During last year’s Black Friday and Cyber Monday, more than 151 million people shopped in stores, according to the International Council of Shopping Centers. For brands, the onslaught of in-store holiday shoppers is an opportunity to not only win new customers, but also earn long-term loyalty. In fact, in a recent survey Square Root conducted of more than 600 U.S. shoppers, 71 percent said the in-store experience directly impacts whether they will become a repeat customer. We compared those findings to our study on challenges U.S. retailers face when it comes to delighting their shoppers, and uncovered four key areas of focus for in-store success in 2019.
Manning the Front Lines
Associates can influence shopper decisions, enact in-store change, and improve the customer experience. Shoppers expect associates to be friendly, helpful, and offer a depth of product and inventory knowledge. We discovered customers expect their questions to be answered in an average of just 26 seconds, and 75 percent say they're less likely to shop with a brand again if their needs aren’t met quickly.
But despite their influence, our research shows 50 percent of retailers say their store associate training could be improved. For example, an influx of holiday hires means a higher demand for an investment in training. Empowering store associates is crucial to success, from briefing them on brand standards to educating them on their role in achieving store and companywide performance metrics.
Keeping Up With Omnichannel Expectations
Today’s shoppers expect endless options for the products they want. In fact, 82 percent say they now expect stores to offer the same variety and selection they can find online. What’s more, brick-and-mortar customers expect to be able to get items from other locations (87 percent) or online (93 percent) if needed.
Those increased omnichannel expectations contribute to new inventory challenges for retailers, from increasing stockouts and overstock issues to making it more difficult to predict inventory needs. Solving for these added complexities starts with giving teams a single view of inventory across channels, which 45 percent of retailers say they don’t have today. With this improved visibility, teams can align on inventory issues such as stockouts and delays to help associates make quick and informed decisions when assisting customers.
The Key to Consistency
Shoppers may visit different store locations and expect the same experience from store to store. Shoppers want one consistent experience across locations, and are quick to judge if consistency is inadequate — 74 percent say it impacts their willingness to return in the future.
Finding a balance between brand standards and delivering a personalized and local experience across stores is challenging, with only 48 percent of retailers saying they currently deliver a consistent experience across store locations. Equipping district managers with a single view of all their stores allows brands to ensure consistency and help stores find the balance between standardization and localization. With a consistent experience, brands can better identify areas of opportunity and growth, as well as uncover challenged areas for improvement, all while building a loyal customer base.
More Promotions, More Problems?
Eighty-two percent of shoppers say promotions make them more likely to visit stores. However, while many brands continue to push online or in-store-only deals, 70 percent of shoppers say they expect online promotions to be honored in physical stores. When those expectations aren’t met, 59 percent say they're less likely to shop with that brand again in the future.
For retailers, making the most of promotions starts with aligning deals to those omnichannel expectations, and aligning teams to act as one. With organizationwide visibility across online and offline teams, brands can empower autonomy and agility, boosting both the bottom line and the customer experience.
In 2019, store teams can have a direct impact on the customer experience as well as the ability to influence loyalty and brand performance. With the right tools, training and access to information, teams will be able to better assist shoppers and exceed their expectations, setting brands up for success this year and beyond.
Chris Taylor is founder and CEO of Square Root, a store relationship management software.
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