The ease of online, in-store

July 1, 2013By Behind the Shelf Blog, Future of Retail

by Jenny Kosek

Oh, woe is brick and mortar retail. For years now, retailers have watched their customers flee to the impersonal, cold embrace of technology. Whether they choose to shop completely online, or dare to come in, device at the ready, to showroom products with no intent to purchase in-store, those wily consumers have made it clear that they prefer digital shopping to in-store experiences.

Or do they? In 2012, ecommerce sales only accounted for 6.6% of all retail sales. Within that percentage, only 4.5% of products purchased online were within the HBW category. That’s the good news: most shoppers are still coming in to stores to purchase their HBW products. The bad news is that ecommerce sales are expected to grow by as much as 20% in the next ten years. Rather than letting this prediction paralyze retailers into letting their in-store consumers disappear to the web, the threat to in-store sales posed by ecommerce should mobilize retailers to review and revamp their customers’ in-store experiences in order to keep those customers coming in for more.

Currently, large retailers are leading the way in rethinking in-store customer experiences. Two years ago, Rite Aid unveiled their Wellness Stores, featuring informational kiosks, additional services, expanded health and wellness product lines, and blue coated, iPad toting “Wellness Ambassadors” who are available to bridge the gap between the store’s front-end and its pharmacy. Originally controversial (concerns were raised that the then-white coated Wellness Ambassadors would confuse consumers into thinking they were getting advice from a trained pharmacist rather than a helpful employee), the Ambassadors can now be found in over 700 Rite Aid Wellness Stores. The successful expansion of Rite Aid’s Wellness Store model proves that customers appreciate an experience that is designed with them in mind, and enjoy having the opportunity to interact with caring staff members who can assist them in making informed decisions.

Target is following suit with the 2013 launch of their Beauty Concierge program. Distinctively clad in black and pink aprons and cheerily roaming the beauty department, Beauty Concierges bring an attentive department store experience to chain retail. Response from trial locations has been positive, with customers overwhelmed by selections in the department welcoming suggestions from Beauty Concierges.

What Target and Rite-Aid are doing is not simply trying to impress customers with staffing and uniform changes. What both retailers are doing is giving customers in-store what they seek online: ease of experience. The Wellness Ambassadors and Beauty Concierges are not in place to “wow” customers. They are in place to make the shopping experience easy on customers by navigating the aisles and suggesting products for them.

With 89% of online shoppers choosing to shop online simply because it’s easier than shopping in store, retailers cannot afford to wait to rethink their in-store experiences. Now is the time to anticipate customers’ needs and prepare solutions in advance that will save them time and effort, and save retailers potential lost revenue.

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