Back in the 1960s, there was the Age of Aquarius, and more recently, the Information Age. Today, the world is fully invested in the Age of the Experience, which is prompting smart forward-thinking retailers to give customers the most memorable experience based on strategic customer flow from the moment they step foot into the store to when they leave.
The stakes are high. For years economists predicted the demise of brick-and-mortar stores in favor of online shopping, and the pandemic introduced more customers to the benefits of purchasing with a few simple clicks on the computer.
Now, for stores to survive — much less flourish — they must give customers a shopping experience that will result in brand loyalty and increased sales. Retailers must deliver on important touch points that delight customers and make the shopping experience a seamless transaction, such as interesting product mix, helpful signage, and well-trained associates. A bad experience includes — well, we all know what they are —long lines at checkout, frustrating return procedures, technology breakdowns, and uninformed associates.
Companies delivering a superior customer experience saw revenues grow five times faster than competitors with an inferior score, according to a Forrester report. Even worse, a single negative experience with a brand will lead to 68% of the customers going to the competition according to an Oracle study.
While one could call it “customer experience” or “customer journey” management, the bottom line is retailers need to optimize customer flow to create happier customers when shopping, while also improving the operations for employees and managers.
What is Customer Flow?
Customer flow is simply effectively guiding and overseeing the customers’ movement through the shopping experience. Customer flow optimization involves removing obstacles, such as long lines at the checkout counter, that make in-store shopping more of a hassle than it needs to be. It also involves creating product displays that are eye catching to draw the customer into the store as well as proper signage so that customers, especially first-time customers, don’t feel lost or overwhelmed. To optimize customer flow, retailers must optimize their visitor management by knowing what customers are most interested in and give it prominent placement.
Time is Money — and Satisfaction
Personal attention from retail associates isn’t reserved for just big spenders in high-end boutiques. By allowing customers to control their shopping experiences with timed pick-up services, reduced time in lines or a customized shopping appointment, any retailer can give a high-end experience at very little cost. Taking account of customer flow at the very beginning and managing it throughout will influence the success of the overall shopping experience.
For instance, customers can pre-book a shopping trip with a sales associate. No more roaming aisles looking for assistance or fuming while waiting as an associate spends an inordinate amount of time helping another customer. Time is money and not wasting a customer’s time goes a long way in satisfaction and sales.
Pre-booking also saves your associate’s time. By knowing what the customer is seeking, the associate can do the research, perhaps pull some samples, and be prepared to anticipate the customer’s needs. The sale is much more efficient and seamless.
To take the customer experience up another notch, the customer can check into a kiosk when they enter the store so that the associate knows they are there and ready to shop. The associate can even meet the customer at the store’s entrance and escort them. It’s an elite experience that increases customer loyalty and sales.
Another opportunity to utilize technology to increase efficiencies and save time is when customers purchase an item online and want to pick it up at the store. An app can facilitate and schedule a pick-up time. The customer drives up at the appointed time, the associate is ready to bring the purchase to the car, and they’re off. No wasted customer time or misused staff time.
The Waiting Game
Optimal customer flow’s biggest challenge oftentimes is the last step in the retail journey — the checkout line. No one likes waiting. No matter how pleasant the actual shopping experience is, a clogged checkout line will negate it. Yet, it’s the final — and lasting — impression.
There are several ways to manage this negative touchpoint through technology, but it’s summed up best as “line management” or “queue management.” Line management offers many solutions to service customers efficiently as they move through the process.
Queue management also can help keep the line moving along in a way that is fair and fast. Standing in one of multiple lines at a store and watching one lane move quickly while yours does not, increases frustration and dissatisfaction. Through proper queue management, the line moves fast, the associates are more efficient, and the store can even promote impulse buying with items near the checkout point. A front-end “host” monitoring line volume also allows for assigning additional personnel as needed, while showing the customer that you are aware of their needs. As the final step in customer flow, efficient line management can lead to a customer experience that ends with a big smile, more sales, and a returning, loyal customer.
Line management can expedite returns as well. Proper customer flow can direct people making returns to a line specifically for that purpose, saving their time as well as the time of customers waiting to check out. Additionally, for returns, if there are wait times, line technology could share updates and even save a customer’s place in line, allowing them to shop until it is their turn.
A Rewarding Experience
In the Age of Experience, retailers need to understand what the customers want and deliver it, giving their customers a reason to go to the store. Making the customer flow a fun, rewarding, and anxiety-free experience goes a long way toward ensuring loyalty and increasing sales. Through a well-thought-out customer journey involving customer flow and line management, stores can reclaim their place in the retail segment by offering customers an optimal experience that will keep them coming back.
If you'd like to learn more about improving customer experience to drive sales and business results, download our retail guide below.