How the drive-to-store has become key to the multi-channel customer experience?

The shopping experience has gone through a number of paradigm changes in recent years, and the concept of “customer experience” is now completely unavoidable. It includes a number of challenges, all leading towards a more pleasant, simple, hurdle-free purchase, with high-quality interactions between the company and the customer along the way.

The search and purchasing behaviors of customers have diversified, with some purchasing online and in-store, some paying online and collecting the product at a point-of-sale, and some searching online but purchasing in-store or vice versa. To the customer, virtual networks and brick-and-mortar shops are interconnected. The customer has now become fundamentally multi-channel and never looks at them separately.
The underlying trend driving this change in behavior is the customer’s need for instant solutions. They expect to be able to make a purchase without waiting and with no effort. Harvard University has actually created an indicator to measure the effort required from the customer as they make a purchase, referred to as the “Customer Effort Score”1.

As soon as the customer is faced with a hurdle, they switch to the competition. Is the store location not well indicated on the website? A customer that has no particular attachment to the brand will go and look elsewhere. This alternative is often Google maps, and in the best case scenario the search will provide information that will keep the customer in the brand’s network, but more often than not the competition’s point-of-sale will come up.

Succeeding in establishing customer loyalty has become an even greater challenge given this highly versatile mindset. With the rise of click-and-collect and other innovations that have disrupted the traditional purchasing channels, the almost infinite product choices combined with the impatience that ever shorter delivery times have created forces retailers and e-commerce specialists to constantly look for new ways to better answer the customer’s needs. This is not conventional wisdom, it is an absolute truth.

The switch from needing to go somewhere to needing something

In recent years, retailers were faced with setting up a multi-channel experience, which has now become an omni-channel experience. Yesterday’s primary challenge was to help the customer identify the existence of both web and brick-and-mortar alternatives. That step is now behind us and the customer has matured to the extent that they are a step ahead of the trade, going further and faster. If they appreciate an innovative approach implemented by a specific retailer, they immediately integrate it in their “best practice” book that applies to the entire industry.

There probably aren’t many people anymore saying “I need to go to X”, as today’s customer needs something, they don’t need to go somewhere. “I need a hammer for my DYI projects, I need a new pair of shoes, I need milk, I don’t need to go here or there. And if I actually do feel like going somewhere, it only partially satisfies my irrepressible need for immediate access to products”.

You might think that the above is cliché, but a number of industries are already there. Take Airbnb for example for hospitality, and Deliveroo for restaurants. These disruptive business models are based on enabling the customer to access the product, removing the need to go somewhere to obtain that access.

What about the customer who is looking for a specific product, is using Google their only choice? As much as this has become a reflex, is this really the best solution for the customer that is fully engaged with a brand (thanks to constantly improving customized customer loyalty programs), or the customer who is looking on their mobile for the closest possible point-of-sale to purchase a specific product?

The next marketing challenge – geolocation of the product

Right from its inception, marketing has always been about creating customer loyalty. Knowing and understanding the customer and what to offer are all a means of increasing loyalty. And when you have succeeded in creating that bond, it’s all about nurturing it through improved service, higher quality and lower costs.

Let’s think about a website that provides live product inventory in real time in the nearest store by default, i.e. with no specific customer request. By doing this, the customer doesn’t need to bother with selecting their store, and avoids the unfortunate “out-of-stock” message, or even more importantly, prevents the customer from making a pointless trip to the store that won’t have the sought-after product. The more significant innovation doesn’t lie in providing available product information, it lies in the unseen part of the process, i.e. a website that is capable of automatically locating the customer and always offering the nearest store that carries the specific product.

The key benefits and advantages of drive-to-store

The value of drive-to-store resides in a significantly improved customer experience (the Customer Effort Score would certainly be a fantastic indicator) and significant gains for the retailer, including:

  • Potential gains from additional sales once the customer is at the point-of-sale
  • Conservation of sales that could have been missed (if an “out-of-stock” message had come up, or if the product was shown to be available in stores too far away) though customers would partially mitigate that by switching to purchasing on an e-commerce platform

Multi-channel and immediacy are the two main pillars of the purchasing experience today. Identifying new means of helping the customers by directing them to the right point-of-sale with accurate information are additional levers to further reduce the gap between identification of need and fulfilment.

There are no end to the possibilities for improving the web-user’s purchasing experience, and every possible means that will result in improvement should be implemented to drive growth.