Brick and mortar retail vs. online retail. We’ve all seen and heard the news stories, predictions, and studies. You know what? I don’t care what they say.
From all the interviews I’ve done this year, it’s obvious that there’s room for both and the existence of online retail does not have to mean the demise of brick and mortar. In fact, I think technology helps retailers!
What I DO care about—and I think you should, too—is one factor that sets brick and mortar apart from online retail: focused, real-time, in-person customer service! Sure, websites offer customer service when something goes wrong, but it’s impossible for them to offer the type and level of service that you can in store.
For example, an in-store salesperson can offer more accurate suggestions to a customer with just a few questions and observation of the customer’s style. No website is going to know what you’re wearing and how while you’re shopping! They also won’t know that you’re shopping for an outdoor afternoon wedding that will be at a local country club with a strict dress code, despite the local hot weather. Neither will an algorithm be able to suggest a dress cut that a customer wouldn’t normally buy because an algorithm doesn’t have an eye with years of retail experience that knows the dress will work.
Customer service isn’t just a “hi” from behind the counter and a “how are you?” when the customer comes to the register. It’s a warm greeting and open-ended questions. It’s about really knowing the products so that you can offer advice. It’s balancing conversation and silence. It’s knowing how to ask questions to efficiently help the customer. It’s putting the customer’s comfort and convenience first. Of course, this means your staff will need to be well trained, too. It shouldn’t be assumed that a generation growing up shopping online, in thrift stores, or corporate stores will know what excellent service is if they haven’t experienced (or even expected) it themselves. Or for that matter, someone who has experienced it but has never worked in retail. Finesse comes with training and practice. The effort in training is worth the long term payoff of customer loyalty and being front-of-mind when it comes to shopping.
The tactics for creating a great customer service environment can vary and include things like online-order-in-store-pickup options, loyalty rewards, or personal stylist help (all things that you should promote in social media and on your website!), but the bottom line is how you make your customers feel. Last year, CNBC published an article about retail is evolving and how it can survive. Granted, it was an article more about larger retailers with general merchandise, but one of their sentiments apply to all brick and mortar stores:
“Success in the evolving retail environment is not about this quarter or the next… It’s about next year and the years to come. Companies need to think about getting the most lifetime value out of their customers as opposed to the most near-term value…”.
What is your idea of great customer service? Please share your thoughts or an example of great service that you’ve received or have given. We’d love to hear them!