Do you know how many customers abandon their shopping trip? Or come once and never return? These are major issues for e-commerce, but I also found them surprisingly common in supermarkets.
In part these were the result of customers not finding the products or prices they expected. Some of this was unavoidable - a passer-by for example just checking out the store. Although today, digital media provides marketers greater opportunities to manage expectations prior to the store.
But it turned out that there were other elements actively pushing them away.
There was the amount of effort the shopping trip demanded. Gaps on the shelves meant customers were never sure whether they could get what they wanted. Clutter made a store difficult to navigate. And lines at the checkout made the time the shopping trip would take unpredictable. It wasn't that any one of these was a particular problem, but when they came together they just made the shopping trip not worth the effort.
This is familiar territory in e-commerce. Making sure the shopping trip is usable and as easy as possible are key goals of User Experience Design (UXD), which is widely employed. In contrast, traditional supermarket thinking puts frequently purchased items like milk in the far corners, to force customers to shop the entire store.
Then, there were issues with how customers were treated by employees. This wasn't whether or not the customers’ needs were met. Rather, it was how they were made to feel. A caring voice or being recognized by name made customers feel valued and positive, but bored or rude employees left them feeling unappreciated, or even slighted.
Human interaction should of course be one of the greatest assets for physical stores over ecommerce. However, it requires engaged employees. And as surveys continually tell us, employee engagement is at an all time low, and is even lower among frontline employees. Developing a culture that engages employees has to be a key priority in seeking to retain customers.
And finally, there were doubts over whether the store really cared about its customers. For example, if there were lines at the checkout, but every checkout was open, customers felt the store was doing its best to cope with the rush. But if some of the checkouts were closed, then they felt it cared more about money than it did about them, and couldn't be trusted.
Customers draw conclusions about what the brand really values from their experience of interacting with it. Those experiences need to prioritize the interests of customers over those of the brand. Again, this is very familiar in e-commerce, where the notion that decisions should be based on the needs and wants of users is the foundation of User Experience Design.
Uncovering these issues that drive customers away was certainly a good lesson — alongside all the effort that goes in to attracting them, it takes an efficient and caring shopping trip to bring customers back. But it was impossible to measure with any certainty.
However, as digital and mobile technologies integrate with the physical shopping trip, metrics such as cart abandonment, conversion and return rates may well throw more light on how many customers stores are losing.
Perhaps then we'll see the principles of User Experience Design applied to the physical world...