As online retailers continue to put a dent into the profits of traditional brick-and-mortar stores, it’s important for them to understand that there are inherent weaknesses in what online retailers can offer when it comes to customer experience. The most obvious difference is that using online retail sites robs the customer of the ability to touch or interact with a product.
For years, savvy shoppers have been reading product reviews and examining other channels to gather information about products they’re interested in purchasing. However, the ability for consumers to read reviews and compare products online while they’re in physical stores has changed the shopping experience. The good news is that many brick-and-mortar retailers have been adopting mobile technologies that help improve the customer experience, which ends up giving them a competitive advantage over online retail sites.
E-Commerce is Missing the Experience
In the past, consumers who prided themselves on comparison shopping and getting the best deal typically followed these steps: visit the store to see the product, ask a sales associate a bunch of questions, then return home to compare products from different stores to find the one that has the lowest price. However, when Amazon.com and other e-commerce sites came into play, consumers saw a world of newfound convenience since they could shop anytime, anywhere.
Yet shopping online meant no personal service and no ability to touch or examine the product in-store. It’s also worth noting that there are many products that customers feel more comfortable purchasing once they’ve felt it or heard it, like the texture of a couch or how headphones feel when worn.
THE HOLY GRAIL OF CUSTOMER EXPERIENCE
Brick-and-mortar retailers must leverage new forms of technology to set themselves apart from e-commerce sites by offering a better customer experience. To separate themselves from e-commerce companies, brick-and-mortar retailers should consider incorporating these technologies into their customers’ mobile experiences:
- Augmented Reality: When a customer scans a picture of a product, a mobile app can automatically show the customer product reviews, pricing by competitors and product features.
- Beacons: Beacons give customers a better in-store experience. When tied to a mobile app, beacons help customers locate what they’re looking for (i.e., indoor mapping). Target refers to the feature as a “GPS for your shopping cart.”
- QR Codes/Barcodes: Sales associates aren’t without bias — they may be tasked with promoting a particular product that isn’t of interest to the customer. QR codes/barcodes help in-store customers learn about the products they’re interested in purchasing.
CUSTOMER LOYALTY ACHIEVED THROUGH EXCEPTIONAL CUSTOMER EXPERIENCES
Until recently it seemed as though we were witnessing the slow death of the traditional brick-and-mortar store. E-commerce sites offered simplicity and time savings, yet they lacked many features of what customers experience when they walk into a store to make a purchase. Adoption of mobile technologies to improve the customer’s buying experience is required for brick-and-mortar companies in order to stay ahead of e-commerce sites. According to research from Econsultancy and Google, “Leading marketers are more than three times as likely as the average to be significantly increasing their investment in mobile customer experience.”
Technologies such as augmented reality, beacons and QR codes/barcodes are giving brick-and-mortar retailers the power to give customers the information they need to feel more comfortable about their purchase decisions. The in-store experience that customers receive by tapping into the power of mobile apps is yet another step towards providing a superior customer experience.