Blueleaf's UX Director, Chris Jones, takes you back-to-basics with five simple observations on what today's customers are looking for in a digital shopping experience.  Chris' advice will help you reflect on the experience you're offering your customers; essentially a check list for your digital channels. 

Over to Chris

Digital has quickly become an integral part of retail. Whether your customers are consciously aware of it or not, they have come to expect a seamless experience across retailers' web and store channels.

Working in retail every day, it's all too easy to exist inside a bubble and lose touch with how customers think. It's tempting to believe that they still think in terms of online and offline, web and store, when what they really experience is far less black and white. From a customer's perspective, they simply see a good or bad experience, no matter which channel they're in. If your website is great, but your store disappoints, guess which experience your customer is more likely to remember?

This means it's essential that retailers think about their channels as one offering, a single experience that not only needs to be consistently brilliant, but also joined up in every way.
So what are some of the tangibles that add up to a great digital retail experience? Let's look at five.

1. A joined-up experience

The aim of every retailer should be to allow customers to execute any part of their journey, in any channel, at any time. This could be researching online, purchasing in-store via click & collect and making further purchases online later on. Or starting in-store adding products to an online basket, ordering from home a few days later (having maybe made a few changes to your basket) and sending returns via Collect+. Or of course, any other combination. The point is that the customer decides what they want to do, when and where and the retailer empowers them via a truly joined-up digital and store offering. Do you offer click & collect? Do you award loyalty points in-store and online and can they be redeemed in either channel? Do you offer web ordering in-store for out of stock products? All of these are now expected by customers.

2. Comprehensive payment options

Variety is key when it comes to payment options. The more you offer, the easier you make it for customers to part with their money. PayPal continues to be a favourite for many online shoppers, with many people preferring the convenience of not having to go off and find their bank card and type in all the details. In-store, mobile phone payment services such as Apple Pay and Android Pay are the next big thing in seamless payment options. If you're the kind of business that sells high value goods, do you offer instant decision interest free credit online? It's not just about the ways in which you can pay though, it's also about being flexible over when a customer pays. Can your customers do click & collect and pay in-store if they prefer or are you forcing them to pay upfront online?

3. Value over price

There's a big difference between value and price. Every retailer has experienced showrooming; customers who shop around their stores comparing prices online via their mobiles. The price war online is tough, where there may be less to differentiate your business if you're selling products that can be bought elsewhere. Your site's user experience, delivery costs/time and customer service can all help you get the edge if your prices are similar to your competitors. In-store, there's more that can be done, so much that you may even be able to persuade customers to spend slightly more to shop with you. Superlative customer service, product knowledge and the opportunity to really try products out can make customers decide that it's worth spending slightly more in-store with you than with one of your online competitors, to be confident that they're getting exactly what they want. I've spent over the odds on running trainers in-store before now, because I was given excellent advice by trained staff and got to try them on a treadmill to be sure I was getting the right fit – two things that can't be done online. The price might have been slighter higher, but so was the value in my mind.

4. In-store wow factor

Savvy retailers have realised that you have to give customers a real reason to visit their stores these days. The question you should be asking yourself is, "What can in-store offer that online can't?" Similar to my point above, in-store offers some basic sensory advantages – the chance to try, hold, stroke, sniff (?) products before purchase still holds huge appeal, especially for more expensive items where the customer might need more confidence in what they're getting. If this is backed up with fantastic customer service and a brilliantly designed store, it all adds up to a very seductive experience and a clear differentiator to your website. Events are another way to boost your store offering, whether it's gigs with HMV Live or exercise classes with Sweaty Betty's Get Fit 4 Free. Events drive repeat store visits, build brand and give you great permission to sell. And don't forget the first example in this article, about joining up your channels. Give your customers great reasons to visit your stores, but also make it as easy as possible for them to shop online afterwards if you can't persuade them to make a purchase there and then. 

5. Remember we're human

As mentioned above, in-store offers true face-to-face contact, where the training, attitude and overall demeanour of your staff are paramount. No one likes being sold to, but we do appreciate honest help and advice, and the experience of others who've perhaps bought the same product or service. Online, this manifests itself in how your copy's written – imagine you're talking to someone when you write it, don't be overly formal or technical unless your product demands it and think about what questions you'd be asking if you were buying online. Customer reviews are a must-have to bring an independent voice to the table and don't edit them to show only the 5-star ones, otherwise your customers will smell a rat. Live chat could do a good job of mirroring the spontaneous advice that customers would receive in-store and what if they could talk to someone online and then visit in-store, only for the store staff to be aware of that conversation and have products ready to demo? The important thing is to never lose site of the fact that no matter how big the distance between you and your customer and the technology that might exist between you, aim for a personable human-to-human service.
There's many more things that can add to an outstanding digital retail experience, but if you were able to maximise all five of the themes in this article, you'd be well on your way to beating many of your competitors.