Get in and out of the store as quickly as possible. Don’t touch anything on the shelves unless you intend on buying it. Don’t try on clothes. Sanitize yourself and your cart. Avoid aisles you don’t need to go down. And, above all, don’t forget to wear your mask. These are the thoughts racing through the minds of consumers right now and, sometimes, it’s enough to make them buy online and avoid a store altogether.
There is no doubt that the presence of ecommerce has allowed consumers with internet or mobile connectivity the opportunity to safely buy what they need without leaving their homes. While COVID-19 vaccines are being administered slowly but surely across several countries, a recent study shows that vaccinated consumers may not be rushing back into stores as quickly as once predicted.
It is impossible to know when consumers are going to feel safe enough to not only shop in brick-and-mortar stores, but to go in and fully experience them anxiety-free. In the meantime, retailers have a unique opportunity to plan what that encounter will look like, how it will play a part with existing ecommerce experiences, and how they will use their brick-and-mortar locations to make shopping a customer-driven, refreshing experience where consumers can interact with products, and store associates, once again.
#1: Offer Customized Incentives
The pandemic set the tone for quick, in-and-out shopping trips. To help consumers experience the joy of browsing a store again, there must be a drive for them to do so. Offering personalized incentives can be a unique – and unexpected – way of encouraging consumers to head back to the aisles after a purchase or return.
A customized incentive uses data from a consumer’s past purchasing and return behavior at a particular retailer. It goes far beyond generic 25% off coupons and vendor promotional campaigns and reaches deep into the unique shopping behaviors of a consumer in-store and online. Leveraging this data to provide consumers with more tailored offers is being met with open arms: Almost one-third (31%) of shoppers surveyed in this study expressed a desire for a more custom-fitted shopping experience, with the majority (67%) in favor of personalized coupons.
Incentives that can be found and used on mobile devices are another option to consider for retailers who are searching for an alternative to email campaigns. While it is common for mobile offers to be associated with online shopping, it isn’t always the case; research has found that one third of the time consumers are using phones to help them shop in brick-and-mortar stores.
With online returns in the US accounting for $102 billion in lost sales in 2020, and BORIS and BOPIS transactions continuing in popularity, retailers should view in-store pickups and returns as the perfect moment to encourage a shopper to stay, browse, and save money on an offer that was tailored to them.
It is up to a retailer to identify the best form of customized incentives for its consumer base. For brands with existing loyalty programs, personalized incentives can be a great next step for consumers to earn rewards that are specific to them, as opposed to irrelevant rewards they may end up ignoring.
Incentives During Purchases and Returns
Retailers can make a powerful impact on the customer experience by offering customized incentives at the point of purchase or return. Solutions that do this, such as Incent™, provide an opportunity for consumers to stay in the store longer – even if they were only there to do an online pickup (BOPIS, or buy-online-pickup-in-store) or BORIS return. These incentives can not only allow the consumer to enjoy a discount on an item tailored to them, they can also help a retailer begin to earn back in sales some or all of what they lost with the return.
Tailored incentives can be used for many purposes beyond increasing sales. They can also be used to move soon-to-be-discounted items or lagging category sales. The best personalized incentives are flexible, with multiple reward types, that are delivered in a way that fits a retailer’s consumer base best, whether that is through email, a paper receipt, or mobile.
With online returns in the US accounting for $102 billion in lost sales in 2020, and BORIS and BOPIS transactions continuing in popularity, retailers should view in-store pickups and returns as the perfect moment to encourage a shopper to stay, browse, and save money on an offer that was tailored to them. When paired with an employee who is trained to call out these incentives and answer any questions the consumer may have, this can transform what may have been a mundane task for the consumer into something delightful.
#2: Continue Making Hygiene a Priority
Since the discussion of cleanliness and sanitization has been at the forefront of consumers’ minds for more than a year, it can be assumed that this heightened attention to hygiene will continue throughout 2021. For consumers to feel safe entering, and shopping, in a store, retailers must make hygiene transparency a top priority.
Retailers can boost a consumer’s confidence from the very beginning by offering cleaning products and hand sanitizers at the very front of the store, with several employees tasked with monitoring and restocking these supplies as needed. Signs that designate sanitized carts and baskets are also a helpful way to communicate cleanliness and keep consumers from crowding entryways while they sanitize carts themselves.
For consumers to feel safe entering, and shopping, in a store, retailers must make hygiene transparency a top priority.
Low-touch in-store activities, such as contactless payments, self-checkout, and in-store pickups, have become very popular with consumers since the onset of the pandemic. According to research, 79% of consumers intend to continue using self-checkout inside stores alone. However, there are plenty of other touchless options a store can implement that go beyond the sales floor itself: Automatic doors, as well as touchless faucets and toilets, are simple ways to add convenience and safety to the in-store shopping experience.
No matter what touchless options a store has, consumers should be able to quickly tell if a store has such options, and that the surfaces have been routinely sanitized. Some retailers use their public announcement systems to announce periodic cleaning is taking place, calling it to consumers’ attention as well as employees’. Some retailers may even consider having their stores’ cleaning and sanitization practices verified by an external, independent auditor which, according to Ecolab, may help consumers feel safer even after vaccines are distributed.
#3: Rebuild an Emotional Connection
What have many consumers been missing about the in-store shopping experience after a year of limited encounters? The opportunity to be greeted, helped, have questions answered, and the ability to become emotionally connected to a store and its culture – all without being overbearing.
Many consumers have only been interacting with a retailer’s website during the pandemic. When they get back into the store, determining how to boost retail customer experience through communication may depend on a retailer’s consumer base, and even the generational differences throughout them. Elderly consumers, for example, may be especially pleased with the opportunity to ask store associates questions again or to have the features of a product explained to them. Baby Boomers reportedly like their shopping experiences to be solutions-oriented, while Generation X consumers tend to want to be able to complete transactions quickly but also earn store rewards. Gen-Z shoppers are often more self-sufficient and may not necessarily be looking for in-store help, but they may return to the store because of the friendly atmosphere and ease of finding what they want.
No matter what gets a consumer in the door, or what type of shopper they are: Letting them know in-person that they are recognized and appreciated is something they may not have even realized they missed.
Regardless of a consumer’s generation, store managers and staff can make shoppers feel welcomed simply by being present; greeting a consumer, making eye contact, and being available for anything they may need can go a long way. No matter what gets a consumer in the door, or what type of shopper they are: Letting them know in-person that they are recognized and appreciated is something they may not have even realized they missed.
#4: Be Clear About Store Changes and Policies
A main source of frustration for consumers comes from a lack of communication in policies, especially when they have suddenly changed. At the start of the pandemic, store hours shifted a lot. Now, as restrictions ease up, consumers may encounter confusion again as regular hours resume. Similarly, return windows that were once shorter may have eased up again as well. A lack of updates on a retailer’s website or social media channels can add to the frustration.
These are common situations that can cause a consumer to become angry and disappointed, and, because of COVID-19, it can even compound the anxiety consumers already feel – after all, society has experienced a year where many things changed suddenly all the time without any warning or explanation. Retailers wishing to bring consumers in-store should be sensitive to these situations and examine potential gaps in communication at every level, including:
- Have store associates been trained in communicating and reinforcing return policies, especially if they have been in flux? Is the return policy visible on the retailer’s website and posted in-store in compliance with local requirements?
- Have store hours been updated on the website in a prominent location? What about Google and social media channels?
- If aisles or store departments have recently changed, are consumers aware? Does a retailer’s app, including a store map, need to be updated? Are associates available to guide consumers to where they need to go?
- Does a retailer’s ecommerce site have accurate on-hand inventory displayed for consumers wishing to visit a store and purchase an item right away?
- Is there the right kind of in-store signage to communicate sanitization and safety policies? Has that same messaging been distributed through digital and social channels?
By being up-front with consumers from the very beginning, a new level of trust can be established. This trust that the in-store shopping experience is going to match what a consumer expects based on the communication they have received can help to convert a one-time shopper into a loyal consumer.
#5: Meet Consumers Where They’re At
The rise in omnichannel retail, especially during the pandemic, means that consumers are using brick-and-mortar stores in different ways. Instead of focusing on only attracting true in-store shoppers, retailers wishing to increase foot traffic should consider meeting consumers where they are. This means offering a great in-store experience regardless of the purpose of the visit itself.
Convenience plays a large role in which stores consumers decide to visit, especially if the shopping trip is last-minute or urgent. Retailers who recognize this can use location-based marketing to their advantage. According to research from Raydiant, the two most important factors consumers consider when shopping at a physical location is price (32.7%) and convenience (25.50%).
Instead of focusing on only attracting true in-store shoppers, retailers wishing to increase foot traffic should consider meeting consumers where they are. This means offering a great in-store experience regardless of the purpose of the visit itself.
By using location-based metrics or geo-targeting, retailers have the opportunity to reach these types of consumers. Whether the marketing is coming from emails, text messages, paid search, or social media posts, a personalized and location-targeted message that communicates sales and in-demand items can bring in first-time consumers that hopefully turn into loyal ones.
Retailers should also consider gauging the popularity of BORIS and BOPIS at store locations. Stores that have more in-store pickup and return activity may benefit from strategic placement of enticing displays and endcaps. A convenient “quick shop” area of common essentials can not only boost in-store sales but also save consumers an extra shopping trip which, no matter what kind of consumer they are, is always an unexpected bonus. BORIS and BOPIS areas are also a great place to advertise exclusive in-store discounts, which consumers rated a top way to encourage them to visit a store in-person more.
The world still has a while before it returns to normal. While retailers wait for that day to come, the time spent on making the in-store experience delightful, rewarding, and safe can give retailers a chance to be at the forefront of a new and exciting post-COVID frontier.
Leslie Nienaber, Digital Marketing Specialist, Appriss Retail
Leslie researches business trends and distills the information for a retail audience. Her marketing experience has covered a wide variety of industries, including promotional products, microbiology, print, and mail. She spent five years in the retail industry before graduating with her Bachelors in Business Administration from John Carroll University.