While convenience and cost are often cited as reasons that many customers say they like to shop from a smartphone, tablet, or desktop, you can’t beat offline sales for creating a better customer experience.
Merchants can connect and respond to a customer who’s standing in front of them, and there’s a greater chance to make an impression than with an online shopper who can easily click away. Creating a great offline shopping experience, however, can be daunting. This is particularly true when major retailers are creating innovative shopping experiences like Amazon Go.
“The launch of Amazon Go has put the pressure on retailers to be more disruptive when it comes to elevating their customer experience,” says Brendan Morrissey, CEO and co-founder of the digital marketing provider Netsertive. “The answer is to stop thinking about your store as solely a place of sales. In the ‘Me-Commerce Era,’ stores need to become community centers, turning their in-store and online channels into places of engagement.”
Make the biggest impression by using ingenuity, says customer loyalty consultant Chip R. Bell, founder of the Chip Bell Group. “Remember the famous sales line, ‘I can get it for you fast, good, or cheap; pick two?’” he asks. “Today’s customers want all three… plus they want it unique.”
Luckily, unique experiences just takes some ingenuity. From gumballs to umbrellas, here are six ways retailers can offer a better customer experience through in-person sales.
1. Try a Little Kindness
Providing services that put care over cost will make your location memorable, says Bell. For example, the manager of First Watch Restaurant in Overland Park, KS, placed umbrellas near the door in case customers run into unexpected rain after they dine.
“Attaching his business card to each one, he put them in a large container at the front door along with a sign that read: ‘If you need an umbrella, please take one. If you bring it back, we’ll give you a free cup of coffee,’” says Bell. “According to the store manager, almost every customer returns the borrowed umbrella.”
Borrow the restaurant’s idea, or look for other ways to provide service that shows your customers you genuinely care. Provide free gift wrap, for example, or offer discounted delivery.
2. Give Rewards for Loyalty
Loyal customers will like to be acknowledged, and rewarding them with perks such as free items or special services is an easy way to do it. The average consumer participates in 14 loyalty programs, but has the capacity to engage with just seven, according to The Loyalty Report 2017. Keep yours top of mind and you can boost sales. A study by 3Cinteractive found that 62% of U.S. shoppers make more store visits or purchases as a direct result of loyalty programs.
An easy way is to create a simple points or punch-card system, where free items or discounts are earned after a customer makes a set number of purchases or spends a certain amount of money. For example, Kiln Creations in Noblesville, IN, offers customers $5 off on their next visit after they spend $100.
Curious to know more about starting your own loyalty program? Learn how to build your own loyalty program.
3. Entice All of the Senses
When you design your brick-and-mortar location, it’s natural to focus on everything visual. You’ll want your store to be engaging and appealing, but customers shop with all five senses. In fact, one of the reasons customers shop offline is to experience the touch and feel of products.
You can engage the sense of sound with music playing in your location. The tracks you choose should reflect your demographic and marketplace. For example, a study published by the Association for Psychological Science found that people are willing to spend more on luxury items when classical music was playing in the background.
FURTHER READING: Learn more about how to engage all of your customers’ senses in your store.
Scent is also an important factor in a shopping experience. Our brains are keenly tuned into scent. An adult can distinguish 10,000 different smells and our bodies generate scent neurons every few weeks to ensure they’re in good working order. Unlike our other senses, scent travels immediately through various parts of your brain instead of being processed centrally first. And because scent is tied closely to memories and emotions, studies show that scent marketing in retail stores can “increase intent to purchase by 80%.”
According to Ambius, an interior plant service for businesses, lavender, cotton, and vanilla work well in a retail environment.
4. Accommodate Families
It’s easy to focus on the customer, but if your clientele might be shopping with children, then it’s a good idea to think about ways to make the experience better for everyone. Miller Brothers, an upscale men’s clothing store in Atlanta, has a large colorful gumball machine on a table at the store entrance, with a large bowl of pennies beside it.
“Guess where junior goes while dad is getting fitted for trousers?” says Bell. “Sales are up for the store with the gumball machine.”
Brainstorm ways you can incorporate activities or treats for your shopper and their family. It could be as simple as a sitting area with books or toys, or a large gumball machine.
5. Reconsider Your Greeting
When a customer enters your store, make the experience different by thinking outside the standard greeting, suggests Nancy Friedman, president of The Telephone Doctor, a customer service training firm.
“’Can I help you?’ is standard, but you want to show that you really appreciate their business,” she says. “Be creative: ‘Hi, glad you’re here. Thanks for coming in.’ A memorable greeting is a great way to establish a connection with the shopper. ‘Can I help you?’ is weak and ineffective.”
Friedman says it’s important to make an immediate acknowledgment of the customer when they enter the store. “Smile and introduce yourself,” she says. “By introducing yourself, they will know you are there to help them answer questions or make a purchase. If the customer says they are just browsing, tell them you’re glad they came, and you’re available if they have any questions.”
When you acknowledge your customer and greet them in a way that makes them feel appreciated, they’ll feel more comfortable spending time in your store.
FURTHER READING: For more customer service ideas, check out these 7 retailers embracing modern strategies.
6. Four-Legged Friends
If you’ve ever watched the television show Project Runway, you’ve seen Swatch, the adorable Boston terrier who hangs out at the Mood Fabrics store. People are known to visit the store just to meet the cute pup, and having a four-legged “employee” is a great way to create a unique experience, says Bell.
Nicholson-Hardie, a Dallas-based nursery and garden center, is known as the “garden center with the cats.” Two large calicos—Frankie Cat and Sammie Cat—lounge on top of the large checkout, and they even have their business cards with the job title, “The Rat Pack.”
“Ask any customer about the garden center, and the cats will be a part of the reported charm,” says Bell.
The caveat about having animals at your brick-and-mortar location is that they must be friendly, as you’ll have some customers who don’t want their attention. Swatch stays behind the register when he senses that customers are afraid of dogs.
Moving Forward With a Unique Offline Sales Experience
It’s important to remember that everything is available online. When you create a great offline experience, however, you provide something your customer can’t get with a click of the mouse. Your product or service becomes a souvenir of an experience that keeps them coming back.
“Customers may come in for fast, good and cheap; but they come back for unique,” says Bell.