How Retail Brands Can Retain Consumers Rather Than Simply Attracting Them

Loyalty comes through experiences and creating memories

Retail that offers experiences ends up connecting with consumers on a deeper level. Getty Images

The last several years have challenged retailers to become digital and then mobile brands. They’ve had to shift their focus from selling products to creating memorable experiences for consumers. Now the time has come for all brands to prioritize the user experience (UX), designing every customer-brand interaction with the user’s emotions and exact needs in mind.

The UX mindset is more software developer than salesperson, and it works. Research by SAP, Siegel + Gale and Shift Thinking found today’s most reputable brands inspire loyalty and retain customers by focusing on how users experience their brand, not just on driving one-time sales.

Loyalty today is more crucial to growth than ever, and a loyalty strategy must involve much more than a points program. According to an Accenture study, 77 percent of consumers say they’re quicker to retract their loyalty today than they were three years ago. At the same time, 68 percent of consumers are willing to pay up to 15 percent more for the same product if it entails a great experience.

Retailers today must treat visitors as ongoing users instead of merely potential buyers. Brands including Nordstrom, Sephora, Glossier and Warby Parker have implemented UX practices in retail to increase long-term customer loyalty. They design around users’ needs rather than stringing together breadcrumbs in their stores, websites and apps with the hope of increasing sales.

Creating memorable impact

A basic level of omnichannel retail—enabling shoppers to buy online or in-store—is now outdated. Today’s retailers are using physical stores to showcase more than just products. They’re creating immersive, shareable shopping experiences because they understand they’re competing with apps and other digital content for a user’s time. They’re approaching retail experiences from the shopper’s point of view, offering the right mix of discovery, curation, service and support in each channel.

Sixty-eight percent of consumers are willing to pay up to 15 percent more for the same product if it entails a great experience.

Cult-favorite beauty marketer Glossier, for example, started as a digital brand before introducing stores that take an unconventional approach to physical retail. Its pop-ups highlight the brand’s personality and encourage social sharing—they look more like playgrounds than makeup counters. If you visit a Glossier pop-up, expect to try on makeup and skincare, talk with expert sales associates in pink jumpsuits and post a few pictures of the highly Instagrammable space.

Even brands with extensive brick-and-mortar footprints are experimenting with pop-ups and showrooms. If you walk into Nordstrom Local in Los Angeles, you won’t see merchandise at all, except for the items hand-picked for customers to try on. In this new take on a department store, you’re meant to enjoy the space instead of digging through racks. You can meet with a stylist, pick up an online order and get your clothes tailored. You can even get a manicure.

Industry giants are keeping their ears to the ground and recognizing the role of in-person experiences in building brand affinity and long-term loyalty. The 43-year-old retailer Zara recently opened a location in London that includes smart mirrors, self-checkout and mobile-activated point-of-sale systems. The store is both functional and flashy—you can browse and try on a curated collection of clothing, return and exchange items and schedule orders for next-day delivery.

Combining digital with physical

Interactive technologies like augmented reality help retailers connect with users beyond physical or online stores. Now that AR has gone mainstream with the help of apps like Snapchat and Pokémon Go, the technology is increasingly part of the physical-digital consumer experience. Sephora’s new AR app, for example, lets you try on makeup from home. And if you want an in-store consultation, you can book an appointment via the brand’s Facebook Messenger bot.

Outdoor Voices, a five-year-old athleticwear brand, offers an AR mobile app that lets you shop for products at one of the company’s nearby locations. Called Outdoor Voices Trail, the app scans your immediate surroundings for products, which can be purchased via Apple Pay and picked up at a nearby store.

Warby Parker, which pioneered the at-home, try-before-you-buy model for eyeglasses continues to blur the line between online and offline with tech that makes shopping easier and more fun. It now offers prescription checks through a telehealth app, administering a 20-minute eye test that gets reviewed by a physician before authorizing your prescription.

Retailers like Nordstrom, Glossier and Warby Parker are wisely combining the tactile and immersive elements of in-store retail with the convenience of browsing online and the ease of shopping at home.

They’re building valuable brands in a constantly changing retail landscape by focusing on the user experience and recognizing that UX entails not only the process of buying but also how a user feels before, during and after the sale.

@amitbol Amit Sharma is CEO and founder of Narvar.