April 6, 2016

Building Trust in Omni-channel Retailing – Managing the In-Store Customer Experience

Mikko Hänninen

Project researcher, Aalto University School of Business Department of Marketing

Despite the shift towards developing new online and mobile services, retailers need to continue to develop their in-store customer experience as well in order to provide a seamless experience for customers across offline and online channels.

Modern customers are living in interesting times as retailers are constantly developing new channels and services in order to better serve them and fulfill their needs. As the ongoing buzz over omnichannel amongst marketing professionals and academics suggests, an integrated customer experience is becoming the industry standard. Despite the shift towards developing new online and mobile services, retailers need to continue to develop their in-store customer experience as well in order to provide a seamless experience for customers across offline and online channels.

These were all some of the topics that were discussed in the Omnichannel Channel workshop in February as a part of the project Red Queen Effect: Strategies for an Innovative Landscape. Even though the topic of the workshop was Omnichannel, discussions focused on especially how traditional retailers both in the UK and Finland can continue to stay relevant despite pressure to change their business model in order to respond to their digitally relevant competitors.

Companies like Tieto are in the forefront of this revolution, matching their expertise in digital with the retailers’ knowledge of their own stores in order to create new offerings. However, it is crucial that retailers don’t forget the customers when developing these concepts as complex organizational structures in retailers can distance retailers from the end-customers and their constantly changing needs.

Thus, the question remains how to make sure that the in-store offering for retailers remains on par with the mobile and online offering?

Even though technology is continuing to revolutionize the field of retailing, customers also expect that the in-store experience offers them something more than a generic big box store. As competition has become more price centric, a unique and engaging in-store experience provides retailer a simple tool to differentiate from competitors and gain a competitive advantage.

Exceptional customer service, engaging in-store campaigns and events provide customers memorable experiences that helps build loyalty as well as a long-lasting relationship to the retailer.

Especially when it comes to more routine transactions such as in grocery retailing, it is the small things that affect retailer choice and facilitate the creation of trust. Overall, in the omnichannel world it is increasingly important that the offline and online channels are integrated in order to ensure that the service functions consistently. For example, mistakes in pricing, stock-outs of advertised products or bottlenecks in the service can reduce the amount of trust and potentially end the customer relationship as well as destroy the value created through online channels.

Retail managers need to keep in mind that despite the increased role of technology, store employees both offline and online continue to make up most of the experience.

Three Rules for In-Store Customer Experience Management

Overall, an Omni-channel strategy gives retailers the ability to better fulfill the needs of modern customers and interact with them in ways unimaginable decades ago. The three rules below are simple steps for ensuring retailers are able to unleash the full potential of their online and offline channels.

1) Optimize the Service Across Channels

As retailers are adopting more channels for engaging and communicating with customers they need to remember that customer experience and retailer choice is made as a sum of many small factors also in-store. This makes offering standardized service levels across offline and online channels a top priority for retailers as disappointments in the service can lead towards negative word-of-mouth as well as potentially end the customer relationship especially if repeated disappointments occur.

2) Create Memorable and Unexpected Experiences to Extend the Relationship

Despite the shift towards customized and data-driven marketing, there is a lot of potential in creating memorable in-store experiences that appeal directly to loyal consumers and allow customers to break their daily shopping routines. Especially for older demographics, shopping continues to be an experience rather than simply routine where the positive experiences gathered at the store contribute to their overall satisfaction as well as directly affect their purchase behavior.

3) Value Loyal Customers

As increased data allows retailers to easily recognize the most valuable and loyal customers, increased competition makes it important to reward and identify the most valued customers also in-store. This can include holding exclusive events for loyal customers, designing customized rewards and increasing engagement with customers that highlights their importance to the retailer and generates increased loyalty.

Concluding Thoughts

Retailing is going through the greatest change in its history and it is important that retailers are able to offer a unique and consistent customer experience that takes full of use of the potential of the online and offline channels. As Omni-channel is the new norm of the industry, it is important that the in-store customer experience does not fall behind in the fast pace of change and development that retailers are undertaking. Especially in Finland where omnichannel strategies are only now being designed by retailers, there is a lot of potential for creating unique interactions and integrations between the offline/online channels rather than only directly copying best practices from their international competitors. There were are reasons why we held the Omnichannel workshop for industry experts as it is vital that Finnish retailers’ don’t fall behind their global competitors when they further develop their online and offline customer experiences.

Read more about the: Red Queen Effect international study

Read more about Customer Experience Management and retail solutions. 

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