Build a Connected Retail Experience Online, in Stores, and in Between

Power retail success with personalized interactions that drive costs down and loyalty up.

7 min read

What do retailers known for excellent customer experiences have in common? They keep shoppers coming back for more.

But as complex buying journeys, skyrocketing customer acquisition costs, and macroeconomic challenges threaten margins, retailers need to find efficient and economical ways to attract new customers and keep existing shoppers loyal. That might mean promoting content on social media, sharing real-time inventory data online, or offering newly flexible payment and fulfillment options.

Simply offering these experiences isn’t enough, though. To win wallet share, you need to do it right. And the risks of getting it wrong are considerable: Customers will ditch a retailer forever after three bad experiences.


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So, what’s your next move? Cultivate a community of loyal shoppers by putting customer data at the heart of your retail experience. Here, we share tips and strategies that build brand love with your customers and efficiency in your operations, ensuring you stay on the right track.

What does “retail experience” mean now?

We all know that the retail experience is how consumers interact with your associates, brand, and products before, during, and after purchase. But today’s retail experiences make it possible for customers to browse, buy, and communicate from anywhere — with a mobile device, in the store, online, or over the phone. Considering that customers use an average of nine channels before making a purchase, the bottom line is that every touchpoint counts.

Retailers that use real-time, data-driven insights to streamline and personalize those interactions won’t just deepen relationships by improving the customer experience. They’ll also spend their marketing dollars more efficiently because they’ll target the right customers with the right offers. In fact, Salesforce data shows that customers that use data-driven marketing see a 29% increase in return on investment.

Here’s why: With intelligent insights supplied in real time, you can anticipate shoppers’ needs and tailor interactions in opportune moments such as texting a discount offer for a product saved to their wish list. For leading retailers, delivering this kind of personalized experience is a priority — and 73% of customers already expect customized experiences.

What does a good retail experience look like?

A good retail experience makes it easy for customers to discover products, ask questions, complete a transaction, schedule delivery, solve problems, and exchange or return purchases. Companies that consistently deliver excellence across this journey are well-positioned to build loyalty and realize cost savings — essential during a challenging economy, since it’s cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones.

But customers won’t wait around for you to get the experience right. In fact, 71% of consumers switched brands at least once since 2021, citing better deals, product quality, and customer service.


71% of consumers switched brands at least once since 2021, citing better deals, product quality, and customer service.

What does that mean from a practical perspective? For retailers, it means using customer data to recognize and support shoppers during every interaction so they feel less like a number, which is a complaint reported by 56% of customers. That might look like email offers that map to individual preferences or next-generation loyalty programs that strengthen relationships with devoted shoppers. It can also be as simple as offering easy returns through a self-guided online portal.

Companies that consistently deliver excellent experiences across this journey are well-positioned to build loyalty and realize cost savings — essential during a challenging economy – since it’s cheaper to retain customers than to acquire new ones.

What best practices build an excellent retail experience?

Here are nine best practices to create an excellent retail experience:

1: Connect the digital and in-store experiences

Connect digital and real-world paths-to-purchase experiences with the right technology. Use QR codes, apps, and notifications to make it easy to find inventory in person and online, open store layout maps, and make purchases from displays.

Also, drive productivity and revenue by equipping your in-store associates and virtual agents with the right tools so physical experiences can pick up where online interactions left off, and vice versa. For example, make it easy for an in-store associate to help a loyalty program member complete purchase of an item that’s only available online.

Your goal? Deliver the same captivating experience across every touchpoint so customers feel they are shopping with the same retailer whether they’re in the store, on a mobile device, or on their desktop.

2: Be transparent about availability and buying options

Few experiences are as disappointing for customers as discovering a product they want is out of stock, but they don’t want to be lied to about availability, either. So, embrace transparency. Publish inventory data online and offer shop-by-store capability. Also, be honest with your customers when supplies are gone or running low. Tell them when you expect new stock to arrive back on shelves and offer suitable alternatives for anything that’s unavailable. How can you do this efficiently and at the lowest possible cost? Use digital tools that keep online channels and in-store associates up to date in real time so employees and customers can make informed decisions in the right moments.

3: Publish detailed product information

Reduce the cost to serve your customers by giving them the information they need to succeed with your products from the moment they buy. How? Publish how-to content online, such as product assembly videos, step-by-step instructions with images, knowledge articles like feature explainers, and product comparison charts. If you sell consumable products, list the ingredients clearly.

4: Make every interaction personal

Face-to-face interactions will always be the retailer’s gold standard in terms of personalized service, but increasingly, today’s customers expect the same tailored experiences on digital channels. We’ve already touched on ideas like delivering special offers in the right moments, but there’s so much more to consider. Imagine a beauty retailer that automates communications when a past purchase is back on store shelves or uses predictive analytics to surface product recommendations and you get the idea. The best part? Your operations are more efficient with less effort, delivering higher revenue at a lower cost.

5: Deliver attentive customer service everywhere

Delivering excellent customer service has never been more important: 88% of customers say the experience a company provides is as important as its products. This can include anything from private shopping appointments to product troubleshooting. Communicate with your customers on their channels of choice, like social media, text, and chat. But don’t overlook the telephone: 81% of service professionals say voice is the preferred choice for complicated customer cases, even though video support is the fastest-growing option (up 47% since 2020). The key to success? Connect real-time customer data on one platform, which gives agents the information they need to stay productive and solve problems quickly while reducing cost to serve by 29%, according to our data.

6: Offer fast and flexible checkout

Does inflation mean shoppers will turn to extended payments to improve affordability? Research suggests the answer is yes: By 2028, options like buy now, pay later are expected to grow in popularity by 20.7%. Other flexible payments that drive higher average order volume, like pay-over-time installment plans, are options to consider. Don’t forget to add digital wallets like Apple Pay so customers can use the payment methods they prefer. Most importantly, give shoppers an easy checkout experience. To get there, reduce taps-to-purchase with features like one-click buy buttons on product pages.

7: Make fulfillment frictionless

Your fulfillment partners are part of the customer experience, so ensure shipping and delivery timelines are clear and be transparent if you’re facing slowdowns. Offer a range of delivery options without boundaries or borders, including slower free shipping, carbon neutral, and overnight. Satisfy customers and reduce the burden on your call center agents by enabling customers to follow along on the delivery journey. And don’t overlook the benefits of store-based fulfillment like buy online, pick up in store and curbside pickup: Retailers that added these options in 2020 grew revenue by 76% year over year.

8: Level up your loyalty program

A 7% increase in loyalty is all it takes to increase lifetime profits by 85% per customer. But how you organize and manage your loyalty program matters: Not only did retailers that connected loyalty program data on one platform observe a 300% increase in membership, those members also bought three additional purchases every year. The challenge is that today’s shoppers expect more than basic rewards-for-transactions strategies. Consider building a loyal community of brand evangelists by automating perks like complimentary shipping, exclusive discounts, and early access to events and new products so your members feel truly special.

9: Keep returns simple

Think of painless product returns as an opportunity to win loyalty by demonstrating how easy it is to do business with your company. In fact, one study found that more than 76% who highly rated their returns experience with a retailer said they’d shop with them again because of it. State return policies clearly. Allow shoppers to generate their own return labels, enable in-store returns of online purchases, and offer free return shipping. Not only do your customers prefer to take care of simple tasks like these themselves, this approach also drives agent productivity. Why? Because they have more time to focus on more complicated requests.

What tools do I need to build an excellent retail experience?

To build an excellent retail experience, unite customer data from marketing, commerce, and service on one shared platform. By connecting digital and physical experiences in real time, you can ensure your store associates can pick up communications at the same place digital encounters leave off — and vice versa. This helps your customers feel recognized every time they interact with your brand while enabling you to tailor experiences to your customers’ needs and preferences. It also reduces the cost to serve your customers considerably, because agents don’t have to waste time reconstructing events or figuring out the best next steps to take. In fact, Salesforce data shows retailers that use a single source of truth observed a 29% decrease in service and support costs.

The right technology:

Are you ready to build your new retail experience?

What’s the big takeaway for retailers looking to evolve their retail experience? Focus on delivering consistent and personalized interactions by putting the customer at the center of every decision you make. By connecting customer data from across your organization and applying analytics to generate real-time insights, you’ll surface the next-best actions that will keep customers coming back for more — and ensure your business stays efficient and productive.


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