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Improving The In-Store Experience

2021 was a perfect storm for retailers as they struggled with labor shortages, material scarcity, and supply chain bottlenecks. The new year, however, will demonstrate how retailers will pivot to combat these issues to improve the in-store experience.

Ready to take your store to the next level? Here are 6 tips for how to improve in store experience:

Technology to the Rescue

Technology is becoming a weapon as well as a competitive advantage for retailers. If you want to know how to enhance the customer experience in retail, you should stay abreast of emerging trends, such as self-checkout options and automation. These innovations can help offset a reliance on workers, allowing them to spend more time on customer engagement on the sales floor. Walmart, for example, uses automated bots to retrieve goods at fulfillment centers. Plus, driverless trucks for the big box retailer are more efficient, resulting in a faster delivery time and better customer experience.

When it comes to checking out, retailers should untether store employees from large cash registers by equipping each store associate with a hand-held device – particularly during busy seasons. Accepting mobile payment options and “tap technology” also help to boost customer satisfaction.

Streamlining Staffing and Store Operations Is Key

Given the challenges of ongoing staffing shortages, it’s important that retailers leverage technology to improve a retail store’s efficiency. Smart commercial lockers, for example, offer a self-service model for order retrieval and returns, freeing up employees for other tasks like in-store customer engagement. Solutions like Buy Online, Pick-up in Locker (BOPIL®) by Parcel Pending can allow a customer to retrieve an order in less than two minutes. Most importantly, a customer whose wait time is two minutes or less is four times more likely to purchase again and remain a loyal customer in the future.

When a customer chooses to interact with an employee during an in-store shopping experience, it’s important that the interaction delivers an exceptional customer experience. Setting an employee up for success is paramount. Ideally, employees should be at the ready to assist customers, deliver an experience that meets their expectations for customer satisfaction, make suggestions about merchandise, and explain store policies.

Returns as a Competitive Advantage

To customers, free shipping and “no questions asked” returns is like catnip – it keeps them loyal to retailers. Forrester reports that three out of five US online adults prefer retailers that offer free return shipping1.

Retailers recognize the exorbitant costs of returns management. However, they’re hesitant to change their liberal return policies as such changes could harm their reputations and sales. After all, 92% of consumers surveyed said that they will buy again if the product return process is easy2.

It should come as no surprise, then, that the National Retail Federation (NRF) reports that “spending on global reverse logistics technologies will spike in 2021 – forecast last year to hit $604 billion by 2025 – as retailers seek to alleviate a major pain point in the shopping journey and minimize the cost of returns”3,4.

To survive and thrive, retailers must invest in upgrading the returns process. Having a flexible returns policy is one way to improve the customer experience; retailers will need to lean into adapting these policies to maintain a competitive advantage. Offering multiple returns methods is a critical aspect of this and means accepting returns at the store, via smart lockers, or through third party networks that don’t even require a box or label. Of course, retailers must understand not only who is returning items, but why in order to lower their return rate. Finally, empowering the customer experience team to make (limited) exceptions to a return policy can help to cement loyalty and build trust with customers. 

Environmental Concerns Heat Up: Touting Sustainability is Critical

The apparel industry has a major waste issue on its hands. Less than 1% of used garments are converted into new ones. 100 billion items of clothing are manufactured every year, and upwards of 50 billion of them are incinerated or sent to landfills within 12 months5.

Returns also play a role in the industry’s environmental impact as very few returns actually go back on store shelves. Return shipping costs, out-of-season merchandise, inspection costs, and repackaging fees translate into many retailers dumping the merchandise to discounters or landfills.

Now, brands are trying to avoid their own fashion faux pas by pledging to reduce their environmental impact. Hennes & Mauritz (H&M) Chief Executive Helena Helmersson told climate-action group Race to Zero in October that there needs to be a “different approach to how fashion is designed, made and used.” 

41% of online adults in the US prefer to buy environmentally sustainable products. Climate Neutral, one of the largest certifying organizations, just announced that it has approved 338 products to tout its logo on their labels and packaging6. Brands include Allbirds and REI. Mars is taking the bold step of having all lines of its dog food plus most edible products certified as carbon neutral by 2025. 

Sustainability initiatives and an understanding of a retailer’s environmental impact can influence a consumer’s brand awareness and loyalty. Retailers should strongly consider implementing plans that focus on reducing their carbon footprint and overall environmental impact.

The Rise of Upcycling: Good for Customers, Brands, Retailers & The Planet

Environmental concerns plus consumer demand are leading brands towards upcycling and more circular product lines. Second-hand shopping can help retailers bring back the fun factor while growing sales. Research also shows that there is growing interest in recycled clothes. It’s estimated that the secondhand market will reach $53 billion by 2023 with the industry growing 11 times faster than traditional retail7.

For instance, online consignment and thrift store brand thredUP, has inked deals with Macy’s, JCPenney, and Walmart – bringing the scavenger hunt appeal to the shopping experience. Retailers themselves are also walking into the space with Lululemon, Nike, REI, and John Fluevog (the Fluemarket) setting up an online shopping experience for those interested in pre-loved items.

A Personalized Experience Builds Loyalty

Personalization is often touted as an online retailer’s secret weapon for customer loyalty, but it works for the in-store experience as well. Sephora, for example, offers in-store makeovers that are the epitome of personalized product recommendations. Grocers, too, use personalization by tracking purchases and making recommendations for similar items, then increase their attachment rate with coupons sent to customers via their brand loyalty program.

Interested in learning more about how you can improve the post-purchase experience for your customers? Check out our post for more ideas.

Offer Unique In-Store Experiences

Showcasing unique products and experiences in-store increases customer satisfaction while creating a community of like-minded customers. Williams Sonoma and Sur La Table have maintained their premium positioning by offering cooking classes. REI has added services using the equipment customers have just purchased for climbing, kayaking, or snowshoeing. And home improvement brand Lowe’s has long offered in-store classes for kids and adults leveraging its products.


Modern customers want what they want and when they want it. Speed and convenience will continue to play important roles in creating a better in-store experience and in influencing purchasing decisions, as shoppers are willing to vote with their feet and wallet. Standing in long lines for checkout, merchandise pickup, or returns is no longer acceptable. Instead, creating positive and frictionless experiences are key.

To talk to a Parcel Pending by Quadient sales representative about how our solutions can help you improve your in-store experience in 2022 and beyond, contact us here.

Sources:

  1. Kodali, Sucharita & Swerdlow, Fiona. Forrester. Predictions on 2022: Retailers Will Compete on “Pre-Loved,” Returns – And New Partners. (2021, October 27). https://www.forrester.com/blogs/predictions-2022-retail-trends/.
  2. Saleh, Khalid. Invesp. E-commerce Product Return Rate – Statistics and Trends [Infographic]. (2021, April 11). https://www.invespcro.com/blog/ecommerce-product-return-rate-statistics/.
  3. Reda, Susan. National Retail Federation. Retail in 2021: What will endure and what’s going to change?. (2020, December 2). https://nrf.com/blog/retail-2021-what-will-endure-and-whats-going-change.
  4. Allied Market Research. (2019, May 6). Global Reverse Logistics Market to Reach $603.9 Billion by 2025 at 4.6% CAGR, Says AMR [Press Release]. Retrieved from: https://finance.yahoo.com/news/global-reverse-logistics-market-reach-122347917.html
  5. Ryan, Carol. The Wall Street Journal. For Fashion Brands, Green is the Hardest Color to Sell. (2021, November 5). https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-fashion-brands-green-is-the-hardest-color-to-sell-11636104600.
  6. Holger, Dieter. The Wall Street Journal. Carbon-Neutral Product Labels Are Proliferating. Will They Pay Off?. (2021, December 22). https://www.wsj.com/articles/carbon-neutral-product-labels-are-proliferating-will-they-pay-off-11640170803?.
  7. Doniger, Alicia. CNBC. Shoppers are buying from resale retailers more than ever. Here’s why. (2021, November 28). https://www.cnbc.com/2021/11/28/shoppers-are-buying-from-resale-retailers-more-than-ever-heres-why.html.

 

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