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Online retailers: Don’t let your customers miss the in-store experience

Jack Wearne
Jack Wearne
CEO
Online retailers: Don’t let your customers miss the in-store experience

The latest ONS Retail Sales Index has shown that pent-up demand created during lockdown is being released as many consumers welcome the easing of lockdown restrictions, and the opportunity to visit many of their favourite shops. But while there has been a 35.7% year-on-year increase in overall sales, a very positive step in the right direction, footfall is still down by 40% in comparison to the pre-pandemic period. 


Shopping behaviours have changed, consumers are more comfortable than ever shopping online, but there is still a desire for the in-store shopping experience. The retailers that realise their offering needs to stand up both in the digital and physical world, will be the ones set to win consumer loyalty as we ease out of lockdown.


Don’t fall short on customer service


Customer service has long been a pull factor for physical stores. Consumers looking for personalised help, advice, and recommendations have traditionally opted to go in-store. Think about the invaluable advice your grandma seeks from the sales assistant when purchasing a gift for her thirteen year old grandchild, or when you’re making a considered purchase like your first washing machine. In a digital world, it’s only natural that shoppers still want that tailored and personalised service. 


Though there are scenarios where online can’t compete with the in-store experience, such as when consumers want to touch and feel products, it doesn’t have to be this way with customer service. Online retailers need to make sure they’re not falling short here and letting customers revert back to in-store shopping in pursuit of a more personalised experience.


With technology, brands can explore how to connect with customers and intelligently serve their needs online, as they would in real life. So how can brands do this well? Well, it’s about finding ways to pinpoint customer motivations and guiding them through their shopping journey, as a sales assistant would in real life. 


Engage just at the right time


Problem solvers and surveys are a great place to start to understand your customer’s motivations or problems and can be used to guide shoppers through their journey to purchase. These work especially well when shoppers are browsing for considered purchases and require bespoke guidance. For example, if a shopper is browsing for a laptop, a problem solver survey that instinctively appears asking how they intend to use the laptop (e.g. for work, gaming, editing photos) can direct them to relevant devices, assisting them to make their decision. 


The key to getting this right is knowing when to engage with the customer with help and advice, just like an attentive sales assistant who catches your eye at the right time. Understanding when to prompt your customers while they browse your website ensures you offer considered and timely help. 


Consistency online and in-store is key

Granted, there will be times when consumers simply want to touch and feel products in-person and revert to in-person shopping. But with online sales in May 2021 higher than in May 2020, when online shopping was the only available option, it’s likely that consumer habits forged in lockdown are going to stick. We’re also seeing a powerful trend at play with physical stores evolving to become a place where you go to browse and get up close to products, with the transaction itself migrating online. Therefore, it’s never been more important for brands to offer a consistent experience both in-store and online, so a customer who migrates to digital channels later in their journey isn’t disappointed and decides to shop elsewhere.

Adaptable retailers are recognising that customer service needs to stand up in both worlds equally, if they are to compete. With the right tools, retailers can recreate the magic of the bespoke in-store experience online, so there’s no reason for consumers to miss in-person customer service.


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