Monday, August 20, 2007

Customers want the "in-store experience" to continue online

Lots of people have spent an unhealthy amount of time writing about the importance of the retail experience -- the environment, the products, the thrill of the hunt -- whatever it is that turns an average shopping outing into something a bit more unique, personalized and fun. In fact, shopping is increasingly become a pass time for many who will spend hours going from store to store even when they have no plans to purchase anything (so I'm told -- the concept is pretty foreign to me personally). But I was pretty surprised to find that online shoppers are starting to expect the same kind of "shoppers high" on the web as they do in brick-and-mortar stores. And as this article from the Retail Bulletin notes, with fickle shoppers easily able to bounce from one virtual store to the next, that's causing a lot of sleepless nights for the e-commerce gurus working behind the scenes at many of the most famous retail chains:
Customers demand an experience that is functional and easy to use. recently found that 90 per cent of users would happily switch to a competitor if a site fails to load. However, they also want to feel genuinely welcomed and see strong continuation of the brand they know and love. A visit to your web site should only further encourage the loyalty that your customers feel for you. As such, it should be remembered that online storefronts are now an integral part of the business for any retailer, and need to present themselves as much more than just an online catalogue of products. Every website needs to reflect the same brand values and aesthetics as your other customer touch-points, be it in store, via email or through your call centre.
With evidently such little brand loyalty, many retailers are turning to multi-channel programs that mix online loyalty features with calls to the brick-and-mortar stores where it's easier to stand apart from competition (and the competition is literally harder to get to than online). The article recommends using a web-based presence not just as a product catalog, but instead as a sales tool designed to provide a personalized brand experience, thus moving the traditional in-store experience into the shopper's home. The web can also be used to drive traffic to slower moving lines that might fit particularly well with the shopper's tastes depending on information collected as part of the aforementioned loyalty program. In the end, the article states, retail stores are still the best place to follow the 80/20 rule of sales (where 80% of sales are generated on the top 20% of products), but with the web there's now a cost-effective way to tap the "long tail" effect by connecting customers with ideal, though harder to find, products.

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Anonymous said...

"Lots of people have spent an unhealthy amount of time writing about the importance of the retail experience."

Why do you say it is an unhealthy amount? Seems like an odd statement to me. Can you explain?

Bill Gerba said...

Hi Anonymous :)

It was just a turn of phrase, not anything intended to be taken seriously. However, I do still get the feeling that while there seem to be thousands of people out there analyzing retail environments down to the tiniest minutia, there are still relatively few examples of the retailers themselves actually trying a lot of the suggested plans out.

For example, there are simple, verifiably positive changes that Paco Underhill suggests in "Why We Buy" -- a book released over a decade ago -- that the vast majority of retailers have either ignored or have consciously chosen not to implement. That would seem to indicate that a) none of us (who do the talking) actually know what we're talking about, or b) the retailers have dissenting opinions (whether data-driven or not) on the efficacy of the suggested changes.