When it comes to balancing convenience with complete satisfaction for the customer, retailers are always looking for a good fit.
A recent report on e-commerce trends states 60 percent of those surveyed have purchased clothes online from a large retailer, which often operates a brick-and-mortar location. While it’s encouraging that consumers are feeling more and more comfortable selecting their wardrobes and accessories outside of traditional dressing rooms, retailers should also consider what may be lost in the transaction.
With online shopping, the sale is not over once the delivery is made — clothes may not fit, a product may not look as it did on a website or the customer may have a change of heart in the time between clicking the “order” button and picking up their parcel. Additionally, e-commerce can impact a merchant’s potential to connect with shoppers and establish the same level of brand loyalty and trust of an in-store experience.
But a revolution is brewing that bridges the gap between online orders and the brick-and-mortar experience, and large retailers are already reaping the benefits. With retail reservation technology, customers are browsing apparel racks digitally before heading to the dressing rooms of the nearest store location to ensure the perfect fit.
How it works
The concept of retail reservations is simple. Instead of hitting “buy” in an online store, shoppers fill a cart with items they would like to see in a dressing room and once ready, click a button to send a notification to the store. Store associates receive the order and set it aside, so a customer can quickly visit the location and try clothing on within hours of reserving the apparel. If it is a match, the customer then makes the purchase in store.
The concept is already being tested at big brands such as Nordstrom, where 80 percent of shoppers who have used the technology have returned to use it again, a validation large enough for the company to announce it’s expanding the service to additional locations. It’s also created more immediate value for the company — users must have the Nordstrom app to use the service, meaning the company is expanding its ability to communicate future sales and new offerings to its customer base.
This concept may be one of the first of its kind on the market, but smart retailers should take note. The immediate benefits, coupled with the future payoffs of increased loyalty and in-store foot traffic, should be more than enough reason to start thinking about how to incorporate this personalized in-store experience.
What customers want
First and foremost, retail reservation technology makes shopping easy and efficient for the customer. The “work” of shopping — filling a cart with multiple sizes, navigating a store for the right section or flagging down an associate for questions — is already accomplished when a customer arrives in the store. Instead, the customer heads straight to the dressing room, and if they like what they see, directly to the cash register.
It also creates a very valuable peace of mind. There’s no uncertainty of fit, meaning no hassle shipping the item back to exchange or return, and eventually re-doing the entire process. It also eliminates the sometimes frustrating customer experience of waiting for a refund or return to process when an online purchase doesn’t work out.
The in-store difference
But this goes far beyond improving the customer experience. There are several huge opportunities to capitalize on when digital buyers come into the store, and merchants that get ahead of the curve now can capitalize on this shift when it pays dividends in the future.
The first is the overall sales benefit from a retail reservation system. Since there’s no risk to the customer to fill up their digital carts with lots of options, they will likely enter the store with far more to try on than if they had to immediately make a purchase. What’s more, bringing them into the store surrounds them with even more sales opportunities. A shopper is far more likely to make an impulse buy at a physical location, where retailers can purposefully target a customer's eye, than online.
With more customers in store, this technology also allows retailers to make a more meaningful connection. Online buying, while convenient, cuts out human interaction almost completely. It leaves a void where associates could recommend items to the customer, tell them about upcoming sales and most of all, sell the brand. Bringing more customers in store also offers the opportunity for associates and store staff to better know who is shopping. While plenty of data on shopping habits can be gleaned during a digital sale, there is still information to be learned from physical interactions. Converting an online-only shopper into a customer who becomes a return visitor can help deepen a retailer’s understanding of customer preferences and needs.
By allowing shoppers to reserve online and try on items in store, retailers also become more present in the customers’ lives. As in the case of Nordstrom, having the service only available via the Nordstrom app means the retailer occupies a space whenever the customer turns on their device, and also allows increased engagement and upsell opportunities.
The fit for the future
Retail reservation technology is the marriage of an ongoing disconnect between e-commerce and brick-and-mortar.
Brands that understand how to use this technology are making an enormous investment in their future — both short and long term. As customers will no doubt increasingly flock to make their purchases digitally, retailers can leverage a valuable and tailored in-store experience to strengthen brand loyalty, improve customer satisfaction and boost sales.
Chris Francis is Vice President of Market Development at Worldpay US, a global payments provider for all channels: in-store, online and via mobile. To learn more, visit www.worldpay.com/us.