THE BLOG
11/08/2016 06:44 am ET Updated Nov 09, 2017

5 Ways to Improve the In-Store Experience for Shoppers

While many of us shop online for everything, there is still considerable demand for traditional, physical stores.

That said, however, those brick-and-mortar stores, be they major retail outlets or grocers, have to fight tooth and nail to maintain market share compared to their eCommerce counterparts. This means taking steps to improve the in-store experience, to motivate people to venture outside their homes and stop in-store. With rising gas costs, busy work and family lives, people are all about convenience. Sometimes, it's just as easy to get what you need delivered to your front door and stay home. Improving the in-store experience should serve as motivation to get people out of the home, and into the store.

Here are some of the most powerful ways that physical retailers can make their shopping experiences better for customers.

Place Emphasis on Strong Customer Service

Take care of your customers, and they will take care of you. Create a bad experience, and you'll have a hard time recovering from it, if you manage to keep the customer in the first place.

U.S. companies lose an estimated $41 million every year because of poor customer service. Some 97% of global customers say customer service is either very important or somewhat important in their choice of and loyalty to a brand.

Make customer service better at your store with:

  • Make sure staff is available to people when they need them.
  • Encourage customer loyalty with a rewards program.
  • Offer knowledge – don't push your products and services. Instead, educate customers so they can choose for themselves, with their own needs in mind, rather than pressuring anyone to buy.
  • Say thank you – your customers need to feel valued and appreciated.

Track and Entertain as an Ad Partner

In the past, when it came to in-retail ads, stores were nothing more than venues for hire. Today's newer location-based advertising business models allow the stores themselves to be active partners in the relationship.

Impax Media, recently named the year’s "Most Disruptive" retail innovation by the Global Market Development Center, offers a solution for sponsored in-store video info-tainment that brightens up the least enjoyed part of the shopping experience: the checkout line. Using video screens placed above each checkout register, companies can advertise to customers while they wait in line, as the screens collect anonymous attention-based data.

Impax allows its location partners to co-brand the screens, and are encouraged to place store announcements and other store-promoting content in the rotations. Now, you can even track your own foot traffic volume and media attention data, so you can see what your customers are most interested in and optimize your shopping experience even further.

Engage All Five Senses

Sure – what your store looks like matters quite a bit. We are, after all, visual creatures, but if that's the only thing you're focusing on, you're missing out on at least four other chances to engage and connect with the customers coming in and out of your store.

Make it easy for people to touch and feel the products you have in the showroom and aisles. One of the disadvantages of shopping online is the lack of tactile interaction. Play music softly throughout the store. But choose the tracks carefully. You don't want to put the customers to sleep – you want to encourage joy and other positive emotions. Research shows the type of background music you play affects how much people spend, with slower tempos encouraging people to buy more – and even eat more in restaurants.

While grocery stores and bakeries definitely have the scent profiles easy, other retailers may struggle in this department. There are, however, some basic scents that work well in the retail environment, including lavender, cotton, and vanilla.

Keep Your Employees Happy

When you take care of your employees, they will be happier at work, and be more apt to take care of customers. If they don't feel valued, what motivation do they have to make your customers feel valued?

When you focus efforts on employee engagement, you're likely to outperform companies without engaged employees by up to 202%. Companies lose $11 billion a year as a result of employee turnover – so it pays in multiple ways to invest in engagement initiatives.

You can do this by encouraging employees to communicate openly with management, and see their feedback implemented when and where possible. The direct relationship with management is a key driver of engagement, so managers must show their team members that they’re valued as contributors.

Think of Products as Souvenirs

Ultimately, relying on a purely analytical sales approach will drag you down into a price war – with the lowest price winning. While periodically running a promotion or discount may increase your profits over the short term, it might not help you sustain them over the long-term.

In the days of showrooming – where customers come to the store to look and feel a product, and then buy it online for a cheaper price – and where they can use any number of apps and tools on their smartphone to price check your store against others in the area, you need factors other than price to help you stand out from the competition.

How to do you this? Train employees to focus on the customer experience and treat the products they sell as souvenirs of that experience. When you build your experience based on the fact that customers will buy with their hearts rather than their heads, you’re able to make each customer feel like the most important person in the store. That feeling is what they will remember – and suddenly the fact that you're priced 5% higher than the store down the street won't matter anymore. They'll come to you again and again to invoke those positive emotions.

Build from the top down, with an engaged staff that is happy to work for you. That staff should be well versed in the products, services, and store policies to provide better customer service. Then, focus on the aesthetics of the store and advertising during the checkout process to greatly enhance the overall shopping experience.