A good in-store experience can kill your competition

Despite the growth of online sales, there’s still a great demand for traditional, brick-and-mortar stores. A Rutgers University study showed that competitive advantages such as easy return processes, a pleasant and engaging store environment, and amazing customer service combine to create in-store experiences that drive sales and increase repeat customers. That’s something Wayfair and Ikea can’t compete with.

But what if your furniture store offers some of these same amenities and you aren’t doing that well? What can you do about it? What is it, exactly, that makes a remarkable in-store customer experience?

Let’s look at a few examples for insight on how you can up your game and engage the heck out of your customers:

Understanding what customers want kills competition

According to marketing consultant firm Econsultantcy, Ulta Beauty saw a 23.7 percent increase in net sales last year, making it one of the fastest-growing beauty retailers, even after 25 years in the business. Seemingly, its brick-and-mortar retail experience has significantly contributed to its recent surge in success.

So, what are they doing differently from other beauty retailers? First, Ulta has a deep understanding of what customers actually want from their shopping experience. Beauty is typically separated into two categories—luxury products found in high-end department stores, and low-price drugstore products—but Ulta combines the two into an “all-things beauty superstore.”

In addition to a huge selection of products, the retailer differentiates itself from other retailers by offering in-store services such as hair, skin and brow treatments. Offering this type of service—along with beauty expertise—creates a spa-like environment, also making the store a popular destination for consumers.

While Sephora and Macy’s offer great beauty products too, Ulta’s salon services help create an experience the customer can enjoy as they discover the products associated with it. This innovative strategy engages new and existing customers alike, boosting loyalty in a progressively competitive landscape.

How can you adopt Ultra’s strategy? Make your store the one-stop for all your consumers’ needs. You sell bedroom furniture, but what about mattresses? Are your accessories merely window dressing for your vignettes or are they on trend with your furniture? Do you offer in-home design? Is there a place carved out in your store for shoppers to look at fabric or are they standing at a counter?

Your store needs to be the one place where shoppers looking to furnish their homes can find everything they need.

Technology enhances traditional shopping

Clothing store Rebecca Minkoff is setting the bar when it comes to the in-store experience, aiming to marry traditional and digital shopping methods by using technology to create an immersive customer experience.

Their stores feature smart mirrors in fitting rooms so shoppers can browse for other sizes or products to complement the outfits they’re trying on. Smart walls suggest new styles when people pass by and allow customers to order champagne to enjoy while they browse.

Instead of simply showcasing their products, Rebecca Minkoff:

  • Takes advantage of the real-life retail environment to turn the spotlight on the customers themselves.
  • Uses technology to aid and enhance the discovery process.
  • Offers VIP treatment (i.e. champagne) to set the bar for how customers browse and shop for fashion.

Home improvement store Lowes has also implemented several tech features to streamline the physical shopping experience. Just recently, the company announced the new ‘Lowe Vision In-Store Navigation’ app with AR technology, which provides indoor mapping so customers can easily and quickly find items in their store. Compared with other competitors in their industry, Lowe’s sets itself apart by streamlining the customer journey in-store with digital technology.

Don’t have the funds to invest in similar technology? Read on to see how other stores engage customers without it.

Experimental campaigns captivate customers

British retailer, Topshop, gets creative with a combination of pop-up retail and experiential campaigns to delight customers. Along with personal shopping that’s free of charge, the retailer offers a variety of hair and beauty services including brow-taming and piercing. But that’s not all. Topshop features a café, as well as integrated food and drink pop-ups such as Bubbleology and Lola’s cupcakes.

While it may seem like a lot of unrelated stuff that shouldn’t be in a clothing shop, Topshop wants to make its store about more than just basic apparel, tempting customers with things they might not even realize they want while browsing in-store.

Last summer, ‘Splash’ at Topshop featured shop windows that were transformed into an interactive pool scene and allowed customers to ride a virtual water slide. Using clever advertising with fun and immersive activities for customers, Topshop demonstrates how the in-store customer experience is evolving.

Furthermore, the unanticipated nature of Topshop’s in-store experience—whether it’s new in-store pop-ups (some appearing only for a limited time) or experimentation with creative campaigns—makes it clear that the UK brand is focused on keeping the in-store experience fresh and original for returning customers while delighting new ones.

HFA member Jordan’s offers a unique experience for the entire family to enjoy at any one of its stores: grab a bite to eat, watch the latest blockbuster at one of the store’s Sunbrella IMAX theaters or enjoy an adventure at one of Jordan’s two ropes courses.

[10 steps to educate employees & increase store sales]

Not every furniture retailer can afford an Imax theater, but then again you don’t need too. HFA member Grand Furniture Company in Virginia has been giving out free Cokes to visitors for more than 50 years. And while an IMAX theater might not fit the budget, what about a bouncy castle? Remember, it’s about enhancing the experience.

“While online shopping has grown considerably over the last 20 years, consumers continue to flock to brick-and-mortar stores,” says Carol Kaufman-Scarborough of Rutgers School of Business. “The social aspects of in-store shopping have helped to maintain steady same-store sales for retailers from the discount to the luxury level.”

Smart furniture retailers, like the ones mentioned above, will recognize that providing exceptional in-store experiences is a good strategy for success. In fact, 44 percent of retail executives consider improving the in-store experience a pivotal aspect of their strategy, according to the Rutgers study.

Providing unique in-store experiences will help your store differentiate your brand from the competition as you engage new and existing customers with thoughtful shopping benefits that increase loyalty and make your retail establishment a destination, not just a store.

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