Through the retail lens: Shopper experience

Retail Minded’s Nicole Leinbach Reyhle lays a foundation for the uncertain road ahead

Retailers seeking a singular change that will make a difference as they reopen might need to broaden their horizons. Survival will likely require a collective focus on safety, policies, community efforts, clear communication and customer support.

That’s the word from Nicole Leinbach Reyhle, founder of Retail Minded, co-founder of the Independent Retailer Conference and author of “Retail 101: The Guide to Managing & Marketing Your Business.” She spoke to NRF about the current — and future — impact of COVID-19 on shopper experience.

As retail begins to reopen, what are you watching in terms of shopper experience? And what do you think might become permanently ingrained?

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Nicole Leinbach Reyle
Nicole Leinbach Reyle

Consumers and retailers alike are rethinking what shopping looks like to them. From interacting with store staff to engaging with inventory to strolling through stores to return policies, there is a lot to consider. Now more than ever, merchants must merge their selling avenues to ensure they connect with consumers no matter where they land — whether it’s on social media, via their websites or in their stores.

Keeping this in mind, I believe that stores looking to survive and even thrive amidst and post-COVID-19 should have seamless technology integrating all of their consumer touchpoints and selling avenues. This technology will help reveal where customers are originating from, when customers are leaving their sites, what customers are buying and, of course, what they are not.

It will also bring clarity to what marketing efforts are more valuable than others, and ways to enhance store strengths and improve store weaknesses. Shifting inventory assortment will likely be a priority for many merchants as well, which will be revealed during this process. Additionally, having modern payment options that include Google Wallet and Klarna, for example, is essential. Contactless payments will become increasingly important, as will payments that can be made over time, such as Klarna offers with its installment payment opportunities.

Finally, I believe that for retailers to truly capture customer attention amidst and post-COVID-19, they will need to outshine their competitors in every way. This includes customer service, convenience and communication. With heightened expectations, consumers want to have confidence in where they shop — which is why clear communication on store safety, policies and more will be more important than ever.

Collectively, these efforts can help retailers adjust to our new world of retail. It’s not just one change, however, that can help retailers survive. It will be a collective effort that, when combined with supporting their local communities in re-opening efforts and overall customer support, can help them succeed despite the challenges presented by COVID-19.

Store messaging must be clearly visible both in stores and online, with clarity to policies that include returns, social distancing and more.

Beyond some basic health and safety expectations, what should retailers be working on to improve customer experience for both the short- and long-term?

Communication will be an essential part of customer expectations during and post the COVID-19 impact on retail. No longer can store staff fail to meet store expectations when it comes to operational procedures, customer communication and even store messaging. And no longer can retailers compromise on what their customers do and do not know about store policies.

Store messaging must be clearly visible both in stores and online, with clarity to policies that include returns, social distancing and more. Customers will respond more positively to stores that offer clarity in their communication versus those that leave them wondering or confused about updated store behavior in response to COVID-19.

With strong communication comes strengthened confidence among customers. Both verbal and written communication should be reviewed by all merchants, with in-store signage, employee training and online updates among the ways to deliver store messaging to customers.

If disruption is an accelerator for change, what aspects of the customer experience will leap forward?

Retail has historically evolved over time, and while the reasons have varied, COVID-19 will push retailers forward to evolve again. This disruption will put customers in more control, ultimately encouraging retailers to react to consumer expectations more so than ever before.

Customers have many choices as to where they shop. Retailers that will capture their dollars will be those that best respond to their updated preferences in shopping due to COVID-19. This may include more seamless curbside pick-up opportunities, contactless payment choices, enhanced loyalty rewards and more, in combination with strong customer care, trusted staff support and clear store communication.

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