’t support the mission, then it doesn’t fit within your business.
Remember to also listen to your customers. At the end of the day, your success hinges on their satisfaction. And don’t just listen. Review that feedback, identify trends and insights, and — most importantly — act on it.
Qualities of Simple, Streamlined Businesses
Simple, streamlined businesses are often described with the following adjectives, and it’s a good list from which to pull when you’re considering your company’s core mission and values:
- Easy to understand
Below, some additional ideas on how you can streamline your retail business:
Social Media and Your Digital Presence
Not all businesses need to be on all social media channels. When figuring out your social strategy, cutting the clutter is imperative to maximizing the resources you’re devoting to your social efforts.
The topic of social media marketing for retail businesses can be discussed extensively. There are so many things to think about: target market, demographic, determining which channels to use and for what, social media calendars, etc. Read more to learn about social media marketing strategies for your business.
Many businesses look beyond just social media in terms of their digital presence. Your website and any other digital communications (including email) should follow the same voice and tone.
For Robinson, maintaining a consistent voice has led to greater brand recognition. “I can now write an email subject line without having to reintroduce my business every time,” he says. His customers have become familiar with his brand, and they know what to expect.
Once again, the theme here is consistency.
“I want every person who comes to any of my stores to have the same shopping experience,” says Minkin of his customer experience at his Kaylah Designs jewelry stores. “Whether someone goes to our store in Pikesville or to our downtown Baltimore branch, they will have the same amazing experience.”
Minkin’s brand values are at the core of the in-store experience.
The customer may only be in the store for a few minutes, but she already knows everything there is to know about our brand — what we stand for and our values.
This not only helps to set expectations, but develop familiarity and trust because of the brand’s transparency.
We’ve talked about the purchase process in person, but the purchase process online should be seamless as well. That includes product discovery (pictures, descriptions, search functionality, and more), check-out, delivery, and mobile.
We go in-depth on how to streamline the shipping and handling process, but the main idea here is to systematize it and make it easy for the customer.
Your team needs to know how to execute to meet customer expectations.
The mobile experience needs to be just as good, if not better, than the desktop experience.
Patrick Dodd, president, global retailer vertical at Nielsen couldn’t have said it any more perfectly.
There is nothing more convenient than a store in your pocket or in your handbag.
The Big Picture: Putting it All Together
It’s important to consider the omni-channel approach and how everything can work together. The experience your customer has in-store should be very similar to what they experience online.
Here, it’s easy to overcomplicate things. Remember that you don’t need to do everything at once. Start small, and before embarking on new ideas, ask yourself if it fits within your core business values, mission and strategies. An idea can be great, but that doesn’t always mean it’s a great fit for your business right now.