Even though shopping online has never been more popular, you may be surprised to hear that many customers still prefer to shop in good old-fashioned brick-and-mortar stores. According to a recent survey by IBM and the National Retail Federation, this is true even for Generation Zs, the very people who grew up during the ecommerce revolution.
While this is great news if you’re a brick-and-mortar store owner, this certainly isn’t a reason to slack off. Customers who are willing to forgo the convenience of shopping from their own homes and venture outside to shop at physical retailers are going to have higher expectations than ever.
With that in mind, here are some ideas to help create a truly exquisite in-store customer experience that will always be irreplaceable—no matter how popular online shopping becomes.
1. Promote a hands-on experience
How do these headphones feel over my ears? Will this shirt fit me? This sofa looks comfy, but is it really? While it’s one thing to read online reviews or see how a product looks on a computer monitor, there’s nothing quite like trying something out for yourself in person. In fact, the ability to “see, touch, feel, and try out items” is the number one reason why people prefer shopping in physical stores instead of online, according to a survey done by Retail Dive.
Of course, allowing your customers to try and test out your products is simply the first step toward creating a more hands-on experience. Many stores already do this. To go a level beyond, you’ve really got to incorporate this hands-on principle as a part of your company’s identity—and here’s how:
Display your merchandise in a way that promotes fiddling
Best Buy is an awesome role model when it comes to this. Anyone who walks into a Best Buy store is immediately given the sense that things are set up to be played around with. TV screens are neatly lined up and on full display so that customers can compare them side by side. Computers and tablets are all plugged in and ready to be used. Everything is arranged and displayed in a way that openly invites customers to try things out for themselves.
Train employees to encourage customers
This is so important. Even after displaying your merchandise in the right way, many customers still won’t get the hint and will assume that everything is set up mainly for show. Often times customers will err on the side of playing it safe when it comes to tinkering with the products on sale. So it is extremely important that your employees take every opportunity to encourage customers to really get in there and test out all the awesome features of your merchandise firsthand.
Create a domino effect
Testing things out is contagious. If customers see another person playing with a cool new gadget, they’ll be tempted to try it out too. This is why Apple stores have such compact yet open layouts; Apple wants customers both within the store and outside its doors to see that everyone is eagerly trying out its products and having a blast.
2. Make your store kid-friendly
While parents may be interested in shopping at your store, unfortunately, their kids may not be. In fact, some kids really hate it, and this can easily lead to situations where kids are nagging their parents to stop shopping and leave your store. Obviously, this is problematic and can create an unappealing experience for your customers—even if it’s not directly your fault.
Admittedly, creating a kid-friendly environment can be difficult, but there are companies that have found solutions. McDonald’s, for example, has mini-playgrounds at some of their locations to keep children occupied. On top of that, they offer a “Kids Meal” that has always been in huge demand because of the collectible toy it comes with. Electronics stores like Best Buy have gaming systems set up so that kids can entertain themselves while their parents take their sweet time to shop around.
Sometimes even the most simple things can do the trick. Kids can easily get tired from following their parents around all day; simply giving them a place to sit can work wonders.
3. Appeal to the five senses
Did you know that the type of music played at your store can affect how much money customers are willing to spend? The Association for Consumer Research found that customers who are between the ages of 25 and 49 tend to shop longer and buy more when foreground music—in particular slower, more contemporary music—is played. On the other hand, people who are 50 and older have this same buying tendency when they hear background music—faster tempo instrumental music instead.
While a store’s visual appearance is something all store owners understandably focus on, don’t ignore the other four senses. As a customer, think about the comforting feeling of the smell of freshly baked bread at the local bakery, or the familiar scent of roasted garlic in your favorite Italian restaurant. Imagine stepping into a Starbucks and not smelling the rich aroma of freshly brewed coffee. If you’re unsure about what scent your store should use, or even what scents are out there, here’s a guide to help you figure it out.
4. Prioritize employee happiness
Studies have found that moods are contagious. If customers are surrounded by happy employees, then they are more likely to be happy as well.
Of course, this is easier said than done. How do you keep employees consistently cheerful and engaged (that is, without breaking the bank and giving everyone raises)? Here are some techniques that have worked for me throughout my years as a manager:
Hire people with uplifting personalities
While you might be tempted to pick the person with the most impressive work experience and credentials for the job, this isn’t always the best strategy. Instead, hire candidates who seem as though they would enjoy working at your store the most, the ones who have a naturally uplifting personality and that infectious aura of happiness about them.
Don’t assign—offer responsibility
People are happier when they get to make their own decisions and choose some of their own responsibilities. Often times roles are fairly interchangeable. So why not let your employees choose what they want to do instead of arbitrarily assigning them tasks?
Train employees well
Employees who aren’t properly trained will always be worried about not screwing up while on the job. This creates stress, and that stress can make them unpleasant to be around. To avoid this problem, make sure you provide everyone on your staff enough education and training.
Lead by example
Moods are contagious, remember? You want happy employees, and you can get them by infecting your staff with a pleasant management style. As part of the management team at ResumeGo, I always remember to praise our employees for their hard work. Even when someone trips up or makes a mistake, it is better to give positive encouragement instead of getting irritated or upset.
5. Exceed expectations with some creativity
Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a customer’s experience at your store a memorable one. I remember being pleasantly surprised when Whole Foods began offering free sanitizing hand wipes at the entrances to its stores. It was a very simple addition to the shopping experience, but one that had a profound psychological effect.
Another example is when restaurants offer complimentary desserts as a token of their appreciation. This costs them very little compared to the revenue they earn from a full course dinner, but it adds a nice touch to the end of the night that makes a lot of customers want to return for another meal.
In conclusion, remember that there are certain customer experiences that brick-and-mortar stores can provide which online stores simply cannot replicate. Identify what those are for your particular area of business and do your best to provide them. Succeed with that, and you’ll be able to create a truly unique experience that will result in more sales and repeat customers.
Peter Yang is the co-founder of a resume service, ResumeGo, which offers resume help and career coaching from its professional resume writers. He has also worked as a Human Resource Manager and Content Marketing Manager for IBM and HP, and is eager to share his work experience with readers.