Aligning the In-Store & Online Experience

Gary Ashton
Gary Ashton
Guest Contributor

Shoppers don't want - and often don't make a distinction between - an online and in-person shopping experience, and your retail business shouldn't either.

Today, shoppers expect a quality, consistent experience from retailers whether they are engaging them in person or online. This means no negative surprises, compatibility and superior customer service across all “platforms.” A single bad or confusing experience can not only break a bond with a valuable customer, but can also lead to a string of negative reviews.

It is well worth a retailer’s time, effort and thoughts to make sure both in person and online experiences are aligned. Here are some thoughts to consider.

Consistent Branding Efforts

Shoppers are less likely to conduct business with a company or store than they are with a brand, and nothing can hurt branding more than inconsistent messages and themes. This means your online and brick-and-mortar branding and image must be consistent to be most effective. This involves more than just messaging. Fonts, logos, colors and the feel of your online presence should be consistent with your bricks-and-mortar locations. This also helps shoppers feel more comfortable with your brand no matter where they come across it. An extreme example of this would be a business that positions itself as modern or high-tech, but – while its physical store is sleek and technologically advanced – its website design does not look far removed from the early 2000s.

Create a More Omnichannel Experience

It is interesting how consumers see less of a difference between dealing with a brand either online or in-person, yet some retailers still maintain distinctions between the two interactions. In many cases, this even involves a customer’s payment options. If a consumer’s online purchases help indicate purchase preferences, those should be able to be utilized when making an in-store purchase. Perhaps an in-store purchase can trigger an email offering discounts on like-minded products online. Likewise, an online purchase could result in an email “in-store” purchase coupon. If you are not using all the customer data available to you for both online and in-person experiences, you are not using all your resources.

Align Sales and Promotions

If you are going to conduct and promote a Fourth of July Sale, Back to School Bargains or Black Friday Specials, strongly consider advertising and offering them both online and in-store. The fine print may not matter to a shopper who is either disappointed or who feels “tricked” by a limited promotion through one platform. Some potential customers who see a promotion while driving by may visit the website when they get home. Alternatively, some may choose to go to the store to ask an employee about an offering they saw on the business’ website or social media.

This is not to say that promotions cannot be used to promote a specific, desired action. If a special promotion is meant to drive traffic to either the brick-and-mortar store or website, promotional materials and ads should be extremely clear in their intent to avoid any confusion.

Enable Staff to Bridge Gaps

Too often employees are trained strictly to function within their silo. What if an employee could suggest that an item not available at one location is available to reserve/pre-order online? What if a sales agent could notify a customer of a contest or raffle taking place on the store’s social media page? Perhaps an employee knows who to call or email if a customer calls the store to complain about a broken feature on the website. Training and having easily-accessible resources for staff members can translate to a cohesive operation for the company and for the customer.

Recognize the Power of Voice Search

As voice technology continues to improve, more and more shoppers are discovering the items they want they can get with a simple voice command. If you want to make sure these high-intent purchasers are directed to your brand either in-person or online, retailers should become familiar with and begin to invest in geotargeting search marketing. Exploring available assets like Google’s Location Extensions can help ensure your business location and website will show up higher in location-based voice searches. Keep in mind we are still in the infancy of this technology and as it becomes more common in our homes and cars, it will be increasingly critical in search marketing.

Unify Customer Services

One of the most challenging hurdles for retailers in breaking down the barriers between their online services and in-store experiences is that they are set-up as separate entities. This can cause problems for consumers in multiple ways:

  • A difference in how products are returned
  • A difference of in-store credits or refunds
  • Consumers may wish to exchange a product ordered online at a local store
  • Consumers may not have kept an original shipping box to return an item
  • Potentially different pricing

Far too often online shoppers returning an item to a brick-and-mortar location are made to feel as if they are doing something incorrectly. Brands should work on erasing these boundaries to make the shopping and return process as seamless as possible. Whether an issue initiated online or in-store, retailers can benefit by building a brand that just “takes care of it.”

Many in-store and online shopping experiences were initially set up as separate entities because we just didn’t know any better. Today, big data, apps, more robust online options and customer relationship software can help us better connect with shoppers and build brands more seamlessly through various platforms. Consumers don’t want, and sometimes don’t make a distinction between an online and in-person shopping experience, and businesses shouldn’t either.

About the writer: Gary Ashton is the CEO and owner of The Ashton Real Estate Group of RE/MAX Advantage. His RE/MAX real estate team is #1 in Nashville, Tennessee and now #2 in the world.

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