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Even In-Person Shopping Is Becoming More Digital

The in-store digital experience is key for many retailers going into the holiday shopping season. Here's how to improve yours now.

This holiday season, turn your store into an extension of your digital channels. [Getty/Adobe Stock]

The days of bleary-eyed holiday shoppers rushing from store to store may not be totally over, but they have changed fundamentally. Instead of relying on one-day-only, door-busting deals, shoppers are moving between nine different channels to discover, price-compare, and buy the perfect gift.

Digital and physical channels are continuing to converge into one connected shopping experience. As a result, consumer journeys are increasingly complex. And their expectations for convenience and choice have never been higher. 

To meet demand during peak season, retailers need to adapt the store to become an extension of the digital experience. But how? With in-store associates predicted to fuel growth no matter where a customer’s journey starts, retailers are investing in tools that upskill employees, enhance fulfillment, and more. Here are the top five ways to digitize the in-store experience.

Give associates the tools to drive growth

This holiday season, store associates are taking on expanded roles as fulfillment experts, customer service agents, ecommerce specialists, and social media managers.

To successfully wear this many hats, associates need access to data with easy-to-use digital tools. This is where a customer relationship management (CRM) platform comes into play. From their tablet or mobile phone, the associate can access the customer profile filled with rich information on past purchases, preferences, demographic information, customer satisfaction score (CSAT), net promoter score (NPS), and more.

To get associates up to speed quickly, use digital learning platforms like myTrailhead with learning paths that teach associates (and managers) how to handle every aspect of digital and physical transactions. For example, you can reskill associates for tasks like sorting, packing, and delivery to support fulfillment efforts, and train managers to use digital tools to analyze data and act on insights faster than ever. 

Keep inventory levels in check 

Nothing kills customer satisfaction like out-of-stock inventory, especially during the holidays. 

Eighty percent of customers currently are or are interested in pre-ordering new or out-of-stock items. Manage inventory levels with a flexible order management system (OMS). The OMS connects data across your warehouses, distribution centers, and stores to give associates the most accurate view of inventory. That translates to happy holiday shoppers. 

Offer more digital payment options

The pay terminal is no longer just a place to accept cash or credit. Expand payment types that satisfy customers and streamline checkout. New players like Affirm, Apple Pay, and Amazon Pay are popular options. So, too, are digitally deferred programs like buy now, pay later.

Level up store fulfillment 

During the height of the pandemic, there was rapid adoption of buy online, pick up in store (BOPIS) and curbside pickup. Some retailers even turned certain store locations into “dark stores” whose sole purpose was to handle fulfillment. 

In 2021, 31% of retailers said they were planning to turn stores into micro-fulfillment centers. By now, you probably have a store pickup option, but are you making the most of it for the holidays? 

Make sure to: 

  • Over-communicate important details to shoppers, such as when and where to pick up their items 
  • Set clear expectations about the identification shoppers should bring to retrieve their orders  
  • Connect service to your communication channels so that shoppers can easily chat with an agent in case there is a problem
  • Encourage the splurge when shoppers arrive by offering personalized product recommendations based on their order

Extend that personal touch to your service channels

Shoppers love the personal touch and immediacy that comes with the in-store shopping experience. Make sure to extend that sentiment to your customer service channels. 

One of the best ways to do this is to train associates to help customer service reps during peak periods. 

Another consideration is to keep your help center up to date with relevant content for customers to self-serve. Embed workflows that guide customers through simple tasks, like how to initiate a return to a nearby store. Use AI-powered chatbots to scale support during your busiest times. 

Lastly, embrace asynchronous methods, like SMS and messenger apps. Shoppers like them because they keep the conversation going and provide a record of past interactions. That’s smart customer service practice when things go well, but it can be even more helpful when they don’t. Empower associates to resolve complaints over digital channels, and embrace customer feedback to make next year’s holiday season even better. That gives retailers the chance to burnish a reputation for excellent customer service and grow a loyal following — especially when they can do so in public by turning an unhappy customer into a satisfied one on a social platform like Instagram.

Matt brings 30 years of experience in consumer retail. He was previously the chief operating officer at Bergdorf Goodman, where he transformed the iconic 120-year-old brand to a digitally enabled customer experience. Matt approaches the business as a consumer anthropologist and is obsessed with human behavior, relationships, and experience.

More by Matt

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