Designing the Customer Experience: Online vs. in Stores

Do you find that most of your holiday shopping is done online or in stores?

Do you receive the same level of satisfaction buying online vs. in a physical store?

As much as I dread holiday shopping, I do enjoy the experience.  I am not one to buy much online, and if I do, I typically like to have seen the product physically somewhere else.  Well over 90 percent of sales still happen in physical stores. Physical stores are still a major driver of sales (ForresterResearch).

Why might this be? Are there better sales in physical stores?  It is the social aspect that appeals to customers?

Based on this, many online retailers are experimenting with bricks-and-mortar locations.  Piperlime, the Gap Inc. unit that was originally online for six years, recently opened a SoHo store this fall.  Bonobos, an online retailer, has already opened six physical stores.  EBay and Etsy are also testing temporary stores to see if there is any traction.

I remember during my Senior Year Admin Policy seminar, we were tasked to create a rescue plan for a retail store that was struggling.  My rescue plan was to re-open physical stores as showrooms, or ordering stations.  These locations would carry a small amount of inventory, and also have tablets/devices in the stores that allow you to make purchases that would be shipped to your home.  This would change the customer experience in many ways.  The customer is still able to feel the social aspect of shopping, they can physically see the items that they’d like to purchase, and they don’t have to lug around all of the bags.  The retail location is able to cut costs on employees, inventory, and size of store.  They can invest this savings in a more dynamic online storefront allowing customers to purchase from home, or when they are in stores via the tablet.

A recent New York Times article describes an emerging model for efficient in-store operations: the store as a show room.  This model is very similar to what is explained above allowing retailers to carry less inventory, have fewer staff members and embracing small and out of the way locations.  Web retailers have advantages over traditional ones because they are not stuck with old cash registers and sales software.  The struggling real estate environment along with a web retailer’s sales history will allow them to get leases on good terms.

I personally enjoy setting aside a night where I can experience the entire holiday shopping scene.  As hectic as it can be, the evening can be planned to fit anyone’s needs.  I like to go to a mall, or even better and outdoor cobblestone-shopping village that is traditionally decorated with the holiday theme.  Perhaps starting off with a bit of shopping, followed by some tasty dinner, more shopping, a drink to re-group, and some more shopping.  Hopefully, this concludes the shopping duties because once a season is enough for me.

The trend is that more people are going online for everything they do. However, they still enjoy having the haven.  The haven is the place they can go to and experience the product they are about to purchase and have a face-to-face with a sales rep.

This theory can be related to any line of service.  Think about your company: What is the customer experience that you strive to deliver to your client?  At Beacon, we call it the “Beacon Experience”.  This is tied in closely to our Beacon brand, and it carried throughout our client engagement process.  At the theater, we call it “Jean’s Experience” and it involves everything from online ticket purchases, to driving in the parking lot, Christmas Carolers in the front lobby, the performance, and the personal thank you and invite to come back before leaving the theater.  It is important to provide customers with a valuable experience especially these days where competition is so prevalent.

I wish you a merry holiday experience!