The past decade has been tough on brick-and-mortar stores. More than a few major retailers have crumbled in the wake of both the digital transformation and online shopping hubs like Amazon, which have each transformed the way customers shop and engage with brands. Despite the fact that many stores have fewer folks on the front lines, they are still working hard to provide a great in-store shopping experience for their customers.
But as more and more store locations close, retailers are cutting staff in droves, which often results in more work for remaining employees, longer checkout lines, and longer customer service wait times—all of which can negatively impact the shopping experience and store revenue.
How can retailers create a more satisfying and memorable in-store experience without adding to payroll? It just takes a little creativity and the right communications technology.
Nothing is more frustrating for customers who are waiting for help than watching store clerks talk on the phone. After trekking all the way to the store, customers believe they should be top priority, and the longer the associate is on the phone, the more the customer wonders if the employee is neglecting their needs altogether. It's even worse when they spot associates on social media. Employees might be answering questions for digital customers, but all store customers see is someone preoccupied with their feed and unwilling to assist them.
Of course, if no one answers the phone when a potential customer calls, or if no one responds to social inquiries, those digital customers will simply contact another store, leaving employees torn between two sets of customers.
One solution: Offload as many incoming calls and messages as possible to an omnichannel support center with voicebot and chatbot APIs. The bots can answer simple questions about store hours and locations, and if they're integrated into the store inventory system, they can also tell customers if the item they want is in stock or is available at another location. Once the bot is integrated into the retailer's e-commerce tool, it can complete purchases for customers and save them a trip to the store. If at any point customers would prefer to speak with a real, live person, the bot can assess who the most appropriate person or department would be for the specific inquiry and connect the call immediately.
With an omnichannel voicebot or chatbot API in place, store employees are freed up to provide a better shopping experience for in-store customers, improving their shopping experience and ultimately building brand loyalty.
Making Mobile Memories
It used to be that when people walked into their local general store, the clerk often knew exactly who they were and usually had a good idea what they wanted to buy. Today, the number of stores and shoppers is overwhelming, so its best for retailers to gain access to detailed information about digital customers through data analytics.
Store employees might not be able to recognize individual customers, but store technology can recognize their smartphones. With the right combination of geofencing and communications APIs, retailers can identify in-store customers and send them personalized SMS notifications with special offers and personalized suggestions, all based on their previous purchases—or even their location in the store.
Considering many shoppers do online research while they're shopping, retailers can also make it easy for customers to get digital assistance while they're visiting a brick-and-mortar location. Using omnichannel solutions, retailers can embed real-time communications features (talk, text, voice, video) into their websites, e-commerce sites, and social channels, linking multiple channels through one centralized system and ultimately streamlining customer communications. That way, customers can initiate contact using their preferred channels simply by tapping an icon. Omnichannel support makes it easier for a customer to get what she needs and a retailer to cover all of their priorities.
Consider, for example, a customer who enters a clothing store looking to buy a new winter coat. She already knows which one she wants because she saw it on the retailer's Instagram feed, so she pulls up the picture on her phone. Then she notices a button inviting her to "Chat with one of our stylists and get personalized recommendations about other items you might like." She initiates a chat, answers a few questions about her size and style, and gets real-time suggestions for scarves, hats, and other accessories that match the coat she loves. By the time a store associate approaches to ask if she needs help finding anything, she's already good to go. The associate can then help someone who doesn't have a smartphone in hand—if he can find one.
Creating a Seamless Shopping Experience
The benefits of an omnichannel solution and communications APIs are countless, with each improving customer experience both in-store and online. By using these technologies, brands are creating memorable experiences for customers and forging seamless communication channels that benefit both the company and its shoppers.
Despite the seemingly dire predictions for brick-and-mortar retailers, e-commerce isn't poised to replace physical stores in the immediate future. Digital transformation has forever changed the industry, but technology is not the end for the neighborhood shop. If anything, it's a new beginning.