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Key Strategies to Create Personalized In-Store Experiences

Feb 01, 2022

Key Strategies to Create Personalized In-Store Experiences

Brands offering in-store shopping experiences today face a huge challenge. Retailers compete with any number of shopping options when it comes to in-store shopping, and sometimes they even find themselves competing with their own online shopping experience. To stay competitive, retailers with brick-and-mortar stores need to determine how to deliver a personalized in-store experience that delivers on its potential to exceed customer expectations and reach a new level of personalization.

A personalized customer experience is about developing products, services, and interactions that meet your customer’s unique and individual requirements. From greeting your customers by their first name to designing offers and experiences that meet their likes and interests, personalization has become the new brand differentiator.

With limitations on the in-store world—including the availability of physical space, the expense of keeping stock on-hand, and the inherently anonymous nature of walk-in customers—it’s a challenge to create a truly personalized in-store experience rivaling the personalization potential of a digital experience. Here are some ways brands can implement personalization strategies to deliver on the unique potential of having customers in-store.

Bridge the digital and physical spaces through personalization

One potential strategy for personalized in-store experiences is to create a bridge between the physical and digital channels, leaning on the extensive power of the digital world to create personalized experiences. If done right, this creates a “best of both worlds” scenario where customers have an in-store experience that extends their options and interactions into a digital experience.

There are a few possible ways to do this:

The endless aisle

A key convenience of digital shopping and e-commerce is that consumers can potentially peruse your entire available inventory—even across multiple locations. By contrast, in-store customers have been limited to the stock that’s available at the location they’re shopping.

Utilizing an “endless aisle” involves deploying strategies that let customers review, in real time, a broader range of product available in other locations either through interactive kiosks or with help from an associate. This can vastly expand the personalization options available with an in-store experience, allowing for the consideration of purchase options based on what the customer likes, is looking for, or something that caught their interest in the store.

The extended store

By the same token, you can also make the brick-and-mortar retail store an extension of an experience that started online through strategies like streamlining the in-store returns process and extending return windows for the benefit of the customer. Retail brands can even arrange for a customer to have a product shipped to the store in advance of their visit to try out or assess before making a final purchase. With the trend of extra-early shopping in the 2021 holiday season, many retail stores extended the opportunity for product returns longer than they would have been otherwise to allow those who shopped during Black Friday, or earlier, to still have the opportunity to make returns after the holiday season.

Each of these strategies allows brands to personalize the in-store experience by extending it beyond physical constraints into the digital world. By doing so, companies can better determine what customers are looking for and provide it as they go.

Contactless experiences

Much like extending the in-store retail experience into the digital world, digital shopping can be extended into the in-store realm by allowing for BOPIS (Buy Online, Pickup In Store), curbside pickup, or through subscriptions. This allows customers to choose what they know they want and extend their shopping on-site, or even allows the store to suggest items that could complement their purchase.

Personalize through self-selection of customer persona

All customers have different ways they prefer to interact with your brand in-store. While some retail customers are most interested in a hands-off experience where they shop and pay in a self-directed environment, other customers are interested in assistance and interaction.

Let’s explore each through two customer personas and their respective store experiences:

Sonia, engaged shopper

Sonia has looked at some items online, but she hasn’t made any decisions yet. She arrives at the store and accepts the offer of assistance from a sales associate. As she moves around the store, item organization is structured to help her find or notice new items of interest. She’s helped along her in-store journey by several associates and takes suggestions on other items she may be interested in, culminating in being checked out by an associate.

Sonia’s shopping personalization is based largely on her interaction with staff members, but also on the positioning of items in the store. It’s significant to note that, for shoppers who spend time looking around, item placement can make a difference in engaging them. Here, retail companies can make use of ways to gather data through membership programs and post-visit surveys to collect feedback on how effectively store layout and other elements of the shopping experience resulted in a rewarding—or unrewarding—experience.

Bryan, solo shopper on the go

Bryan has placed an order online, but it’s a store he likes, so he wants to shop around a little bit when he gets there. An associate offers assistance when he arrives, but he tells them that he’s “fine.” He’s able to look up items through the store’s mobile app and learn where he can find them. He looks up a few items, grabs them off the shelves, and goes through the self-checkout, using the store app to pay for his purchase at a self-checkout kiosk. Finally, he stops to pick up the rest of his original online order on his way out, again using the app.

Bryan’s experience was personalized for him through store preparation and digital enablement. He had the option not only to review some of his options and even make purchases before his visit, but the app acted as a “personal shopper” during his visit, ideally making product recommendations based on historical data and his previous purchases. This personalization relies on planning and technology that knows information about Bryan’s personal data through passive and active signals ahead of time, and his satisfaction is dependent on the power of the technology working as designed, along with a streamlined store arrangement. Bottom line: If you haven’t established the infrastructure to personalize Bryan’s experience before he arrived at a physical store, it’s too late.

Ensure the customer journey is personal, functionable, and invisible

Each of the previous in-store experiences were different, but each shopper was able to see a great example of a personalized journey. Keeping the personalized in-store experience focused on the individual customer is especially important, because when the channels get crossed, customer satisfaction drops significantly. Sonia, for example, would have been unhappy or may have abandoned the trip entirely if she had to wait for assistance, while Bryan would have been frustrated with a technical problem preventing him from using his mobile device to make his purchase or pick up his order.

When done correctly, personalization becomes essentially invisible—the thing the customer needs next is just there for them. In that respect, being able to collect data from the customer while being able to attribute data to individual customers is essential at every step of the purchase journey to be able to forecast what the customer will need in the future.

Personalization feedback: Empathy, customer acceptance, and restraint

As a last caution in the search to maximize an in-store personalization strategy, brands need to be sure they maintain a feedback loop in working to improve the process. Brands need to work to be sure that the personalization efforts in place see individual customers in a way that adds tangible value to the experience, that customers are accepting of the personalization in place, and that it is feature that reinforces consumer trust.

With the wide variety of shoppers and shopping experiences out there, brands need to constantly collect and analyze customer data about the personalized in-store experience to be sure it is accurately connecting with customers and effectively serving customers throughout their journey. While consumer data may be collected at different points in various ways, focusing on the journey in its entirety can produce better results.

Lastly, having the right technology with listening tools that measure where customers act or disengage from the journey is essential in measuring customer acceptance of personalization. This not only helps identify issues with the process earlier, but also helps identify factors turning customers off and driving them away through disconnects like mis-categorized personalization or overbearing engagement.

Fine tune your personalization efforts with CX

To learn how you can use customer experience (CX) management to create stronger, more personalized customer experiences that pay off, see our best practice guide, The ultimate guide to experience management ROI.