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Should modern retailers interrupt the customer journey?
Customer expectations are evolving. Often, today's shoppers are looking for more than a fast acquisition. Instead, they want a shopping experience. And they expect to be put at the heart of this experience, whether on or offline.
For many online retailers, with readily available new and evolving technologies, meeting the needs and wants of customers has become more of an opportunity than a challenge.
Take Amazon, for example. The global retailer was an early advocate of the power of personalisation, with different sections such as “related to items you’ve viewed” and “inspired by your wish list”. Today, while it might be difficult to replicate the breadth and depth of Amazon’s personalisation strategy, with a plethora of 3rd party add-ons available, creating a tailored shopping experience is within the reach of most online retailers.
What’s more, with modern shoppers engaging with brands and products across a range of mobile devices, online retailers have the ability to reach out and talk to consumers wherever they are.
So just how can more traditional bricks and mortar retailers compete?
It starts with creating a consistent brand journey that spans the on and offline world. Without any discord for shoppers.
Consistent shopping experience
With online evolving retail into an experience, customer expectations for in-store purchases are also on the rise. Shoppers no longer see a difference between online and in-store. It’s all just shopping. As such, they demand the same ease of service that they have come to expect from e-commerce.
So, with the end goal the same - whether on or offline - everything should be strategically placed to enhance the visitor experience, and ultimately, increase sales.
However, the transformation of the retail experience is about more than replicating the benefits of online; with the physical world uniquely placed to create a powerful multi-sensory shopping experience that evokes genuine customer emotions.
However, with a 2015 report finding that the in-store experience is the number one area of the retail shopping journey that needs the most improvement, clearly more needs to be done.
The power of interruption
Just like websites, stores are becoming predictable, resulting in decreased customer engagement. And, all too often there is very little to distinguish between retailers when it comes to lighting, signage, and display systems.
34% of shoppers indicate that the in-store experience needs improvement. That’s up from 31% last year.2
Until now, arguments have been made against interrupting the customer journey. And that makes sense. The last thing people want is their shopping experience to be disturbed by a website error or inattentive sales assistants.
But, what if today’s shoppers are looking for more than a quick sale?
63% of shoppers report that if an item is the exact same price at four different retailers, they will decide where to shop based on the overall customer experience they have in the store.3
Consider the very first Google Shop for example. Encouraging interaction with Google products, the store was designed to provide an engaging ‘try-before-you-buy’ experience for customers. Unlike traditional retail displays, the shop features a range of hands-on technologies, including a giant screen that lets visitors ‘fly over the earth’ and a wall where wannabe artists can digitally paint their own Google logos.
Taking the customer experience to a whole new level, the Google shop highlights how with a little (or, in this case, a lot!) of imagination retailers can offer a more compelling shopping experience. And, while not everyone has the budget of Google, this approach can be replicated across the high-street.
For example, when River Island launched a new ‘flagship’ concept store at the Bullring in Birmingham, display and lighting were used to deliver the necessary ‘wow’ factor with light boxes, canvasses, and statement displays strategically positioned to evoke the feeling of an art gallery.
Technology can be used to connect brands with retailers like never before. For example, an app could be created that combines purchasing and GPS data to send tailored offers to customers on their smartphones based on where they are in a store.
Likewise, retailers such as Burberry and Harrods have been transforming the shopping experience with customer tablets for product browsing, interactive window displays, video-based ads, and mobile apps that allow shoppers to complete purchases on their own. And even traditional in store signage can benefit from a fresh approach.
Take the new patented Kinetik Video Lightbox for example. Presenting moving images combined with printed graphics, the technology gives retailers the freedom to create eye-catching displays, strategically positioned around the store.
Somewhere between a lightbox and a large-format video screen, Kinetik can be used to promote products in dynamic fashion to attract consumer attention – and it doesn’t require the budget of incorporating screens or LCD technology.
When it comes to interrupting the customer journey, yes, of course, it is vital to ensure that stores are designed to help people find what they want as quickly as possible. But, in an effort to stand out, shouldn’t retailers be looking to do more than this? To use intelligent technology and products to force shoppers to stop and think? To purposely interrupt the customer journey to stand out from the competition and encourage deeper engagement?
While having a logical path is a tried and tested way to control the direction of the traffic in your store, and increase the likelihood of people buying what they came in for, slowing them down with some high-impact interruptions could actually lead to a rise in the number of unplanned purchases. And greater brand engagement.
Creating a more enjoyable shopping experience and promoting merchandise in a more innovative way – ultimately - helping to boost sales, done right the result is a win-win for customers and retailers alike.
 TimeTrade, State of Retail Report 2015