Let’s face it: a shopping experience shouldn’t play out like a scavenger hunt.
Too often customers are forced to search through a warehouse-like environment as they comb over large amounts of inventory to find the products that meet their needs. Racks are stuffed, it's difficult to find sizes, and complementary items are all the way across the store. Helpful product experts and stylists are few and far between—if they exist at all.
When consumers have the option to quickly and easily find a product online or go to a store that caters to their needs, why would they choose this traditional retail experience? As evidenced by store closings, they won’t.
In fact, 80% of people say they would actually be willing to pay more if they could be guaranteed a good experience. This is why it’s important to provide an experience that caters to customer’s needs throughout the buyer’s journey—to both grow and retain your customer base.
Design Your Experience Around Customer Needs
It’s becoming clear that early, positive interaction with a brand is key to earning a customer’s business. McKinsey and Company explain in detail why marketers need to “win attention for their brands at the very beginning of a shopper’s journey.” In McKinsey’s Loyalty Loop, the buyer’s journey starts off with the consumer considering an initial set of brands.
However, we believe that marketers need to back up a bit. The consumer does not start a journey by considering a set of brands; the consumer starts a buyer’s journey by identifying a need to fill or a job to complete.
Early on in the buyer’s journey, they’re asking themselves “why?” As in “Why do I need to solve this problem?” During this critical moment, brands must offer the experience that drives an emotional memory and ultimately a conversation. Customers remember these touchstones and will want to continue to interact with a brand that stirs a positive feeling of reassurance.
For example, let’s say you own a specialty retail store that sells makeup. The job women are trying to complete is to achieve a certain look; perhaps it’s a day-to-day style at the office, or maybe for a special occasion. Some women may be looking to learn the basics. Perhaps there’s another segment that’s looking to shop for a gift.
As they begin their journey, these shoppers are browsing for a trusted partner to help them complete these jobs. Early stage content should therefore focus on demonstrating that the brand can be a helpful, trusted advisor through helpful tips, tutorials and recommendations. Imagine videos on how to properly apply concealer and foundation to cover blemishes; graphics on how to use blush and bronzer to maintain a healthy glow in the winter; product guides and demonstrations on how to achieve red carpet looks; etc.
Once this browser has decided to visit your store, you must also create a physical experience around these jobs:
- Seamlessly connect the online experience to the in-store experience (e.g. if the customer created a profile online, in-store stylists should review which content and products the customer engaged with and converse contextually based on those interests).
- Offer complete make-up application tutorials based on each shopper’s desired look and level of experience.
- Create video recordings of the tutorials that can be sent to their mobiles to refer to afterward.
- Create custom wish lists that they can return to later (online or in store).
- Provide product specialists to recommend gift-able items for specific occasions.
This approach helps the shopper complete her job, which naturally leads to a desire for the product.
Sephora is known for taking this sort of approach to designing an experience around customer needs. The digital experience actually allows browsers to select from drop-down menus of challenges to get product recommendations. For example, a browser can search for a mask that's for combination skin and will give my pores a detox.
When viewing individual products online, Sephora provides a plethora of helpful information. Browsers can see product details (like key ingredients and their benefits, what sort of skin the product recommended for), full ingredient lists, and directions for use. The brand also offers free tutorials and personalized makeup applications through its loyalty program, Beauty Insider.
Once a shopper visits a Sephora store, the physical experience delivers, as well—and connects right into the digital experience. Customers can scan their faces to get their Color IQ, a reference number used to find products that match their skin tones, or sit at digital workstations to take classes in contouring cheekbones. A virtual look book provides a catalog that gives inspiration for a personalized beauty program, while the Virtual Artist service is a way to test looks on an iPad or a connected mirror equipped with thousands of looks. And of course, Sephora also offers Beauty Classes with makeup lessons and workshops led by beauty professionals, plus skincare services with a personal diagnostic.
These experiences are unique and engaging, while also helping shoppers to complete the jobs.
Keep Delivering to Keep Them Coming Back
Engaging customers early on with a positive brand experience is important to pull them into a productive conversation that may (or may not) lead to an initial sale. But it doesn’t stop there. It also means that these customers are more likely to return to continue the conversation and the relationship with your brand.
The woman shopping for makeup goes in, engages with the products and creates a positive emotional connection with the brand. Maybe she buys some items at that time, maybe not. But this early experience catering to her needs/job to complete is likely to draw her back in when she does want to make a purchase (or subsequent purchases).
When you start a buyer's journey with a memorable experience, it helps to build an emotional connection that lives forward with the individual.
Take a cue from the Magic Kingdom. Disney in many aspects, was decades ahead of its time. When you take your family to Disney, you don’t think you're going on a retail experience—it's a vacation! But is, in fact, a retail experience, and a magnificent one, at that. The brand creates experiences and emotional memories that stick with visitors for a lifetime by tantalizing all five senses throughout. When you then have moments throughout your life in which you're considering a Disney product (or another vacation), those emotions bubble to the top and influence your buying decision.
The catch is that these buyers continue to engage with your brand because they appreciate the experience. Your brand must continue to deliver on this experience or many of your customers will jump ship. It’s not one and done. It’s a continued commitment to meeting customer needs—but it all starts with that initial experience of the brand.
Look Beyond the Transaction
Brands tend to focus so much on the transaction that they forget that buying something is an experience. Shopping for a new outfit or a new TV is fun. Create an experience that delivers on the customer needs while creating memories that get individuals to come back. Now more than ever, it’s critical to leverage the in-store experience to bring people in—and build a relationship with your brand that lasts.