If you still believe that top-notch omni-channel customer experience (CX) is a "nice to have" rather than a "must have" -- think again. Now, more than ever, buyers expect a stellar customer experience from brands (and won't accept much less).

Data echoes this sentiment: Aberdeen reports that there's a 92% retention rate among companies with a well-crafted customer service approach, while Target Marketing data indicates that 74% of buyers say it's important, fairly important, or very important to have a cohesive omni-channel customer experience.Download our free guide to learn how to more effectively use and measure  customer loyalty programs for your business. 

Solid omni-channel CX has a lot to do with customer engagement and how brands interact with leads and customers along various different touchpoints. And for digitally native brands dipping their toes in the water of brick-and-mortar retail, figuring out how to master this new environment can be tricky.

As brands like Casper, Glossier, and Outdoor voices experiment with physical retail in the form of short-term pop-up shops and long-term retail space leases, they're working hard to figure out how to translate their online CX efforts into physical retail environments -- all while keeping everything cohesive.

Sow how's that going? I wanted to find out for myself.

To do that, I recently visited these three brands' retail stores to get a firsthand look at how CX is actively being translated from digital to physical. I'll share what I learned at each location, as well as what other retailers need to know so they can stay on the cutting edge of customer experience.

3 Brands Succeeding at Customer Engagement

1. Glossier: Translating Digital CX into a Traditional Retail Experience

Skincare and beauty brand Glossier has been experimenting with short-term pop-up stores this year in cities like San Francisco and Chicago that complement the brand's two flagship stores in New York and Los Angeles. I visited the pop-up store in Chicago, which is the brand's longest-running pop-up store to date, running from August 23 through October 31 of this year.

Glossier's online CX efforts come in many forms. In the support category, they have their customer service team (called the gTEAM), individual Glossier reps who act as brand evangelists, and quick customer service through various channels -- just to name a few different elements.

At the product level, Glossier improves online CX through customer stories, using various skin tone swatches on product pages for accurate color matching, and they incorporate both still photos and videos for lots of visual context for online shoppers.

In-store, that same focus on customer engagement is recreated in a few different ways:

  1. A designated greeter welcomes shoppers at the front of the store, explaining how the store works and connecting them with an employee if they have questions or need help.
  2. Maintaining a high ratio of employees to customers means that in store team members can quickly offer one-on-one help to customers so they can find the right products and answer questions.
  3. All product is selected and purchased through employee-manned iPads. From there, customers are directed to a small waiting area in the back while their order is filled.

So what works well about this translation of digital CX into physical retail?

  • In -tore, their employees are diverse -- much in the way the models used in their online images are. This means more inclusive assistance for a diverse audience of shoppers.
  • Consistency is impeccable. Even the packaging and free sample are delivered to the shopper in the exact same way as it is when someone places an online order with the pink bubble envelope.

Overall, I found that the major CX benefit to the physical retail location was that you got to try out actual product before making a purchase. This was a huge perk that you just can't get online -- and having an employee there to tell you how different things can be used created a nice added moment of high-touch engagement.

2. Casper: Blurring the Lines Between Online and Offline CX

Mattress and bedding company Casper has experimented with both long and short-term physical retail spaces over the past 12 months, including a test run of "nap lounges" where customers can book time slots to try out the product with a short snooze session. But physical retail is no passing fad for this brand: Reports show that Casper plans to open more than 200 retail stores nationwide over the next year.

But let's start with a look at the brand's online CX before we examine their in-store experience. Online, Casper's CX is laser-focused on helping visitors select the right mattress. With clean and simple UX, a detailed FAQs section, 24/7 omni-channel support to help with troubleshooting/questions, and risk free trial for 100 nights, it's not hard to see how everything is aimed at customer engagement across the board.

I visited one of Casper's retail locations in Chicago -- not really knowing what to expect. In the store, I discovered an experience that was very similar to the brand's online approach -- but with the benefit of a real person there to answer your questions and to walk you through all the benefits and features. These elements of high-touch customer engagement create for a wonderful shopping experience.

Other benefits of Casper's physical retail stores:

  • You get to book sessions to try the mattresses and try them firsthand (very private, curtains that close)
  • You also get to see their other products (like bedding) and see how it all fits together

So what can we take from this? Again, the brick and mortar retail experience was more engaging than online, but there were a lot of similarities between both customer experiences. The advantage to physical retail was, like Glossier, that it allows shoppers to test out the product in person before committing to a purchase.

3. Outdoor Voices: Unique Customer Engagement

Outdoor Voices is an online activewear brand just rolling out its first retail locations across the US. By the end of 2018, they'll have 12 different brick and mortar locations to complement their online presence. Their approach to customer engagement is largely focused on social media, with an active #DoingThings campaign across social channels.

Online, the Outdoor Voices customer experience is focused on easy browsing with plenty of fast ways to find/discover product based on needs. They too offer 24/7 omni-channel support that includes live chat, email, phone, and social media. The brand's online UX features a clean, no-frills design and layout that reduces distraction with helpful info (policies, sizing, etc.) front and center.

In the store, the CX is slightly different for each retail location. Store design reflects that of the area/community, making it feel more native to its local environment (and creating a different experience at each store.) Employees are on site to help with browsing, questions, etc. (kind of like a personal shopping assistant, which is a great way to boost customer engagement.)

Big picture: Physical retail again won the CX battle with the major benefit of fitting rooms for try-ons (a benefit you just don't get online.) In the realm of activewear where fabrics and sizing can vary, in-person try-on gives the brand a major leg up.

Big-Picture Lessons on CX & Customer Engagement

Here's what we can glean from these three different visits about CX and customer engagement as it relates to digital brands experimenting with brick and mortar stores.

  1. Consistency is key. I was most impressed by brands like Glossier that effectively translated the digital CX in a physical retail environment down to little details. This truly made for an experience that was seamless across touchpoints.
  2. Employee training is extremely important. At physical retail spaces, it's important for employees to be well-trained and knowledgeable on the product so they can help customers find what they need -- almost like a customer service rep for the brand. They have to be willing to start conversations and proactively reach out to shoppers to see how they can help. (Casper did this well -- even offered me a cold drink while I was in the store.)
  3. Physical retail spaces create a high-touch environment you can't get any other way. For digital brands, these physical spaces create an opportunity to get time with customers where they can see, touch, and try product in person. This is a major point of friction in online-only CX -- and these brands able to overcome it with these brick-and-mortar stores. This very well could lead to more first-time purchases that then lead to loyal, long-term relationships that continue online. In a way, it's the ultimate form of customer engagement that often leads to higher sales, more brand loyalty.

Customer experience is the next competitive frontier: Gartner data shows it will be the primary brand differentiator by as soon as 2020. It makes sense: CX is the central means through which brands foster customer engagement across channels and platforms.

But digital brands are already making headway on the CX front. Giants like Casper have already surpassed the $100M mark in sales, while brands like Glossier drive 90% of their revenue through Instagram.

So what we need to remember is this: As more and more digitally native brands begin to experiment with physical retail space, brick and mortar retailers need to prepare by looking at how they're engaging customers at every step of the customer journey. If they don't, these specialty brands very well could sneak up and still their last remaining competitive edge.

To learn more, read about how to use content intelligence to improve customer experience.

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Originally published Nov 26, 2018 7:00:00 AM, updated November 26 2018

Topics:

Customer Experience