3 Retailers Redefining the In-Store Experience
Over half of consumers (53 percent) say their most recent, enjoyable and memorable shopping experience occurred in a physical store. Despite reports that retail spaces are closing at a record pace, brick-and-mortar remains a key way for retailers to engage customers in compelling ways.
There’s an important caveat to this claim. These can’t be any old experiences, and retailers must pursue creative customer experience strategies that turn in-store liabilities into major opportunities. To survive e-commerce pressures, however, many brick-and-mortar companies have invested heavily in extensive inventories and fulfillment capabilities. Diverse products and robust supply chain operations are great, but these features cannot boost customer loyalty if not supported by valuable, enjoyable in-store experiences.
As the retail industry becomes more competitive and saturated, companies hoping to stand out should think of stores less as places of commerce and more as places of experiences.
3 Retailers That Nail In-Store Experiences
Most retailers believe the best way to avoid brick-and-mortar obsolescence is to double down on storefronts as distribution centers. Companies now use stores to fulfill online orders and reach local markets, responding to consumer pressure (and Amazon.com's standards) for faster, efficient deliveries. However, transactions are hardly the only (or best) option available to derive more value from brick-and-mortar footholds.
Here are three retailers that offer unique in-store customer experiences outside of sales:
Nordstrom recently announced the opening of inventory-free shops, a move that allows the retailer to focus on and improve its in-store customer experience. This plan may feel unnatural to decision makers fixated on shrinking margins, but what Nordstrom sacrifices in sales is more than made up for by new top-tier services that boost brand equity.
From curbside pickup for luxury items to services like seamstresses, salons and espresso bars, Nordstrom’s new storefronts offer on-brand experiences that customers love. This approach cements Nordstrom as part of shoppers’ local routines, and offers a gathering place outside of home and work where people can see and be seen. Nordstrom stores also provide opportunities for shoppers to be inspired by new styles and trends.
PetSmart is experimenting with retail spaces focused on the services pet owners desire, not just the products they need. For example, certain PetSmart stores will offer pet training, veterinarians and The Groomery (specialized pet grooming services). These in-store options enhance customer experiences and facilitate social interactions between pet owners and animals.
Rather than forfeiting its retail strongholds, PetSmart has innovated to expand its capabilities beyond products offerings. Thinking outside of the “sales” box gives PetSmart a new lifeline to delight shoppers with special in-store experiences, helping to foster greater loyalty.
At one time there wasn't an expectation that Nike stores must drive sales. This perspective gave the athletic brand the freedom to focus on unique in-store engagements at a time when such a strategy was impractical for most brands. Historically, Nike stores were more like showrooms or museums where shoppers could view the latest designs behind glass cases. Inventory turnover was slow, but consumers had a location to meet, discuss products and show off their latest apparel purchases.
This type of experiential browsing enabled Nike to forge authentic customer relationships as well as reinforce its brand identity and allure without being overly "salesy." Nike's brick-and-mortar locations are now increasingly accountable for in-store sales (as to be expected), but experience-dominant showrooms are the direction many retailers are moving toward today.
Admittedly, experiential in-store programs may surface new challenges. However, as innovative brick-and-mortar interactions become less futuristic and more the norm, retailers will overcome these hurdles and make in-store a viable counterpart to online. For example, although inventory-free stores limit impulse purchases, retailers can explore personalized product matching and invest in digital solutions to improve brick-and-mortar environments and satisfy consumer desires.
New Commerce Models Demand New Leadership
Regardless of what’s being sold, effective in-store experiences need a champion in the C-suite. Innovative customer experiences will never take center stage without someone advocating for them at the highest levels of leadership.
Roles like chief customer officer (CCO) and chief experience officer (CXO) provide powerful executive voices speaking on behalf of customer experiences. Rather than abandoning in-store altogether, CCOs and CXOs strategize how to keep employees happy while also pursuing more customer-centric operations. Dedicated positions communicate how serious brands are about improving their customer experiences, and will soon become the standard for all major companies.
To make positions like CCO and CXO valuable long term, retailers must give these roles clear mandates as well as the authority to make departmental changes and quantified performance metrics. Only then can new executives guide their companies toward differentiated in-store experiences similar to Nordstrom, PetSmart and Nike.
Brennan Wilkie is senior vice president of customer experience strategy at InMoment, a customer experience intelligence and management software.
Related story: 3 Myths About Millennials That Can Damage Your CX