Why it’s crucial retailers deliver the same experience in-store as online

Retailers prioritising customer experience online at the expense of focusing in-store are missing significant opportunities to boost sales – and their bottom line. 

Ben Cook, regional VP of growth at NewStore, says many retailers are not focusing enough on the customer journey and what that looks like as it transcends the digital to the physical. All too often, there is a disconnect between retailers’ channels, with many consumers facing lags and frustrations in physical stores that they don’t experience online.

In the latest episode of her podcast series Retail Untangled, Inside Retail’s Amie Larter talked with Cook about how retailers can deliver in-store experiences that deliver the same satisfaction as shopping online. 

NewStore, a mobile-first Unified Commerce Platform for global retail brands, has recently released a study – 2024 Omnichannel Leadership Report – that singles out retailers delivering an exceptional in-store experience, including Footlocker, Mecca and Nordstrom. 

The report – which uses third-party mystery shoppers to assess and rank the online, mobile and in-store shopping experiences of just under 700 brands across North America, Europe and parts of Apac – focuses on who is doing omnichannel retail well: Which retailers have less friction, which shopping app is a great user experience, and what a beautiful website looks like.

Cook says most retailers think of omnichannel as being about selling across multiple channels and then working out how to bring them together. For example, click-and-collect is where someone can order something online and collect it in a store. Yet, some retailers are offering click-and-collect services by taking an order, and then shipping it from a distribution centre to the nominated store. That means a delivery time of three or four days when many consumers using click-and-collect want to pick it up in a store in less than an hour. 

“Then we start getting into principles around pricing promotions. Why is the price different online to in a store? Why are the promotions different online than in a store? It’s like, ‘Oh, sorry, we can’t do that at the till’.” 

Standout brands in in-store experience

Cook cites Mecca as an example of a really good in-store experience. “It’s full of associates who are willing to help. They understand their products really well and they provide a great experience. Its loyalty program… creates a little bit of surprise and delight. As a brand, Mecca is killing it.”

RM Williams is another standout. “You can’t be within 15 metres of that store without smelling the RM Williams scent – which you can buy – and when you go inside, there is no sales counter. When you sit down and get fitted for a pair of boots, the closing ceremony is all over at that point. They can facilitate the sale there and then with the sales associate. 

“We’re starting to see the nature of retail start to shift from that perspective.” The secret sauce that sits behind RM Williams, Cook explains, is how the retailer is arming store associates with technology that enables all those processes and helps them do their jobs better. 

The power of apps

Cook advocates apps as an important channel for retailers to optimise engagement. 

The beauty of an app is that if the information is entered once, due to a previous order or membership in a loyalty program, there should be less friction in the ordering process – what could be seven steps online is only three steps in and out. 

Furthermore, because these people have downloaded the app, they have bought into the store and brand proposition so it should be much easier to resell to them than it would be to acquire a new customer. 

But he warns retailers: apps must be created properly. “If you’re just going to give me a representation of your website, maybe that’s not so great.”

A good model, in his book, is an app that, when he enters a store, he can see on his phone only the stock that is in this store, can scan items as he moves around the store to add to his shopping basket, and then proceed through a self-checkout style process.

Return on investment

The missing link in ensuring consistent standards of service and customer experience across multiple channels is technology that facilitates interaction between two people in stores, he says. 

The potential return on tech investment is huge. “When you think about the different customer journey scenarios when you walk in the store, do you want customers standing three or four deep in a queue only to transact or do you want to engage with your customer set?

“Those are journeys that we understand in a digital world; they’re just missing in a physical world.”

He also warns that retailers are ignoring investment in in-store experiences in favour of online solutions. They do so at their peril. 

“We all get the need to be online. But if you are a brick-and-mortar retailer as well, e-commerce is only 20 per cent of your revenue.”

Cook cites an old adage of retailing: ‘Never miss a sale’. Omnichannel is there to try and enhance the euphoric position of a consumer: ‘I want one, and I want it now. 

“So, if I’m willing to pay, you should be willing to get it to me on whatever basis that means.”

  • Listen to the podcast to hear Cook and Larter talk further about these and other topics, including the challenges of creating successful mobile apps, the most exciting omnichannel innovations in the retail space today, the threat of apathy in not adopting next-generation technology – and why Footlocker’s online store is a standout.

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