It’s a lot easier to keep a customer happy than it is to recover them after a negative experience.
That’s always been true, but it’s even more critically important now that customers have an unprecedented number of options when it comes to spending their hard-earned money. Shoppers are increasingly voting with their wallets, rewarding the retailers that make them happy, and punishing the ones that don’t meet their expectations.
A recent survey gave us insight into what makes customers happy – and unhappy – when shopping in stores and online.
When shopping in stores, customers like that they can interact with the merchandise. Shoppers place emphasis on being able to touch and feel a product – and, in the case of apparel, try it on.
In-store shoppers also appreciate having personal service, and the instant gratification of taking their purchase home right away.
But there are frustrations that plague in-store shoppers. One of the top complaints is that it’s time consuming. While bottlenecks like checkout lines are a factor, shoppers don’t confine this complaint to the time spent in your location. They’re also worried about the time spent travelling to and from stores. The time it takes to travel, park, shop, and complete a transaction can all add up quickly in a way that’s not compatible with shoppers’ demands for convenience.
Customers who visit stores are also particularly frustrated when they’re not able to find the sizes, styles and colors they’re looking for.
See also: Why Do I Need Assortment Planning?
When it comes to shopping online, many in-store frustrations are cancelled out. Shoppers report enjoying the convenience of shopping at their convenience, and selecting from an endless aisle. Free shipping and the ability to quickly and easily compare prices also ranked as positive influencers for those who like to shop online.
But online shoppers face frustrations, too. The most pressing issue online shoppers face is the inability to interact with the merchandise. Consumers are forced to rely on reviews when they can’t see and feel an actual product before they purchase. And in the case of apparel, not being able to try items on for size and fit has led to a huge problem for online retailers who are taking returns at two-to-three times the rate of their brick-and-mortar counterparts.
Then, even though the purchase end of the transaction is much more convenient, online shoppers are frustrated by the wait time for fulfillment. And even though recent surveys show that online shoppers aren’t willing to pay more for faster delivery, that doesn’t mean they’re satisfied with the current state of online order fulfillment.
Essentially, there are two problems that retailers need to solve on all platforms to be successful.
The first is reducing the investment of time necessary for ordinary people to become customers. Online, that means improving the speed of fulfillment. In stores, that means easing bottlenecks like checkout times and ensuring inventory is stocked in accordance with customer demand.
The second is giving shoppers the ability to interact with the product before purchasing. This is easily solved in stores, provided the customer is able to find the item they want in the right size. Online, it’s a much taller order.
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Interestingly, two proposed solutions that are rapidly gaining popularity don’t address these problems.
Showrooming, where customers can try products and then order them from the showroom or online, actually doubles the customer’s time investment – once in travel time to and from the showroom, and again in the wait for fulfillment. Admittedly, some specialty players have had great success with this strategy, but primarily in sectors where delivery is a necessity anyway (such as furniture and mattresses), and where the customer’s desire for instant gratification is less important to sales (like prescription eyewear).
BOPIS (buy online pick up in-store), only solves the fulfillment issue if the customer is willing to invest their own time to avoid having to wait for shipping. And it leaves the ability to touch and feel merchandise until too late in the process, after the decision to purchase has been made. Compounding the flaws in BOPIS, the in-store pickup experience has yet to be refined by many retailers using the concept. Customers often have to invest additional time during the pickup process, waiting in lines once intended for returns, or trying to find and figure out automated lockers.
So what can we learn from this?
Your customer’s most valuable asset is their time. And when you waste a customer’s time, that’s when you risk losing them to a competitor.
Your customers make a personal investment of their time, every time they choose to do business with you. And that’s why their experience is so important. When an in-store customer can’t find a style or size they’re looking for, the consequences for the customer go far beyond the transaction. They might have driven for 20 minutes to get to the store, looked for parking, navigated the mall, looked through your racks, and waited for an associate to check the stock room, all to be told their time was wasted.
It feels personal, and that’s why customers are so unforgiving when they don’t get what they want.
This is why assortments matter. The more likely a customer is to find the style, size or color they’re looking for, the more positive their experience will be. This extends to customer retention, as well. It only takes a few disappointments for a customer to learn that a store never has what they’re looking for.
Stores still have a lot to offer customers, but when the assortment is neglected you can easily start losing ground to your competitors. Combining selection, a tactile experience, and instant gratification together is the recipe for a satisfying customer experience.