The In-Store Shopping Experience That Will Get Customers Out of Their Houses

Two shoppers in a retail store wearing masks, having an in-store shopping experience.

Please note that this article is intended for educational purposes only and should not be deemed to be or used as legal, employment, or health & safety advice. For guidance or advice specific to your business, consult with a qualified professional.

Online shopping is here to stay, but there’s also a palpable joy people get when browsing their favourite local shops. While 2020 incited a massive rise in eCommerce, the recent reopening of retail in the UK has been greeted with a long-awaited appetite for shopping, as footfall in shops across the UK continues to rise week on week.

Digital shopping experiences may be convenient, but after a year of staying home, customers are also itching to get back out to the shops. For retailers, this means there is ample opportunity to re-engage customers at their physical locations — especially for shoppers who prefer to use click and collect.

Read on to learn more about what’s shaping the future of retail, and how to capitalise on the opportunities arising from changing in-store shopping habits.

What customers miss most and expect from in-store shopping experiences

“There is an inherent joy in shopping in person,” says Megan Karande, Product Marketing Manager for Square for Retail.

Keep in mind that online and in-person customers aren’t mutually exclusive categories; some of the same customers who enjoy making purchases on your website also miss visiting your shop. While it’s important to improve the digital experience for the connected or networked customer, even those who interact with your brand via digital channels may also be yearning for an in-person experience.

The traditional in-store shopping journey has never been solely about convenience or speed. Brick-and-mortar stores play major roles in the community as hubs that foster casual relationships and face-to-face social interactions. “Stores aren’t just places to buy things,” Karande says. “They are part of the communities they serve. A lot of consumers miss the interaction of going to stores — and they want to get out of the house, too.”
As vaccines roll out and businesses reopen, you can connect more with in-store customers by implementing a few key strategies.

How to make in-store shopping worthwhile for your retail customers

To re-engage shoppers in-store, businesses need to bring back the benefits and thrills of shopping in person. Here are five main ways that retailers can create an atmosphere where customers can fulfill their desire to shop.

In-store measures to protect customers and employees

It’s not surprising that shoppers will want to see measures related to preventing the spread of COVID-19. But while you’ve likely been operating this way for months, the way you communicate your approach is key to making the shopping experience comfortable and enjoyable.

While shoppers do miss the in-person experience, many will feel nervous and uncomfortable about re-entering shops. Your customers may be battling with feelings of anxiety or guilt about shopping in-store rather than online. Visiting the high street or local shopping centre now requires additional thought, precautions, and decisions — mental baggage that can take away from the thrill of shopping. Posting clear and abundant signage about the measures you’re taking to protect customers can help alleviate guilt and make shoppers feel more at ease with their decision to leave the house.

Make it easier for your customers to enjoy their visit by removing some of the mental burden for them. Ensure your staff is wearing PPE to make shoppers feel safer when visiting physical shops. Offer sanitised or disposable baskets at key points like entrances, exits, and doors, and lay out predetermined paths for queuing. Consumers will want to see retailers implement plexiglass shields to protect both staff members and customers, which can be installed at areas of frequent interaction, like checkout counters.

Communicate about safety measures throughout your shop so customers can feel more secure when indulging in the shopping experience.

Get creative with your merchandising while sticking to social distancing guidelines

Social distancing guidelines mean that physical space is a precious resource, but new merchandising strategies can help you display your products in a way that’s appealing and compelling to customers.

Try arranging popular products or special sale items at click-and-collect areas, making it easy for customers to add them when they pick up their online purchases. Pair complementary products together in the same display — like candles and chocolates or loungewear and blankets — to up the chance of discovery.

To open up space indoors, reduce the number of displays on the floor and switch out the products on display more frequently. This not only allows you to rotate different products into the spotlight and keep the experience fresh, but fewer displays can help alleviate analysis paralysis in your customers — a phenomenon in which seeing more options can make customers feel paralysed at the idea of choosing (in some cases opting to walk away with nothing at all). Narrow the options on display to put customers at ease and reduce decision fatigue.

Tap into senses like smell, sound, and sight in your merchandising strategy. For instance, you can add elements to decrease customer anxiety, like soft lighting or cool colour palettes. Consider using scented air fresheners to elicit a particular mood. Try tailoring your in-store music to reduce stress and foster positive emotions.

Offer virtual experiences in your store

In-store virtual experiences can help you make shopping more immersive. Consider offering appointment-based shoppingto limit store capacity and allow customers to try out products since you’ll have time to sanitise between appointments. You could have customers choose items on an iPad in the store, and then bring out what they select so they can experience them in a more contained way.

Discourage walk-ins from touching products by providing product samples and demonstrations, along with leveraging QR codes. For example, a customer browsing camping tents could use their phone to scan a QR code next to a tent on the shelf, and pull up information about the product on your online store or access a video showing the tent in use. This can provide a convenient and low-touch way to interact with elements in your shop or see products in action.

Redesign your store layout to take customers on a delightful journey

One thing customers miss is the ability to stroll casually through the aisles. For some shoppers, choosing in-store pickup gives them a reason to come to the shop in the first place.

Customers want to browse, so make it easy for them to do it. This means rethinking your store layout to promote socially distant browsing, which over one in three consumers want to see from retailers to feel comfortable shopping in person. Remove impulse purchase items from around the till and other point-of-sale (POS) areas to clear up space and keep lines moving smoothly. Move these items to a section where there’s more space and less movement, indicating that it’s okay for customers to linger.

Guide customer behaviour and foot traffic using clear signage. In 2020, many shops and restaurants followed IKEA’s model for creating one-way traffic patterns with floor arrows. Arrange displays, shelving, and dividers to craft a one-directional flow from entrance to exit.
As an exercise, imagine your shop as an attraction (think museum or aquarium), and ask yourself a few questions.
When a customer enters, do they see signage that welcomes them and suggests where to go first?
Can you direct them to an eye-catching display?
From there, what can you put in place to grab their attention next?

The goal is to make the customer’s journey engaging from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave.

Remember that although customers want to shop in person, they may feel stressed or insecure about doing so. In-store offers can make it feel worthwhile to leave their house and come to the shop, rather than opting for delivery.

Bring back the thrill of in-store shopping

Retailers have seen a surge in online shopping, but digital experiences are an essential complement to in-person experiences, not a replacement. It’s likely that some of your customers are clicking ‘add to cart’ while also wishing they were shopping at your physical location.

Your customers are actively looking for reasons to participate in the in-person shopping experience again. For many, that means opting for click-and-collect with a goal to pop into your store once they arrive. As a retailer, you’re in a position to provide the right environment to welcome customers who are picking up purchases by re-engaging shoppers in stress-free and fulfilling ways.