With the number of bankruptcies at a 10-year high due to the ongoing pandemic, it's no surprise that retailers are struggling. Although non-essential businesses have re-opened across the country, a threat of a second wave remains, which could lead to further store closures.
In order to increase revenue, retailers need to consider options that drive customer loyalty and improve the customer experience both in-store and online. Brick and mortar stores won’t survive without mobile and online shopping experiences. They also need to consider low-contact approaches to in-person shopping, while customers continue to be conscious of high touch areas. And while all businesses are updating their experiences, the stores that will come out ahead are ones that can create similar shopping environments for all platforms. Below, we’ve shared some considerations for retailers looking to adapt to the new normal.
Enhance Digital Experiences
As we learned from the beginning of the pandemic, digital and omnichannel experiences will be what helps set retailers apart during, and after, the pandemic. Retailers who don’t have online or mobile optimized shopping experiences or who don’t offer in-store pick up options will severely struggle to keep customers. But it’s also important to invest in digital experiences that go beyond how the customer can shop.
In-store, there are employees helping you find products and fitting rooms to try on clothes. Unfortunately, these experiences aren’t typically available online. That’s why it’s important to increase channels of communication for online shopping experiences. By having chatbots in the online store, customers can quickly and easily ask questions to a customer service representative. There are also retailers who are offering virtual fitting rooms, where customers can use models to see how clothes will look on them. These options help to offer an online shopping experience that alines with what they would receive in-store.
Unfortunately, virtual fitting rooms and chatbots will never offer the exact same experience as in-store shopping, which could increase product returns and exchanges. For the higher than normal call volumes that retailers will likely experience, call back queues can be implemented. These offer customers the ability to call in to join the virtual queue, hang up, and receive text updates about their wait time and place in line. When they reach the top of the callback line, a customer service representative will call them back. This eliminates the need to wait on hold, improving the customer experience.
Improving customer loyalty and increasing revenues could be as easy as providing more personalized experiences to customers. Sending promotion codes or deals based on what customers are shopping for, or what they’ve left in their online shopping cart, could be enough to sway them into making a purchase. Similarly, offering customers suggestions upon checkout based on what’s frequently purchased together or what inexpensive products they need could mimic the impulse buys that frequently happen at checkout counters.
Businesses can also greatly benefit from sending out post-shopping surveys to customers to gain insights about their experience and purchases. This data can help retailers see where they stack up against competitors, improve the shopping experience, and collect testimonials. By sending these surveys out digitally businesses can get immediate feedback. Although Online shopping makes it easy to send out surveys digitally, it can also be implemented for in-store shopping. And since SMS open rates are as high as 98 percent, using text messages may result in higher survey participation.
Create Contactless Experiences
One of the biggest changes from the pandemic is the aversion to busy spaces and high touch areas. That’s why creating low contact in-store experiences will greatly help to set retailers apart. The most common solution is contactless payment methods. ATMs, cash, and point of sales terminals are considered high-contact. By allowing for tap payments through credit or debit cards, or mobile device payment options, retailers can create a safer customer experience.
Limiting the number of customers in-store and in lines can also help make customers feel increasingly safe. Mobile queuing services can be implemented when entering stores or making a purchase to limit crowds of people. These systems allow customers to join virtual queues using their mobile device. They receive updates about their place in line and wait time via text message. They’ll also receive an update when it’s their turn to enter the store or to make a purchase.
In the maybe not-so-distant future, there’s talk of more casher and staff free stores, similar to what Amazon debuted in 2018. They have even started selling their Just Walk Out technology to other brick and mortar businesses. Until this becomes the norm, though, stores can greatly benefit from limiting interactions and touch points.
The New Normal
It may be hard to justify investments in digital solutions while the world rapidly changes, but there is a good chance that the retail experience will never be the same. In fact, 10 percent of consumers think their shopping habits will never go back to what they were pre-pandemic. With so many stores adapting to increase the customer experience, customers will begin to expect more from retailers. Enhanced customer experiences will need to be optimized to keep up with these changing demands and to increase revenue.