Why Speeding Customers Through Omnichannel Retail Touchpoints is the Wrong Strategy
Customers rarely walk into stores and buy new products anymore — and especially with higher-ticket items. Instead, they transition through a retail experience journey that takes them from stage to stage and channel to channel. They might go through 10 touchpoints before tapping their card against a reader or hitting the “submit order” button.
As a brand, you want to identify those 10 touchpoints. However, you might also be tempted to fiddle with them in a misguided effort to improve the customer experience. After all, wouldn’t it be better if you could get customers to skip some touchpoints or move through them so rapidly that they got to the sale faster? Perhaps for your needs, but not for theirs.
This doesn’t mean that you can’t guide your customers through the buying funnel, though. You can and should embrace an omnichannel retail strategy. And the smoother (not quicker) you can make their customer experience, the more likely they’ll be to reward your diligence and care with a purchase.
Developing Omnichannel Personas to Streamline the Omnichannel Customer Experience
The first step toward shepherding your customers and creating a consistent source of relevant traffic is to identify and understand your top buyer personas. When you have a better sense of your primary customers’ shopping habits, you can more easily understand how to engage them through a retail experience road map filled with touchpoints you own and control.
For instance, let’s say you sell high-end cookware. One type of customer persona’s journey starts by discovering your product on Instagram. From Instagram, the customer moves to your e-commerce site to examine your merchandise in more detail. Yet you know that the customer probably won’t buy anything at that point. Rather, the customer is likely to want to see, feel and touch your pots and pans because they’re a long-term investment. Therefore, the next step would be to welcome the customer to a brick-and-mortar retail store.
What you’ve done at this point is transition the buyer through the omnichannel customer experience to an experiential moment. You’ve moved a customer from an online to a physical environment, where you can broaden your conversation. The goal, of course, is that the customer will start to envision how to use your cookware at home — and want to buy it right away.
You’ll notice that in our hypothetical cookware-buying customer persona journey that the sale started online. Most times, e-commerce will be a jumping-off point. Nevertheless, don’t underestimate the desire of customers to want a physical touchpoint, too. Retailers saw tremendous upticks in in-store traffic last year. Between January and March alone, they reported a 28.5 percent increase in people coming to their brick-and-mortar locations.
Build Smoother Omnichannel Journeys
Again, your job isn't to deny your customers the touchpoints they need to make a decision; it’s to iron out their touchpoints and omnichannel experiences with some pragmatic planning. Below are three solid ways to start improving the buying route for your customers:
1. Rely on data to build out your customer personas and journeys.
Like most retailers, you probably have a ton of consumer data at your fingertips from your e-commerce system, and maybe from your store(s) as well. Use that data to answer questions like these:
- When and how are customers transitioning from online to brick-and-mortar stores?
- How long are they staying in the store?
- Are they converting in-store or going back online and converting there?
Your data-informed answers will help you create a list of omnichannel experience touchpoints for every persona. Just make sure that you believe in the data rather than your gut instinct to understand customers. You might be surprised when you start connecting the dots. Use what you find to be more effective in how you approach and lead customers at each touchpoint.
2. Take inspiration from e-commerce data-gathering strategies.
E-commerce companies have been effective in understanding the customer journey, at least online. They know why people abandon carts, when carts are most likely to be abandoned, and how to increase basket size. However, brands have historically struggled to do the same thing for their in-store traffic. They might track footfalls or try a little bit of heat mapping, but they haven’t quite nailed the process of figuring out how to pinpoint customers’ experiences between online and offline transitions.
If you feel similarly out of the loop, look to e-commerce for inspiration. Dive deeper into the e-commerce data you have for clues on how to improve your customer experience at brick-and-mortar locations. Additionally, think about opportunities you might have to amass data in your physical store so you can keep the touchpoints moving along.
3. Lean into storytelling for an enhanced customer experience.
Once you know your target customer personas, you can focus the journey around the customer rather than the product. Consider home theater products, for example. Your goal would be to help your customer figure out a personalized, full-scale home theater solution built around several items you sell. This doesn’t mean you’re pushing your merchandise — you’re not. You’re simply showing your home theater goods as a lifestyle solution set. Consequently, your customer isn’t going to stop at just buying a speaker, but at purchasing an entire surround sound system with a gaming console.
Target does an excellent job of physically laying out seasonal zones throughout its stores that move customers through touchpoints in a distinct manner. Around every turn, there are new things to see and explore visually and tangibly. Shoppers go from one department to another without realizing they’re being guided by a story. All they know is that they’re moving seamlessly and making interesting finds along the way.
Your customers will always take online and offline twists, turns and detours on the way to making the cash register ring. Don’t fret about how long their omnichannel retail journey takes. Put on your tour guide hat and assist them in moving through touchpoints steadily so they arrive at their — and your — preferred destination.
Related story: 3 Ways to Master In-Store CX Amid COVID-19
Gavin Bradley serves as senior creative director for customer experience at Harbor Retail, which helps retailers and brands activate Harmonic Retail™ along the path to purchase. Prior to his role at Harbor, Gavin held multiple creative director roles across retail and marketing companies. He is currently based in Los Angeles.