Is Your Store Experience Affecting Sales for Better or Worse?

The modern apparel retailer must adapt to a drastically changed — and changing — customer. With easy access to information from their laptops, tablets and smartphones, shoppers are doing their research before even stepping foot into a store. Highly focused, these customers make fewer visits to retail locations, but when they do they are more motivated than ever to buy.

Because today's shoppers employ a different path-to-purchase, finding opportunities to reach these well-educated consumers and influence their in-store purchasing has become more challenging. Savvy apparel retailers that take advantage of crucial strategies and new technologies will create the optimal experience for customers — bolstering traffic, conversion and transaction size.

Traffic: If you build it, will they come?
Technology provides an easy way for shoppers to do their research online and avoid multiple trips to the store. But decreasing store traffic does not have to mean decreasing sales. In other words, if retailers build it, shoppers will come, just not as frequently. Instead, retailers need to develop smart strategies that appeal to the new shopper.

To start, bridging the online and in-store experience is critical. Price consistency across all channels is the first step. It fosters goodwill and steers customers to the store. Similarly, services such as buy online and pick up or return in-store provide convenience for customers and help drive traffic for retailers. But doing it right can be challenging. Inventory, staffing and strategic location of the pickup counter are just a few crucial considerations.

Timely rewards and special offers that can be earned only by visiting the physical store are excellent strategies for getting customers out of the house. Mobile apps such as shopkick are especially successful at engaging customers and translating into increased sales. By delivering personalized content during the research phase of the purchasing journey, retailers can create a sense of urgency that spurs shoppers to make the trip. 

Reducing abandonment is another critical component – retailers won't sell if the customer does not stay in the store. Associates must be welcoming, not overbearing, and stationed at strategic locations such as the entrance, near promotions and at the dressing rooms so that shoppers are greeted and assisted in a timely manner.

Conversions: Give customers what they want
At this stage, the customer has made the decision to buy and the sale is the retailer's to lose. Unfortunately, this is too often the case. There are a myriad of reasons why customers leave the store without the items they came for – the price is too high, the fitting room is locked, the line is too long. All of these are simple hurdles for retailers to overcome if they do a little upfront work.

Retailers should focus on optimizing dwell time. If a shopper is in a rush, staff should facilitate the sale as quickly as possible. But if the shopper seems less harried, several tactics can help extend and enrich the shopping experience. Interactive content tied to promotional displays can engage shoppers and draw their attention to specific items. In-store messages with mobile apps or other third-party software can drive them to the desired zones and influence in-store behavior, such as leading shoppers to the fitting room.

Making use of interior analytics through existing or new technologies such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth and Bluetooth Low Energy can help retailers analyze patterns in shopper behaviors and preferences in order to improve store layout, product placement and promotional strategies. Smart floor mats, placed in critical zones, can record foot traffic and provide data on how long shoppers linger in any given spot and map where they head next. All of these tools will improve the shopper experience while exposing them to more merchandise.

Transaction: Keep customers engaged throughout their journey
In-store shoppers are ideal candidates to buy more and the number one driver for increasing transaction size is access to a knowledgeable employee. Apparel retailers that deliver the best customer service measure and monitor foot traffic. By understanding peak shopping hours, they can align their staff to match opportunity and provide a consistent experience for everyone. In addition, data such as zone traffic, dwell time and abandonment gives retailers a fuller picture of the drivers that lead to sales.

Broader store benchmarks provide retailers with greater visibility into larger marketplace trends and their impact on individual store sales. These metrics also help retailers stay informed of consumer behavior so they can proactively respond to shifting shopping patterns.

Finally, sometimes it is the journey and not the destination. Selling should not stop in the store. Post-purchase communication is critical for developing customer loyalty. By reaching out to customers after a sale with rewards and promotional campaigns, retailers can reinforce the positive guest experience the customer had in the store. 

Bottom line: Deliver a superior guest experience every time
Retailers that seek innovative ways to capitalize on changing shopper patterns may find that this new environment works to their advantage. But success will only come to those that consistently deliver a superior shopper experience across channels. By doing so, retailers not only ensure they make the current sale but also entice the customer to come back more frequently, ultimately increasing sales.

Kevin Kearns is chief revenue officer for ShopperTrak, a global provider of retail analytics.

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