The tug-of-war for customers' dollars between in-location businesses and competitive online merchants is more contentious than it's ever been. Between COVID-19 lockdowns and a consumer base hyper-concerned with convenience and safety, those who manage in-store experiences have had to flex their muscles in the past year to avoid ceding ground – that is, losing customers (potentially for good).
To shift the momentum back in their direction in 2021, those who manage in-location experiences will need to study and cater to the needs of consumers as they are today. Catering to the consumer of yesterday or the consumer as they wish them to be is foolhardy.
Our State of Consumer Behavior 2021 report reveals much about the current state of the consuming public as we head into 2021. We found out that brand loyalty is at a premium: 48% of respondents said they have replaced products they typically purchase at physical stores with online competitors' products.
We also confirmed that COVID-19 has discouraged consumers from visiting businesses in person, as 40.3% of respondents decreased their visits to physical locations in the past year because of COVID-19 fears or lockdowns.
It's not all doom and gloom for offline businesses. Nearly half of consumers polled (46%) still prefer in-location experiences over online ones and are willing to visit a physical location, so long as the price and experience are worth strapping on a mask and going (local ordinances permitting).
The directive for in-location businesses has never been clearer: Don't just provide the customer a product or service; give them an experience that they will not soon forget.
Consumers have spoken: In-location experiences matter.
Think about what distinguishes visiting a business in person different from visiting it online. The product or service offerings may generally be the same. Prices may be comparable. So what makes them different?
It's the experience.
Cracking open a laptop and browsing a webpage is a fundamentally different experience from visiting a location in person. Respondents to our report echoed this sentiment.
The two leading reasons why respondents said they prefer in-location experiences to shopping online involve the experience itself. The ability to touch, view, and try products (33%) and the overall experience of visiting a physical location (26%) remain the greatest benefits of going to a business in person rather than visiting one online.
In a time when work and dropping the kids off at school may no longer be excuses to get out of the house or apartment, in-location experiences can fill a glaring experiential void. They still have to be stellar, purposeful experiences, but the opportunity is clear.
It's up to those who manage physical businesses to decide whether the customer experience in their store, gym, restaurant, entertainment venue, or other location will be more or less appealing than a digital alternative.
In-location experience management is an essential discipline.
Would you believe that bringing customers through your business's doors could actually be a bad thing?
Per the report, 58% of respondents are very likely to tell others about a negative in-location experience. Word spreads like wildfire, which means that you could undermine your business if you fail to provide friendly customer service, an uplifting atmosphere, a COVID-safe environment – the elements of a positive customer experience.
The science of maximizing the in-location customer experience is known as "in-location experience management." It is the discipline of creating, managing and scaling the experiences you deliver to customers who visit your physical locations. An experience can include an interaction with an employee, a self-checkout kiosk, and even the digital sign explaining how a customer can receive discounts and rewards through a loyalty program.
Effective in-location experience management is more critical than ever, considering the challenges owners and operators of physical locations face heading into 2021.
Among the tools at in-location experience managers' disposal are immersive environments, live events (when permitted), and interactive screens – including displays, TVs, tablets, and kiosks that a customer can interact with at a physical location. Simply using these tools is not enough, though. They must be part of a comprehensive strategy for enticing, impressing and retaining customers with consistency.
The key to a cohesive, memorable in-location experience is functionality. An in-location experience should serve a specific purpose within the broader goal of steering customer behavior to achieve your business objectives. With that in mind, here's a step-by-step guide to in-location experience management.
Step 1: Determine the type of in-location experience you will create.
Putting a descriptive name to an in-location experience can help you define its purpose. These are some specific types of in-location experiences:
- Self-service experiences. These are solutions, such as ordering or self-checkout kiosks, that allow the customer to expedite their experience in your business.
- Click-and-collect experiences. Giving customers the option to buy a product online and pick it up at your store can reduce in-location wait times and shipping costs. In some stores, users can simply scan a QR code to collect their items.
- Immersive experiences. You may think outside of the box when building an immersive customer experience, as one jacket company did when it built a cold room for its customers to test the jackets in.
- Brand-building experiences. You can display messaging that reflects your brand's bigger mission – clean water, fair employee treatment, or whatever your brand's cause may be.
- Revenue-focused experiences. These experiences offer actionable opportunities to increase your revenue, whether you give customers a QR code to activate an in-store offer or suggest a complementary item at the point of sale.
- Personalized virtual support experiences. Think a remote support agent tuning into a kiosk to assist a customer with their questions and problems.
- Informational experiences. Customers should be able to find out what they need to know in an efficient way. Searchable, interactive in-store digital screens can provide a bevy of helpful information about products, services, deals and your business.
Step 2: Identify the customer behavior you want to influence.
By identifying the ways you hope to shape customer behavior, you establish a metric for the success of your in-location experience. These are some behavioral changes that you may aim to achieve through in-location experience:
- Increased use of self-service options
- Greater adoption of new solutions like curbside pickup
- Higher sales of specific products or services
- More engagement with customer loyalty programs
Step 3: Determine your target objectives.
Consider the following objectives that in-location experiences can aim to address:
- Increase in-location revenue.
- Promote new products, services and offers.
- Streamline the customer journey.
- Align online and offline marketing efforts.
- Support brand values.
Step 4: Identify the key results of the experience.
For each objective, identify the metrics you will use to track progress. Gauging the success of your in-location experiences is critical to continually improve your approach and maximize your budget. These are some key results you can use to measure your success:
- Customer spend per location visit
- Customer conversion (percentage of customers that make a purchase after entering your location)
- Cost per acquisition (new customers acquired through physical locations)
- Total number of sales and/or revenue generated from a specific offer, product, or service (e.g., QR code shown on screens in physical locations)
- Average time spent to get customers through the door (from entrance to checkout)
- Average lifetime value of customers (combining online and offline customer spend)
- Social engagement with causes that your brand openly supports and promotes
Step 5: Deploy and deliver the experience at scale.
Test your in-location experience in a controlled manner, then measure the results for each objective you hope to achieve. Once you've proven that your in-location experience is effective, you are ready to roll it out at scale.
In-location experiences encompass all of the ways that you engage with your offline customers. Your goal is to deliver an experience that drives the customer to action: more frequent visits, more spending per visit, greater engagement with various features of your brand, or whichever outcome you hope to achieve.
You can maximize your in-location experience with interactive digital signage and other strategic tools designed to build customer loyalty and deliver an experience that consumers cannot find anywhere else – and certainly not online.