We live in a break-neck, fast-paced world. It used to take weeks, days, or at least hours to get responses to written correspondence; now it takes seconds. You can see your doctor on your computer, get your oil changed in minutes, and telecommute to the office instantly in your pajamas.
Retail, it seems, is just another field where speed is vying to take the crown as more and more retail leaders and liaisons prioritize the hustle over everything else. Many assume it’s in swift convenience that modern success lies, as exemplified by internet retailers, and brick and mortar businesses are trying to beat giants like Amazon at their own game.
But the truth is, that’s the best way to lose.
In an era of instant gratification, it’s easy to mistake efficiency for experience. We all see the satisfaction efficiency can bring to shoppers: we point, click, and two days later a package arrives on our doorstep. While that’s an incredibly effective tactic for online retail, it’s completely inapplicable to in-person shopping, and is in fact detrimental to specialty retail businesses.
We’ve all had this kind of shopping experience, and chances are we’ve all hated it. You walk into a store for a gander and a stroll, but the sales associate doesn’t have time for that: “What do you need?” “That’s over here.” “Let’s get you outta here.” It’s rushed, it’s inauthentic, and it fails to deliver the greatest advantage brick and mortar has over online retail: an experience.
Every time a customer shops, they have a choice: online or in-person. If they’re looking for convenience, efficiency, and straightforward answers, they shop online. If they’re looking for an experience, if they have questions to ask and decisions to make, if they want the help of an expert and the guidance of a friend, they shop in store. In fact, a 2013 study found that 75% of respondents said the reason they chose to shop in-store was because of the experience of human connection.
Face it: you can’t compete with the big dogs when it comes to efficiency. So why try? Ironically, it’s a waste of your time, and it’s a surefire way to lose the trust and engagement of your customers. Instead, every specialty retailer should prioritize the customer experience in order to ensure they’re getting all the things they’d never get online—and will want to do so again in the future.
Prioritizing the customer’s experience and actually prolonging their stay in-store, rather than working to shorten it, increases not just that customer’s engagement, but also the profitability of their experience. One study found that when customers were helped by a knowledgeable sales associate, they were 90% more likely to make a purchase.
As for you folks who offer both online and in-store retail, our advice to you is the same: leave the efficiency for your website, and distinguish yourselves in-store with an excellent experience. In fact, it’s even more integral for you to do so than the other guys. If people wanted your product with the swift ease of online retail, they’d go to your website. The fact that they’re in-store means that’s not what they want. They’re looking for the full brand experience, to explore the products and relate to the sales associates. To give them the experience they’d get online—ie, not much of an experience at all—is to negate their priorities in coming into your brick and mortar.
Now, there are elements of convenience you can, and should, capitalize on. If someone comes into your store to buy merchandise, they can leave with it instantly—that’s an advantage you have over online competition. You also offer the ability to touch and (ahem) experience products, try things on and try them out, which again, online retailers can’t, which often leads to distinctly inconvenient returns. You can conveniently answer questions, conveniently and accurately size a customer, and conveniently provide feedback on products and merch.
Brick and mortar is allowed to be convenient; you’re not allowed to compromise the experience in favor of convenience and especially not efficiency.