This is the second installation in our Experience Over Everything series.

Retail store locations are transforming into Customer Experience Centers as companies seek ways to entice people to visit more often and stay longer. The less friction in the customer’s journey, the more often consumers will shop and the more they’ll spend.

Simply put, it takes top quality, exceptional retail experiences to deliver on these heightened consumer expectations and win that business. How can your brand consistently create these memorable experiences and out-perform the competition? Start with these six things you’ll find in high-performing retail locations today.

1. People are allowed and encouraged to try products.

Not surprisingly, the most important part of a customer experience center is the experience—and the more immersive and impactful, the better. High-performing retail locations understand that customers aren’t just coming in to buy products; they want to try and experience the product. Top performers realize that a store visit isn’t the entire journey, but a mere part of it. This journey can include seeing an advertisement, getting a recommendation from a friend, visiting the website, reading a review, watching a video, and more. The point of transaction can be the store, the website, an app, or even social media.

Retail locations have an advantage over other channels and points in the journey, as brick and mortar retail enables people to physically touch and interact with their products. It enables people to experience more of what the brand has to offer, and to share those experiences with others.

Lowe’s has a Smart Home Store Showroom Powered by b8ta that provides hands-on experiences with their smart home products. Customers can explore and interact with the products with specialists available to answer questions.

2. Additional services are offered.

High-performing retailers also understand that the customer visit is a part of a series of events in what is, for most customers, a busy day. These retailers are finding ways to be accomodating and fit more seamlessly into that day. Stores are offering coffee and tea, wi-fi, and wireless charging—each of these things provides additional value to the customers during their visit while encouraging them to stay longer. Communal spaces within the store for customers to congregate and be a part of the store’s community offline and in person are a great touch, too.

Harris Teeter has cafe setups in many of their stores for customers who order food from the bakery or deli. Many even have coffee shops co-located and free wi-fi available. These make it easier for customers on the go to integrate grocery shopping into their days.

3. Instagrammable moments are created.

Speaking of community, people love to share their experiences. We always have; we started with stories by the fire and cave drawings. Now we do it through social media posts and shares. Retailers should strive to be a part of these engagements. To do so organically, provide post-worthy and aesthetically pleasing environments with unique visuals for hosting events and shopping. Retailers doing this successfully are providing stylish photo backdrops and amazing displays to create shareable moments that drive traffic to the store and help build the community.

NASCAR’s Gear Shop, a gift shop located at the NASCAR Hall of Fame has a race car on display inside the store. This creates magical moments for customers who have the opportunity to see a race car up close (often for the first time). These are moments that customers capture in photos and social media posts and share with friends and family.

4. Retail employees are advisors instead of sales associates.

The transformation into Customer Experience Centers has forced retailers to rethink the role of the store employee and the nature of the customer relationship. Leaders in the space are training their employees to be product experts, not sales specialists. This transforms employee-customer interactions, making them relational rather than transactional. The store employee becomes an onsite resource for customers and a trusted advisor, which enhances the customer experience.

Lowe’s store associates are trained to know the products and their applications. They are also trained to advise customers on their projects – both in the store and at the customers’ homes. The associates serve in these advisory roles even if the customer is not making a purchase. This helps build trust and relationships with customers.

5. Checkout isn’t a location or a long process.

High-performing retailers are reimagining the store checkout experience. Checkout becomes a quick transaction that takes place at the customer’s location as a part of his or her process, rather than a location in and of itself. Customers don’t have to navigate to a single point in the store to purchase, nor do they have to wait in a long line. Also, there isn’t a counter and point-of-sale system standing as a barrier between the customer and the employee. Customers can purchase when ready, wherever they are, simply by having a conversation with an employee. These retailers are equipping their employees with POS mobile phones and tablets or letting employees use their own mobile phones and tablets as POS systems and inventory lookup systems. This improves not only the customer experience, but the employee experience, as well.

Vans’ retail stores are equipping their store associates with mobile inventory systems that enable associates to check inventory and item location during interactions with customers without requiring customers or employees to approach the register or employees to have to go to the stockroom.

6. Customer service is quick and seamless.

Retailers realize that customers make purchases from a variety of channels, but many treat customer service differently across those channels. Regardless of where the customer makes a purchase or chooses to start a conversation, the service should be quick and seamless—and this includes in-store.

Customers should be able to quickly make returns and exchanges, or receive technical support with their products. This means no waiting in line behind people making purchases, being able to schedule an appointment instantly, being able to check in digitally, and being treated like a person instead of a number on a support ticket. High-performing retailers don’t view customer service as a cost center or burden;they view it as a critical part of the journey that can improve overall customer experience, increase brand loyalty, and in some cases even become a profit center.

AT&T enables customers to schedule appointments online for in-store help with services and devices. This eliminates inconvenient wait times and the uncertainty that comes with it. Customers can fit appointments into their schedules which creates a better experience and makes it easier for AT&T store associates to sell additional services and products.

Successful retail in a digitally driven world means experience over everything.

High-performing retailers are prioritizing experience over everything, and it starts with a continuous improvement in your understanding of customers’ journeys. That is the foundation on which you can begin to collaborate and innovate to design amazing experiences, then build digital solutions to power or augment them

If you’d like to speak with me about ways to create amazing experiences for your business send us an email.  We’d love to hear from you.

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