Bridging the Gap Between In-Store and Online Customer Experiences

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Posted Mar 27, 2018, 7:00:00 AM by Steve Smith & filed under retail logistics, online applications, retail customer engagement

There’s no denying that online shopping is here to stay and growing daily. Yet brick-and-mortar retailers still have two distinct advantages over their online-only competition:

  • The look and feel factor
  • The immediacy factor

Many customers want to see a product before they buy it. They want to hold it in their hands, touch it, or otherwise interact with it. Sometimes it’s to judge the quality of a product, sometimes it’s to see if it fits or suits them, sometimes it’s to determine if it will perform the specific need they have for it. Whatever the case, being able to see a product and handle it in-store – even if it’s just the product’s packaging – is a huge draw for brick-and-mortar stores.

Immediacy is the other factor in a physical retailer’s favor. As we discussed in Earn More Customers with Faster Delivery , many customers won’t be completely satisfied with online purchasing until they’re promised same-day delivery. Why? Because that’s what they can get by visiting a store… as long as their local store has the product in stock, that is.

Despite these two important factors, shoppers are looking online more than ever. That’s because online shopping provides several key advantages, too:

  • Convenience
  • Research
  • Price

In this article, we’ll look at each of these online shopping advantages. We’ll show you how DecisionPoint’s industry-leading retail solutions can help bridge those gaps between your brick-and-mortar stores and online shopping.

Online Shopping is More Convenient

Let’s face it… whether you’re sitting at home in your PJs and fuzzy slippers, browsing a smartphone while riding shotgun, or taking a break at work… online shopping is easy. You don’t have to dress up or go anywhere. You don’t waste time driving and you don’t waste money on gas. And if the store you’re at doesn’t have what you’re looking for (or is out of stock) you simply click to another one. Compare that to the in-store experience, where you could be driving all around town before finding what you need.

Bridging the Convenience Gap

So how can the in-store experience rival the online one for convenience? It can’t… but just like online stores try to get as close as possible with faster deliveries, a brick-and-mortar store can get as close as possible to the online experience, too.

First, offering multiple fulfillment options builds a natural bridge between your physical and virtual locations. With the right set of inventory solutions, you can see where a product is in stock when you’re shopping online. This reduces the “driving around” problem and is especially useful for stores with multiple locations. Want the convenience of online shopping and the in-store advantages, too? Simply purchase online and pickup in-store.

Second, when customers are in your store, make their shopping as convenient as possible. Think of how easy it is to search for a product online, compared to how challenging it can be to find a specific product in a big box store. Your sales associates can help with this, but few retailers today schedule enough associates on the sales floor to really handle the problem. Instead, they’re looking for technology to provide the answer… and in-store mapping solutions have the potential to do just that. When you can type the product you want into a website or mobile app and learn that it resides in Aisle 4, Section 3, Row 2 and give them a map showing where they are and how to get to that aisle…well, that’s almost as convenient as searching online.

Online Shopping Offers Better Research

The amount of information you get about a product in a store is often underwhelming. You see the box and whatever marketing the manufacturer provided, and that’s about it. And while there are exceptions, even if you can find a sales associate to ask a question, chances are they won’t have the answers you’re looking for. According to Zebra Technologies' 2017 Global Shopper Study, one-half of millennial shoppers believe they’re better connected than most retail associates. They’re not the only ones, either – 32% of Gen X shoppers also felt as if they were better connected than most in-store staffs.

What this means is that fewer customers are even looking for sales staff anymore – they’re doing their research online.

Online, they can find much more information than the product packaging provides. They can read reviews from both experts and fellow customers. They can look up “best of” lists to find the top-rated products in that category. They can look up detailed instructions or specifications. They can even type in questions such as “Can [this product] do [whatever they need it to do]?” and follow wherever those internet searches lead.

Bridging the Research Gap

You can provide all that same information to your in-store shoppers. You just need to merge the physical and virtual experience. If every price tag included a QR code, for example, customers could scan it with their smartphones and be directed to a page with all the research on that product – a page that you monitor and control.

A product research page could provide all the relevant data most shoppers would look up on their own: specifications, instruction manuals, reviews, FAQs, etc. You could even share price histories and comparisons, which we’ll talk more about that in the next section.

Another way to bridge this gap is by arming your associates with technology your customers don’t view as “inferior.” Just seeing an associate with a tablet, for instance, signals that they’re better connected and could provide better assistance. In the Zebra study, 57% of shoppers cited associates using tablets as a factor that improved their customer experience.

Online Shopping Means Lower Prices

The final advantage of online shopping we’ll discuss is a big one: lower prices. Or, more importantly, the ability to find the lowest price.

Sometimes, those lower prices will come with long delivery delays. Sometimes they’ll have shipping charges attached. And sometimes they’ll just be lower than you want to go – and that’s okay, too. Online shopping involves weighing the value of the lowest price against in-store factors like immediacy and seeing the product in person. Your job is to present your position on that scale as the most favorable.

Bridging the Price Gap

There are several ways to approach price comparisons for your online shoppers:

  1. Match the lowest prices
  2. Stress the importance of in-store factors
  3. Offer branded rewards and incentives

The obvious route is to always match the lowest price. Win the business, even if in some cases it might mean taking a loss. If you want to win every sale by having the lowest price, make sure your marketing – and the product information we discussed in the previous section – reflect that. If you really want to push the envelope, you could even do their comparison shopping for them.

Many retailers, however, don’t want to take the lowest price approach. Instead, they stress the value of their brand and their in-store shopping experience. Whether it’s immediacy through guaranteed in-stocks, look and feel through “try it before you buy it” opportunities, or even the advice of knowledgeable employees, the in-store experience can offset many variations in price.

Finally, you can offer rewards programs and incentives to entice shoppers to your brand. The perceived values of these programs are often much higher than the actual values provided. For some consumers, these programs effectively stop them from simply shopping for the lowest price.

Building Your In-Store Bridges

Bridging the three gaps we mentioned – convenience, research, and price – adds value to both your in-store shopping experience and your online presence. The best way to build those bridges is with DecisionPoint’s cloud-based merchandising, sales, and delivery solutions. Our combination of modern technologies and deep retail knowledge will allow you to blend the in-store and online experiences for your customers. To learn how DecisionPoint creates better customer experiences with these solutions, please contact us today.

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