Toys R Us, a giant in the shopping world, is closing its doors after a legacy of more than 65 years. The retailer has gone out of business after years of struggling to pay its debts and facing the ongoing threat of Amazon.com and Walmart. While initially the company filed for bankruptcy and attempted to shutter 20% of its U.S. stores and find a buyer for 100 stores in the UK, those efforts failed, leaving the retailer no choice but to close forever. Some consumers may think brick and mortar retail is dead, citing Toys R Us as one of the biggest indicators, but research shows that traditional retail can still compete heartily against online retail.
Remember the Importance of Customer Experience
Amazon and other online retailers offer a world of products where customers can buy nearly anything with the click of a button. When Amazon first began, it was both a destination for readers. Many industry insiders thought the shopping giant would spell the end for bookstores, especially with the popularity of Kindle and e-readers. In the wake of Amazon, however, independent bookstores are doing well. The American Booksellers Association reports the number of member bookstores has grown 40% in 2017, with membership steady over the last 7 years. Why? One need only look at the variety of independent bookstores that are flourishing around the country to see the answer: customer experience. Customers who go into an independent bookstore are going not only to find a new read but also have an experience. The Internet can’t replicate the feel of browsing the shelves nor the feeling of holding a book in your hand to glance over its pages. Independent book retailers go beyond this, creating welcoming spaces for customers.
The takeaway for retailers trying to compete with Amazon is that they should think small and personal, curating an enjoyable experience unlike any other. Every element of the store goes into the customer experience, from inviting displays to impeccable customer service. Going the extra mile will let you stand apart from Amazon and other large retailers, especially in this age of fast-paced shipping and delivery without face-to-face interaction.
Get Personal with Your Customers
On Amazon, a shopper is only one of thousands of visitors online at the website at any time. Aside from a curated list of products based on their shopper trends or wishlist items, Amazon’s focus isn’t on personalizing a service for customers. Their business model is to get the product from the warehouse to the customer’s doorstep in a few days, or in some areas, a few hours. There’s nothing personal about the experience, and customers still want a personal touch when shopping. Reach out to your customers with a personal touch. You may want to start a loyalty program, offer birthday coupons, or a VIP customer night. Let your customers know you appreciate their business, and you want them to patronize your store for years to come. Your customer service should be personal, if possible, even if it’s just featuring hand-picked items from your staff.
Looking again at independent bookstores, you’ll see that many feature a “favorites” section with cards full of bookseller recommendations. Let your staff or your market materials feature messages from the company of “favorites” that your customers may like. You should have plenty of customer data, now it’s time to use it.
This may also be a great time to use user-generated content for social media content, such as how online clothing subscription service Stitch Fix regularly encourages customers to take pictures of their received clothing. Each poster is entered into a drawing to win a gift card to the service. Stitch Fix also lets customers share how they wore a certain piece of clothing to show her versatile the company’s choices are to potential subscribers. Customers can be your biggest asset in marketing your company and getting personal also show how you value them.
Don’t Try to Be Amazon and Carry Everything Under the Sun
One of the downfalls of Toys R Us was their lack of original or special products, which is a retail management lesson for retailers. Amazon wants to sell products at a cut-price to consumers, and it can be hard to compete. Retailers shouldn’t try to compete on quantity because they can never offer as many products as Amazon. Instead, retailers should focus on curating items, helping people discover new products and making the shopping experience manageable. Customers need a reason to visit your store in particular, and your inventory should offer them something unique. Work with vendors to offer exclusive products or reach out to local artisans for creations that are one-of-a-kind. Your store could be the only place a consumer can get a certain designer, artist or product, which gives customers a reason to visit.
Offer Exceptional Customer Service — Online and Offline
Take one glance at social media, and you’ll see customers complaining about the customer service of Amazon. The company is just too big to offer one-on-one customer service to their customers, and that’s where you can beat them at their own game. Focus on offering customer service with a personal touch and that will get your customers talking or recommending you to friends. Amazon and other large retailers will never have the intimate appeal of your brand or business on social media, and that’s your secret weapon. Respond to as many questions, comment or queries are possible to show that you care about everyone’s experience, good or bad, with your store.
Use Technology to Improve the Checkout or Shopping Process
Your customers want the easiest way possible to shop, and you should always be looking for new ways to improve the process. Is there a way you can speed up checkout? Examine the current checkout process and find out how you can make it even easier to shop in your store. Can you start accepting Apple Pay, Samsung Pay or PayPal? Technology can also help you target customers who may have a coupon or have made a purchase in the last month at your store. You may want to send them relevant marketing to drive their attention back to your store with a text message or email. For example, if your customer bought a handbag, advertise a matching wallet at a discount. You may even want to consider using a mobile coupon sent to customers within a certain radius of your store to entice them to come in and browse. Once they’re in the door, you can give them friendly customer service and let them see exactly what makes you special.
Erply includes multiple features for improving customer experience with integrated payments, loyalty programs, and more. Contact us today for more on how we can help you compete in the Amazon era.