Retail stores continue to lead as the primary source for consumer purchasing, despite the increase in Internet and catalog market share. That’s good news for retailers –– but it comes with some challenges. Floor space is expensive, retailers are forced to extend their product lines, and today’s consumer expectations of the shopping experience have risen dramatically. While industry margins remain in the 3% to 7% range, pricing pressure and increased competition have placed a greater onus on innovation to achieve sustained profitability and growth.
With the proliferation of SKUs, retailers grapple to keep up with the ever-increasing range of product options. One would think having more choices is good. Unfortunately, the net result can have customers feeling overwhelmed and leaving the store empty-handed. Otherwise, they make a decision based on one criterion (e.g. price) alone that may result in the purchase of a product that does not meet their needs. Either situation ultimately leads to dissatisfaction and a negative customer experience.
To achieve a successful buying experience, retailers must create a positive emotional response for customers. To that end, it’s imperative to build excitement for customers –– engage and interact with them –– then make them an active part of the process. If the customer inspects the product and understands how its features meet their needs, they’re likely to have some emotional response to the product and the process.
Make Good Use Of Floor Space
While the customer psyche presents a challenge for retailers, floor space use is equally as critical. Offering the entire product line, but showcasing only a few examples on the floor and/or providing paper catalogs or computer access to the retailer’s Web site generally addresses this dilemma. Both allow the customer to browse entire inventories; yet, in most cases, taking one of these approaches requires special order delivery or warehouse support. Most importantly, however, the experience is fragmented. Neither solution delivers the customer a complete product experience –– and certainly not a compelling one.
Another difficulty retailers confront is the ability to deliver superior sales support. While retailers face the challenge of adequately staffing stores, consumers cite declining levels of customer service from in-store associates. This can be attributed to the turnover of SKUs and the complexity of products, so it is difficult to keep associates trained. Furthermore, the high demand for expert associates in specialty areas, such as electronics or appliances, rarely affords longevity with any retailer.
These issues, coupled with Internet commerce advancements, have contributed to increased experimentation with kiosks and other technologies designed to simulate an in-store experience. Technologies now deliver 3-D realism and interactivity, enabling retailers to showcase an unlimited number of products by replacing reality with virtual reality. Put in the driver’s seat, customers can browse every product offered –– investigating the features of interest to them. Features include sampling color options and viewing product demonstrations, which is the next best thing to having the product in hand.
With interactive technologies, retailers can deliver a rich, engaging customer experience by combining 3-D interactivity with relevant product information and messaging. Messages are applied beyond the store, across multiple platforms, including Web sites, 3-D interactive PDFs, and PowerPoint documents, as well as at remote locations such as trade shows.
Making all products and options available to customers and helping them make the right choices is the key to growing sales and customer satisfaction. This leads to loyalty and long-term customer growth. The buying process is emotional, and now retailers can take advantage of solutions to appeal to customers’ behavior. By delivering compelling and exciting customer experiences, retailers captivate and engage customers, while extending their selling environments and enhancing their brand with every customer encounter.