Minding the Customer Experience: In-Person, Online, and With Shipping

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By Rob Baumhover, Director, VGM Retail

Rob will be moderating our Retail Round Tables at Focus Conference 2022. For more on retail, make sure to attend Focus.

Customers are your livelihood. You know this. And yes, it seems like a very basic statement. But often we forget just how important ONE customer can be—especially in today’s environment where one bad review online can easily impact your business's reputation in a matter of minutes, much more so than a positive comment, unfortunately. This means that taking care of each and every one of your customers is of utmost importance. And much like it is easier to keep an employee versus train one, it is easier to keep a customer than get a new one. Let’s look at how to build repeat customers through customer service and customer experience.

Customer experience has taken on new meaning over the past year. For months, customers could no longer physically come into your store, so your online presence was escalated...quickly! Maybe you were ready and had e-commerce set up, and maybe you weren’t and had to scramble to be able to offer this service to your customers. Now that some of the world is opening back up and people are able to enter physical stores again, it doesn’t mean they want to. I know several people who say they will never set foot in a grocery store again and only do online ordering and pickup. Customer experience now becomes twofold: online and in-person. Let’s tackle in-person first.

In-Person Customer Experience

First, you need to be realistic and ask yourself, what can you do to make your customers’ experience the best possible without breaking your budget? Here are some categories to consider, some at absolutely no cost to you.

Product Group

Grouping products together in your store will make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, or something they might not even know they are looking for. It is like one-stop shopping. This will also help with incremental sales. For example, if you offer diabetic supplies, those can be grouped with wound care products as many diabetics also have open wounds. Some product groupings will seem obvious, such as all home safety products being in the same location, but don’t be afraid to be creative with other pairings.

Showroom Space and Flow

You know the feeling. You walk into a store and you immediately feel welcomed and relaxed…or overwhelmed, completely turned off, and you want to turn around and leave. There are so many elements that fit into this “feeling” your store or showroom gives a customer. Here are some questions to ask to help you find it.

Questions to Help You Set the “Feeling” of Your Store
  • What colors are you using?
  • Do the fixtures match your products and look?
  • Is your store clean, including the back corners and bathrooms?
  • Are products cluttered or on the ground? You don’t want your shelves to look bare, but having too many products makes it difficult for customers to even see what is available.
  • Are your employees smiling and inviting? (See below for more on happy and helpful employees.)
  • Are products easy to find? You will know from watching your inventory which products sell the best. Make sure they are in a prominent, easy-to-find location. Chances are that customers are coming to your store for that specific product.
  • What type of signage are you using and is it clear? Make sure you have category signs, specific item signs for new items or clearance items so your customers can take advantage of seeing something new or something that is potentially on sale.
  • Where are you putting the price of your items? You can price each item, label the shelves, offer price checking systems, or use a combination. It is helpful to give the customer all of the tools they need to make a purchasing decision.
  • Can your customers get around in your store easily? Make sure your isles are wide enough for wheelchairs, carts, two people, allow them to social distance if they choose, etc.

Employees are an extension of your store. They can turn a bad experience into a great one, or a good experience into a bad one. This means hiring and training your employees is crucial to the success of your store. Your employees should be inviting, empathetic, engaging, knowledgeable, and helpful. Your employees need to know what products you offer, where they are located, and how well they work or don’t work. Employees should ask open-ended questions to help customers find the perfect product they are looking for, and be able to build a rapport with the customer. Do your employees go above and beyond to make a customer’s experience out of this world? Do they take a customer to an item they are looking for instead of just pointing in the general direction of the product? Obviously, there is a lot more that goes into your employees. Having a strong training program to address these, and many other key areas, is very important.

This article was originally featured in the VGM Playbook: How Serving Your Customer Serves You. To the full article and more articles like this, download your copy of the playbook today!


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