While more retail brands now understand the importance of selling their products across multiple channels, many still have work to do. Whether you’re selling online, offline, or some mixture of both, 87% of consumers think brands need to do a better job at creating a seamless shopping experience. That means there’s a lot of room for improvement, and a lot of opportunities to differentiate your brand from your competitors.
Even if you don’t sell online, customers are interacting with your brand online. It’s no longer just about the point of purchase — consumers are challenging retailers to captivate them through a variety of shopping experiences.
Connecting those online and offline customer journeys is imperative. More than three-quarters of organizations already have some sales channels connected, and it’s the no. 2 factor transforming the customer experience. Plus, customers who have positive experiences with your brand are three times more likely to recommend you to their networks.
Connecting all your brand touchpoints doesn’t just mean connecting the data (though that’s important, too). It means creating a cohesive experience for every customer interaction with your brand, both online and offline. And here’s how retailers can do just that.
Defining the Experience
If you want to create a cohesive experience for shoppers, it’s helpful to first define what that experience is. It all starts with your brand story. You can build your brand story yourself, or if that’s too much to take on, hire a specialized agency to do your branding for you.
After you know who you are as a brand, it’s time consider your audience — and how your brand relates to them. There may be a difference between your current customer base and your ideal, or target, customer base. Regardless, identify your ideal target audience. Determine their passions, wants, needs, and desires — and then figure out how your brand fits into that picture.
For example, retail company The Giving Manger has a strong brand story and brand identity: They have a single SKU that is only in demand once a year. But they’ve found rapid success and growth due to their brand. They wanted to create a holiday tradition for their own families, and in doing so, have allowed other families to create their own special traditions too. The Giving Manger brand provides that family tradition that their ideal customers covet.
From there, you need to establish the experience. How does your brand identity come to life through the entire customer experience? This includes everything from the awareness stage — getting customers acquainted with your brand — through post-purchase.
For The Giving Manger, customers see the tradition coming to life through social media, both on the retailer’s own channels and from influencers in the industry. Take a look at their website, and you’ll notice the same visual aesthetic and the same focus on tradition. The physical stores they sell in have the same family friendly, intimate feel — they sell at various boutiques and small shops across the country.
Not only does this strengthen the brand identity, but it provides a cohesive experience that sets accurate expectations for customers. It also reaffirms what they’ll get from experiencing the product itself — a special, bonding activity.
Put Your Customers First
When creating your customer experience, remember to prioritize the customer.
“Everything should be considered from the point-of-view of the customer. It shouldn’t be about selling products,” says Vitaliy Verbenko, business development manager at Helprace. “Retailers make this mistake because they’re focused on selling products, and instead they fall flat.”
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes: What are they doing, thinking, seeing, when they interact with your brand? What is the context in which they are seeing and communicating with you?
The emotions that lead up lead up to the purchase decisions are often negative: anxiety, stress, uncertainty, fear of parting with money,” says Verbenko.
“A cohesive experience needs to minimize these fears.”
How can you get inside your customers’ heads? Do your homework. Learn about your target audience (as we mentioned above). And here are some ways you can learn what they want so you can put them first:
- Focus groups: Gather a group of people that fall within your target audience to ask some questions about their needs, viable solutions, and learn more about what makes them tick.
- Market research: What other products or brands exist that serve your target customers? Does their product fully solve your customers’ problem? Why or why not? Conducting market research not only highlights insights on your competitors, but it can also reveal market gaps that allow you to better serve your ideal customers with a better product, effective marketing, strategic pricing, and/or impactful brand positioning.
- Buyer personas: Create fictionalized characters that epitomize your ideal customers. They’re regularly used to give marketers and sales professionals better understand their core customer group.
Channels to Consider
Customers have an average of nine channels to choose from when making a purchase from a brand, and that number is predicted to grow to 11 in 2018. That’s a lot of potential touch points for your customers.
But realistically, retailers can’t be everywhere at once. So, here are some of the top sales channels to consider when creating your multichannel sales strategy.
The rise of ecommerce is a well-known trend to most retailers. And even though just last quarter, in-store retail sales still accounted for $8.3 billion more in sales, ecommerce is catching up. In fact, 2016’s online and in-store holiday spending was equal.
Here’s what to consider on your website:
- Imagery: Does it match your brand aesthetic? Does it represent the way you want customers to feel when they interact with your brand? Have you thought about the psychology of color?
- Language: If your customer experience is friendly and informal, does the copy on your website match that tone? Are product descriptions written differently from the rest of your site?
- Ease of use: Does the checkout process cause too much friction? Is it easy to figure out how to find and purchase products, and locate information about your products? Are products represented in a way that is synonymous with your brand identity?
Even if selling online isn’t a big part of your business, your website is still essential. Toronto-based retailer Marquis Gardens uses theirs as to promote their physical space, as well as to communicate with customers in rural areas. The retailer attributes a lot of their 40% overall growth to bringing this cohesion to their digital and real-life customer experiences.
FURTHER READING: Learn how to turn web traffic into foot traffic.
Your Retail Store(s)
There are plenty of ways to make the customer experience cohesive in your store. Turning back to your brand identity and your audience will guide how you can bring that identity and experience to life in your store.
Verbenko points out IKEA as a retailer that has done this particularly well. “They have perfectly staged decor, light, and warm and open environments,” he says. “Having an open environment is particularly effective, as it allows customers to feel comfortable in the store for an extended period of time.”
The way IKEA displays its products also helps customers picture those products in their own lives. “Apple went a similar way, getting rid of the magnetic anti-theft tabs in their displays,” Verbenko says. “Brands need to focus on the experience of using the product, so customers get a clear idea of its capabilities.”
IKEA’s customer experience is one that isn’t rushed and caters to the self-serving customer. Customers have free reign to get to know and explore all of the products.
“You’re free to browse until you reach out to one of the number employees to assist you,” says Verbenko. They’ve allowed customers to shop on their own watch, all the while knowing that IKEA is there to guide you when you need it. “That’s what makes their experience so great.”
Not all retailers have the same experience as IKEA, though. Rebecca Minkoff, for example, has gained renown across the retail industry for its innovative in-store experiences. The women’s fashion retailer has created stores that cater to their fashion-forward, early-adopting, and innovative customers. The stores have infused technology into every step of the experience, allowing customers to order a drink while they shop, use a mobile device to summon an associate for style help, and creating fitting rooms that also provide personalized style recommendations.
These guidelines ring true for your pop-up shops, too. Just because it’s not a permanent establishment doesn’t mean it’s not part of the customer experience.
Online retailers have less control over the customer experience on marketplaces like Amazon or eBay, but these customer interactions aren’t to be overlooked. When considering the cohesiveness of all channels, these marketplaces still represent an extension of your brand.
Here are some ways you can remain cohesive on these third-party sales channels:
- Language: Again, ensuring the language you use matches your brand identity and brand voice, even on these third-party marketplaces, can reinforce the total customer experience with your brand. This includes product descriptions, one-on-one interactions with customers, and your seller page.
- Visuals: Are your products represented in a way that underscores your customer experience? Many marketplaces may require a white background photo for the featured image, but you can supplement with additional angles, contextual photos, or funky backgrounds — if it matches the customer experience you’re trying to create.
- Customer support: Customer support via these selling channels is huge. Take a look at customer reviews on Amazon, and you’ll likely see at least a few comments on the customer service. These impressions go a long way and make a big impact on the customer experience. Remember to be consistent in your voice and to treat these customers as you would any other.
Speaking of customer service, there are other channels through which your customers will interact with your support team. Whether this is customer service over the phone, via email, or on your site’s live chat, it needs to be the same experience every time.
Distribute a documented brand identity and customer experience guide to your support staff so they can ensure their interactions support that experience. If there are common phrases or questions, offer guidelines for your support team on how to respond, perhaps going as far as to write the responses for these instances. This will also provide a good reference for staff to emulate with their own interactions.
Your customer service team must also be timely in their responses, regardless of the channel. 64% of consumers expect to receive real-time assistance. Respond to all public customer support queries (social media, customer reviews, etc.) as timely as you would to customer support communications. Failure to do so can impact the customer experience in a negative way.
Social media, whether you use it or not, is another representation of your brand. And most of today’s consumers (80%) are using it proactively to reach out to brands, particularly for support. Social media is your outlet to continue to broadcast your brand identity, make customer connections, and strengthen the cohesive experience.
Again, language and imagery are essential. While the tone might alter per channel (considering different audiences are on different social media channels), your voice should remain the same. The copy and visuals you use must support that customer experience you’re trying to create.
In-Person Selling Events
Selling at events such as markets, fairs, or festivals, is another important channel. Although it’s not your owned physical space, it’s still very much a representation of your brand and another way for customers to interact with you.
It’s important to train the employees staffing these events on your brand identity and the promised customer experience. Document the guidelines, establish a dress code representative of the experience, and make sure the booth itself also supports the vision.
FURTHER READING: Learn how to create a great offline event sales experience with these market booth ideas.
Whether you use email to send sales and promotions, email newsletters, customer support interactions, order updates, receipts, or more — every email matters. And every email is a part of the customer experience.
Take a look at REI’s email newsletter as an example. REI has created a specific experience for its co-op members, one based on a community and a shared love for the outdoors. The newsletter content itself complements this experience, sharing stories about co-op members enjoying the outdoors. The visuals are striking — beautiful photographs of the very outdoors that REI customers love so much. Plus, the voice is both conversational and inspirational.
Putting the Pieces Together
While looking at the channels separately can help, it’s looking at them holistically that can create the cohesion you need. After all, these channels work together, and your customers interact with you in different ways at different stages of the buyer journey.
Verbenko suggests starting small. “Begin by focusing on one channel that best suits your product and do it well,” he says. This can make the task more digestible, as well as help you establish a baseline and learn lessons before tackling all of the other channels.
From there, think about how the channels work together. Take yourself through some scenarios to put yourself in the customers’ shoes.
For example, nearly 60% of consumers planned to buy online and pick up in-store for the 2017 holiday season, the main reasons being to save on shipping expenses, spend less time in-store, and pick up the product when it’s convenient. Does your experience allow for this, or do these customers have to spend a lot of time waiting in line to pick up the items?
65% of consumers also expect to be able to return online purchases at a physical store.
Does your return policy allow for this? Better yet, do you make it easy? To improve the customer experience in this scenario, consider allowing online customers to make customer profiles which in-store sales associates can use to access receipts and past purchase information.
Verbenko again uses IKEA as an example that has mirrored the online to offline experience. “The online experience matches the in-store experiences perfectly: white backgrounds, minimalist yet functional design language,” he says.
Retailers can also bring the online experience to the in-store experience. Arm associates with mobile devices they can use to look up both customer and product information. “Apple has helpful representatives with iPads which seamlessly blend your online and in-person experience,” Verbenko says. “IKEA has tablets that let you design or upload designs right in their showroom.”
At the end of the day, retailers can create cohesive online and offline experiences, but analyzing and changing them over time is what will give you a true competitive edge. Almost three-quarters of organizations don’t collect data, let alone review it. Consumer behavior is constantly changing, and retailers need to keep up, transforming customer experiences as quickly as consumer preferences change.
How have you created cohesive experiences for your customers? Which channels are most important for your retail business?