Between constantly-evolving competition and higher customer expectations, retailers are looking for innovative ways to delight their customers. From collaborative partnerships to interactive displays and activities, retailers are turning to experimentation and innovation to improve the in-store shopping experience. In fact, a recent national survey we conducted at Square Root highlighted retailers’ focus on the in-store experience, with 95% of retailers saying customer experience is a core priority for their organization. Additionally, 79% believe that physical stores are where brands really come to life, citing the in-store experience as the primary influencer of the overall customer experience.
Retailers are turning to a variety of partnership formats to attract new, untapped customer bases and increase customer loyalty — including sharing real estate and testing technology. For example, Kohl’s teamed up with Aldi to “right-size” their locations. RadioShack has rolled out “RadioShack Express” locations with HobbyTown stores across the country. Macy’s partnered with b8ta, a try-before-you-buy technology that allows customers to try tech products in Macy’s stores that retailers wouldn’t traditionally offer. These strategic partnerships help brands provide customers a broader variety of choice with the convenience of a one-stop-shopping experience.
We are also seeing increased experimentation with in-store activities, with brands like LEGO arguably leading the way. The brand took interactivity to a new level with the opening of LEGO House in Denmark, where visitors can engage in spontaneous creativity and free building. LEGO applies that same approach to interactivity at every level of its retail business, offering one-of-a-kind in-store experiences, from personalized LEGO mosaic portraits to monthly build events, to pick and build walls. In 2017, LEGO’s NPS score shot to the top compared to other brands as a result of its overall customer experience.
Experiments like these are shaping the future of the retail customer experience, and iterations on these approaches will determine the long-term winners in the space. But beyond innovative ideas, retail experimentation success relies on enabling agility through internal alignment and improved access to information.
Our 2018 State of the Store report uncovered a negative ‘trickle-down effect’ resulting from misalignment in retail organizations. The study of more than 1,300 store and district managers revealed high levels of job dissatisfaction, with misalignment and poor communication as the top contributing factors. Unengaged leaders can impact everything from turnover to the in-store customer experience — which ultimately impacts the bottom line. Internal alignment is not only critical for ensuring teams are marching toward the same end goal, but also for ensuring employee retention at all levels.
With increased experimentation comes increased complexity for retail organizations — particularly in-store teams. It’s imperative for district and store managers to be aligned, engaged and empowered to support their teams as they roll out new initiatives like in-store partnerships. Take the Kohl’s and Aldi partnership example. Imagine the missed opportunities if corporate and store leadership teams aren’t aligned on seasonal activities, in-store promotions and team training. For maximum partnership success, there must be full alignment on target goals for the engagement in order to drive improvements together.
Beyond organizational alignment, corporate retailers need to provide in-store teams access to data in order for them to understand and improve the performance of experimentations. Going back to the LEGO example, store teams need to understand the impact of their monthly build events. Does it improve customer satisfaction and brand perception? Does it drive more immediate in-store conversions? Our recent study uncovered a major void when it comes to even foundational data about the store experience. In fact, 50% of today’s retailers have no way to track, measure or understand the in-store experience beyond sales, and 56% of today’s retailers underinvest in collecting data about the store experience. With little access to baseline information, how can brands effectively measure the impact of new initiatives?
Today, retailers cite using an average of nine different tools to measure the customer experience across different departments. Additionally, 59% report that their organization has no single, shared tool for measuring success across the organization. As a result, teams are left with fractured pictures of performance and miss key opportunities for understanding critical correlations between data points. Instead, retailers should focus on a consolidated toolset that allows for an organization-wide view of performance, ensuring better team alignment and helping to quickly surface key actions needed to drive improvements.
Retailers are embracing experimentation as a way to improve and replace traditional business models and compete for consumer mind and wallet share. But implementing new initiatives and approaches is just the beginning. Speed and agility are table stakes for success in the evolving industry; retailers must be able to test, iterate and improve — quickly. The level of agility that today’s retail landscape demands is well within reach with team alignment and improved access to data. Those who get it right will maximize both the investment in and impact of their experiments.
Chris Taylor is Founder and CEO of Square Root, where he leads the company’s long-term growth strategy. Passionate about empowering companies to optimize operations and make smarter decisions, Taylor founded the company in 2006 with the goal of making business data accessible, understandable and actionable. Under his leadership, Square Root developed its store relationship management platform, CoEFFICIENT, and has served the world’s leading automotive and retail brands. Taylor has more than 18 years of experience serving in operational and strategic roles for leading technology and automotive companies including Trilogy, CarOrder, TrueCar and Brighthouse.