It seems everywhere you turn there is yet another headline questioning whether traditional retail stands on the brink of extinction due to the rise of showrooming. And it’s not hard to see how the practice of visiting a brick-and-mortar store to try out a product before ultimately purchasing it through an online merchant got its start. As humans, we have an innate need to see, hear, smell, feel and manipulate objects in our physical world. We are driven into brick-and-mortar stores by the desire to see the brightness of the screen and listen to the sound quality of a TV, smell the fragrance and feel the creaminess of a face lotion, and test the softness of a sweater against our skin.
So what then drives the over 40 percent of shoppers reported to engage in showrooming away from the physical store and onto the virtual sales floor? According to recent studies by Aprimo and Northwestern University, many leave because of poor customer service, lack of personalization and items that are a higher cost and lower value.
Retailers and CPGs have the opportunity to overcome all of these challenges by rethinking and reinventing the in-store experience.
Improving Customer Service
Retail is above all a service industry, and every associate—from the stock clerk to the cashier to the store manager—has a critical role to play in satisfying shoppers’ needs and expectations. Creating a culture centered on customer service is clearly a must for retailers. But it’s more than just implementing a policy. The first step comes in hiring associates who love what they do and who enjoy working with the public. With the right people in place, activities like welcoming shoppers into the store (warmly and in a way that goes beyond the superficial “welcome to X” greeting), asking if they need help and offering to walk them to the aisle that contains the item they’re trying to find will come naturally. Ongoing training, recognition and incentives (be they tangible or intangible) are often the key to creating this culture of service—and are a worthwhile investment given that good service is often rewarded with sales.
Personalizing the Shopping Experience
Though good service is an important factor in creating a positive shopping experience, it is not all that is required. Associates also need robust training on the products they sell. Unlike online reviews or static product descriptions, a well-trained associate can talk with shoppers one-on-one, answering questions and providing in-depth insight that directly combats the lack of information many shoppers have cited as a reason for turning to the web, as well as the one-size-fits-all approach served up by many online retailers.
Trained associates can also encourage shoppers to get hands-on with a product by engaging all five senses, as well as shoppers’ emotions. They also have the opportunity to show how the product can serve each shopper’s unique needs.
When a shopper shows interest, these associates can use the relationship they’ve begun to establish to directly ask for the sale, handing over a package or personally guiding the shopper to the shelf where the product can be found. All of these techniques deliver a shopping experience that makes the customer feel valued, which can be the difference between a finalized sale and yet another opportunity lost to the virtual retail world.
Addressing customer service and personalization issues by elevating the in-store experience is a natural fit. But what about cost concerns? Some retailers are starting to work with v