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The Retail Customer Experience Guide

Lance Concannon

Mar 31, 2023

For decades, retail centered squarely on brick-and-mortar stores and in-person shopping. Customers would plan day-long trips into town to fill their horse-drawn wagons — and later, the trunks of their cars — with goods. They shopped only during business hours and interacted with store clerks. Some were even on a first-name basis with staff in the stores they frequented most. Oh, how times have changed!

Many consumers now shop online for everything from household goods to groceries and even cars. But the in-store retail customer experience (CX) still plays a vital role in your success, even though the way you go about creating these experiences has changed dramatically.

Here’s a closer look at bridging the digital and physical retail landscapes and why getting the customer experience for retail right matters more than ever.

Table of Contents:

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Retail Customer Experience: Then vs Now

Retail Customer Experience

There’s no doubt the retail landscape has changed in the last 50, even five, years. With the advent of online shopping and the rise of customer expectations, retailers had to adapt in order to stay competitive.

It wasn’t that long ago that having an e-commerce website was a competitive advantage; now it’s par for the course. Just a few years ago, many brands separated their online and in-store shopping experiences; today, retailers have blurred those lines.

Customers love options. They want to shop their way, and they expect brands to make it happen. 

Now, shoppers are looking for a more personalized and convenient experience. They want to be able to find what they're looking for quickly and easily. Sometimes, this means not having to search through racks of clothes or wait in line. And sometimes, it means walking into a store to grab the item they found online.

That’s why the retail customer experience matters so much. Customers have certain expectations from stores that they don’t have with websites, and vice versa. That's also why social commerce is such a big upcoming trend.

Retailers are responding by investing in technology that will make the shopping experience more efficient and enjoyable. In-store kiosks, mobile apps, QR codes, and online chatbots are just a few of the ways that retailers are making it easier for customers to get what they need, wherever and whenever they need it.

These changes are good news for shoppers who want a better customer experience for retail. However they choose to shop, they can find the right retail experience without sacrifice.

How Omnichannel Changes the Retail Customer Experience

Omnichannel has emerged in recent years to give retail shoppers the best of both shopping worlds. It closes the gap between online and offline purchasing, leading retailers to develop new experiences that cater to both options.

With omnichannel shopping, the customer journey takes new paths:

  • Discovering a product online and buying it in the store
  • Purchasing the item online to pick up in-store
  • Consulting with a store clerk before purchasing the item online
  • Ordering an out-of-stock item in-store and having it shipped to their home
  • Checking product availability online before visiting the store

Each of these paths creates unique customer experiences, but they underscore a common thread — customers want more control over how they shop.

These trends have been growing in recent years, leading more retailers to shift to an omnichannel approach. COVID-19 quickened the adoption rate for many store owners as they sought ways to remain competitive with the explosive growth of e-commerce

As a result, the customer retail experience has changed forever. Today’s in-store experience includes omnichannel components as well as other points of impact that can’t be duplicated on digital-only channels.

Elements of Customer Experience in Retail

The Retail Apocalypse that saw major brands shutter stores or go out of business altogether shone a light on the power of e-commerce — and a dire need for change in brick-and-mortar shopping. While it spelled the end for many beloved stores, the Retail Apocalypse also presented retailers with an opportunity to improve their in-store experiences while doubling down on e-commerce.

During the pandemic, over 60% of retail square footage had to temporarily close due to local in-person restrictions. However, reports show that over 50% of foot traffic has been recovered post-pandemic. Much of this recovery is credited to how stores have responded to what customers need and want from their in-person experiences. 

Some of the key elements we see in motion include:

Experiential Retail

Experiential Retail

In order to create a lasting and memorable retail customer experience, brands are turning to experiential strategies. By engaging customers in unique and interactive ways, retailers are able to create more personal connections with shoppers. This deeper level of engagement often leads to increased brand loyalty and customer retention.

No longer are retail store floors filled with inventory. Retailers are now turning to pop-up shops, in-store classes, and community events. These bring more people into the store, helping to grow brand awareness and sales. Plus, it gives customers reasons to return to the stores again and again.

New Omnichannel Technology

Omnichannel shopping has become a baseline consumer expectation, according to RetailDive. McKinsey refers to omnichannel as a must for retail store survival. Offering seamless shopping experiences, whether via the app, social media, mobile phone, web browser, or physical store space, will enable more personalized experiences that meet customers wherever they are.

Tip: Learn more about omnichannel marketing and omnichannel customer experience.

Customer Feedback

Customers take a lot of the credit when it comes to improved retail experiences. Because they share their ideas and sentiments — directly or indirectly – stores know where they need to make changes.

Customer feedback allows businesses to understand what customers want and need. This can lead to improved customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Retailers with the Best Customer Experience

What does a great customer experience in retail look like? Take a page from the playbooks of these retailers with the best customer experience:

Lush: Full-on sensory experience

Lush Retail CX

Beauty brand Lush turns their stores into a full-on sensory experience.

The interactive wonderland of bath products lets you sample just about any item before you buy. Customers are encouraged to see, smell, and touch the products, helping to engage their senses and giving product impressions staying power.

Kohl’s: Omnichannel approach

Kohl’s has truly mastered the omnichannel approach, thanks to multiple bridges between online and in-store retail customer experiences.

Customers can shop online and pick up their orders in stores. As part of the e-commerce customer experience, shoppers can also check product availability at nearby stores before ordering.

The stores also have an online ordering kiosk where customers can order and pay for items to ship to their homes. 

Sephora: Supreme customer service

Sephora ranks supreme in customer service, thanks to a combination of beauty product testers and personalized consultations.

Employees can scan a customer’s skin to find their perfect shades of foundation, lipstick, and concealer.

Once customers have their Color IQ, they can input the code into the website to find their perfect products.

How to Measure Retail Customer Experience

Measure Retail CX

Part of any customer experience strategy (CX strategy) includes tracking and measuring your progress. Brands can measure this in different ways, depending on whether you’re tracking digital experiences, in-store experiences, or both.

Tip: Read our extensive guide on how to measure the customer experience for more information.

Here are some ideas to inspire your Retail CX strategy measurement:

Retail CX Surveys

Surveys offered to customers after purchase can help you gauge things like customer service and satisfaction in real-time.

These can be simple one-question surveys, such as “Did you find everything you need?” or “Was our store clean today?” They can also ask questions about specific employees or have customers rate their experience on a scale of 1 to 10.

Or, you could send longer surveys to the customer’s email address or conduct a quick phone interview to learn more about their experience.

Collect survey responses across a range of touchpoints, such as:

  • Purchase receipts
  • Point of purchase terminal
  • Chat log
  • Email
  • Packing slip
  • Post-purchase landing page

Timing matters in collecting customer feedback. Catching your customer in the moment gives you the best chance of getting an honest response.

Retail Net Promoter Score

Net Promoter Score (NPS) is a customer experience metric that measures how likely customers are to recommend a company’s products or services to others.

Calculate NPS by subtracting the percentage of customers who are unhappy with their experience from the percentage of customers who are satisfied with their experience. 

NPS can benchmark customer satisfaction levels, track changes in customer loyalty over time, and identify areas where a company can improve its customer experience.

Consumer Sentiment in Retail

Consumer insights tools and consumer experience software like Meltwater Radarly can help brands learn more about how their customers talk about their company on other channels. For example, a customer might not tell you about their experience, but they might share details on their social media feed.

Meltwater Radarly Retails customer experience dashboard

Meltwater Radarly tracks consumer sentiment via sentiment analysis to help brands get a holistic view of their brand image. This gives you a more realistic idea of whether you measure up to your customers’ expectations and how you can better meet their needs.

How to Improve the Customer Experience for Retail Stores

A good retail customer experience can result in repeat customers and referrals. If a customer has a positive experience with your company, they’re much more likely to come back and recommend you to others. This is key to increasing sales and growing your business.

How can retailers go about this? Let’s look at some ways you can improve the customer experience in your retail store — online and in the real world.

Keep Listening and Learning

Listening to your customers is the single best way to see how you’re delivering on their expectations. It can also inspire new experiences to introduce to your store that will help to increase satisfaction and earn their loyalty.

Never miss a mention again demo banner for Meltwater Explore

Social listening tools do exactly that. For example, Meltwater Radarly gives you real-time, data-driven insights into how customers are talking about your brand online. Our combination of AI technology and human data scientists turns your data into action items that can start transforming your CX strategy.

Embrace Technology and the Human Element

Technology doesn’t create customer experiences — people do. Technology can help, of course. But ultimately, brands need to maintain the human element in the retail customer experiences they deliver. This means thinking like a customer and meeting customers wherever they are on their journeys. Review consumer behavior to help you find areas to create or improve your retail experiences.

Technology can help you improve the human element. For example, use technology to deliver self-service help to customers who prefer to handle things on their own. Also, support employees with technology to streamline their customer-facing interactions.

Supporting the Retail Customer Experience with Meltwater Radarly

With the customer journey becoming increasingly complex, brands need to find better ways to reach their customers and deliver on their expectations. Meltwater Radarly helps you improve the retail customer experience with confidence by providing real-time insights into how your customers think and feel about your company.

Whether you’re an online retailer, brick-and-mortar store, or both, Meltwater Radarly taps into social media conversations and other channels to learn more about your customers. Understand their experiences with your brand and competitors at every stage of the buyer’s journey so you can make changes that matter.

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