Building a Better Shopping Experience

In preparation for the half-marathon that she intends to run in Toronto next year, Kerry is looking for a new pair of running shoes for endurance training. She researched various models online and is ready to pick up the footwear she has chosen at the local store that offers the best price.

As an experienced runner, Kerry knows precisely what features she wants in a running shoe, and after thorough research, she has landed on the Saucony Powergrid Triumph 10. And although she would never admit this to her running buddies, as a bright-shoe kind of gal, she is pleased with the shoe’s cheerful, two-toned color scheme. However, despite her certainty that she found the perfect shoe for her, she also knows that trying them on is critical to ensure that they suit her running needs.

When she arrives at the store, Kerry quickly spots the shoe she is looking for and asks a sales clerk for a pair of size 8. The sales clerk immediately starts explaining how different types of training have different demands on our bodies, information that Kerry already knows. Without noticing Kerry’s growing impatience, the sales clerk asks her about her running history, goals, past injuries, the type of training she does and what other types of shoes she already uses. At this point, Kerry starts to regret coming to the store and thinks she should have ordered the shoes online.

Like an increasing number of consumers who are empowered with information that they have gleaned from online sources, Kerry’s visit to the store is less about shopping and more about validating the choice she has already made before she even enters the door. Her expectations for an in-store purchase experience are high: She is looking for the same ease and timely service in physical stores that she gets from shopping online. Basically, she wants to shop on her own time and on her own terms.

Shoppers like Kerry appreciate the wider selection and the abundance of information she can gather online about the products she’s considering for purchase, but she still relishes the in-store experience because she needs to touch, see and try on the product in ways that she can't do online.

Unfortunately, most retailers are still unable to meet the needs of their consumers by creating a shopping experience where online and offline intersect.

 

From Clicks to Bricks—and Back Again

 

A handful of retailers have tried and succeeded in achieving a smooth transition from online to in-store shopping by offering customers a seamless, omni-channel experience. Companies such as Apple have managed to blend the ease and convenience of online electronic payment with the reassuring comfort of in-store shopping by eliminating the cash register in their stores and having salespeople handle the sales transaction on smartphones before sending customer receipts via email.

iPhone owners can even complete the sales process themselves using the Apple Store app on their own devices. Customers only need to scan the barcodes of the products they wish to buy with their iPhone’s camera and pay for the purchases in-store through the EasyPay option in the Apple Store app—no sales clerk required. Another option available to iPhone owners is the ability to select and buy the items online before heading to their local Apple Store to pick them up.

By understanding the changing needs and expectations of shoppers, Apple stores have adopted a differentiated checkout experience that blends the best of in-store with the best of online.

Walmart, the world’s largest retailer, is moving in the same direction by testing a “Scan & Go” app that lets customers scan their items as they shop. The retail giant is already giving its customers the option to buy products online and pick them up in-store or buy online and return in-store. In doing so, Walmart is trying to stay ahead of other stores where self-checkout areas that enable customers to scan and bag their own merchandise have become
commonplace.

In the same vein, a variety of mid-sized chains such as J.C. Penney, Urban Outfitters and Anthropologie are either currently planning or have already equipped their stores with mobile devices—iPhone, iPad or iPod Touch—to allow for credit or debit card purchases in-store.
While it may seem like such enhancements to the in-store customer experience is the exclusive privilege of big companies, emerging technology solutions such as LightSpeed are making it easier for smaller retailers to offer more unified shopping solutions. Thousands of small to mid-sized stores in the world have adopted the LightSpeed platform to sell everything from clothing to cameras, to musical instruments and, yes, even running shoes.

The Montreal-based LightSpeed offers retailers a complete omni-channel solution to seamlessly integrate e-commerce functions and in-store operations at an affordable price. As with Apple’s EasyPay option, shoppers can use the LightSpeed solution to pay with their handheld devices. The platform also gives a retailer the opportunity to allow its customers to view merchandise that is not on the sales floor and order it on the spot.

By eliminating the time spent hunting through the stock room for merchandise, looking up information on products or ringing up purchases at the cash register, this type of solution gives the retailers the chance to spend more time engaging with customers and selling products.

 

Taking It to the Next Level

 

While the goal is to offer customers a seamless shopping experience across multiple channels, the trick has been finding the best way to combine e-commerce with in-store shopping to create a connected retail experience. Pioneering retailers have already started to answer this need by introducing digital technologies, such as virtual fitting tools and virtual product aisles, in their stores.

An original approach to creating an innovative in-store experience was adopted by Tesla Motors in the company’s first Canadian retail store located in Toronto. The store features interactive displays and design studios where customers can configure their own Tesla car on a large touchscreen and then view it on an 85-inch video wall in the back of the store.

Tesla store
TESLA MOTORS STORE Customers can design their own Tesla car on a large touchscreen.

Emerging technological solutions can help create convergent retail experiences in many different areas. Tesco, the British multinational grocery and general merchandise retailer, has already started testing new digital technologies that may change the way we shop in the future. Among the different solutions the company has been looking into, there is a virtual mirror that overlays a digital image on top of a normal mirror allowing the customer to see how clothing fits.

Tesco has also tested the prototype of an endless aisle, a new type of digital signage where all of a store’s products can be viewed and purchased on a single screen, without having to walk around the store. A third project is the introduction of virtual merchandising that enables retailers to test different ranges of product organization in different stores in order to ensure an easy shopping experience for customers in the real world.

As bricks-and-mortar retailers are trying to enhance their in-store experiences, new options are emerging to help close the gap between online and in-store experiences. However, many retailers are still struggling to find the best way of combining e-commerce with in-store shopping to create a consistent retail experience.

By making the shopping process as simple as walking into a store, scanning an item, and paying for it with a series of taps on your smartphone—or better yet buying products online, picking them up in-store and checking yourself out—more stores are successfully blending the best of in-store with the best of online shopping.

However, the transformation of the retail experience is not just about bringing the convenience and speed of the online shopping experience into the store. The real goal is to find ways to help consumers reduce the scope of their search and simplify their shopping experience, and in the process, make retail stores more intuitive and brands more attractive. It’s now time for retailers to bring the two together in order to make shoppers positively perceive their products during the entire purchase process.

What can retailers learn from e-commerce? They can use online user experience research to reap the benefits of prototyping, testing, learning, and refining new shopping experiences. The lessons learned from user experience research have been an essential ingredient in improving online shopping tactics. There is no doubt that the same approach can be used to enhance the in-store shopping experience as well.

In-store shopping and e-commerce may have more in common than what some bricks-and-mortar retailers instinctively assume. As consumers have become accustomed to the convenience and empowerment of online shopping, they expect their in-store experiences to be consistent with their e-commerce routines. What retailers used to consider separate business models are beginning to amalgamate into an omni-channel approach where the key ingredient is consistency and continuity across the multiple touch points that consumers encounter on their purchase journeys.

(Photo: Marketing Mag)

Further Reading

Moving Into the 3rd Dimension of Vertical Integration

Q2 2013

The benefit of a vertically integrated strategy is its ability to increase profit margins and reduce prices for customers without affecting the quality of the product.

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Mobile Consumers Are Smarter Shoppers

Q2 2013

The widespread use of smartphones and tablets has created an opportunity for local retailers to attract in-store traffic.

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