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Are You Doubling Down on Customer Experience – or Getting Distracted?

The buzzword de jour is clearly ‘customer experience.'  You can't read an article in a retail magazine without hearing it at least once. If you select "customer experience" on, you get over 1,000 results.

It is clearly getting a lot of attention, but how many retailers are successfully meeting customer experience expectations?

Personally, I'm still shocked by some of the poor experiences I've had with well-known retailers. I recently received a "We've Missed You" email from a leading home improvement retailer. I knew that wasn't right. They have e-receipts, so a quick scan of my Gmail account told me that I had shopped with them 14 times in the past two months. They may have missed me, but I clearly did not miss them.

The same lack of customer experience focus can be evident in high-touch environments as well.  While trying to purchase a shirt and tie to go with a suit I had purchased at a luxury department store, I could not find an associate to ring my transaction. After a few minutes, I heard the ‘pop, pop, pop' sound of flip flops coming toward me. I then saw a man in a suit and dirty flip flops. He begrudgingly asked me if I needed any help. As you can imagine, I was no longer feeling the luxury experience. With a little training and the proper tools, he could have easily upsold me, suggested several ties, and maybe even some footwear. Instead, I told him I did not need any help, returned my selections to their respective places, and left the store.

While there is a lot of distraction in retail right now with news of store closures and the omnipresent/omnipotent Amazon, retailers cannot afford to lose focus on customer experience. In fact, these perceived threats are more reason to double-down on putting the customer at the center of your business strategy.

True, retail is not in its most stable period right now, but like most other aspects of the economy, it is cyclical and needs a period of ‘correction.'  Much like the housing market was overbuilt in the mid 2000's, the US is overstored. In 2015, the most recent year with comparable data available, the US had 23.6 square feet of retail spaces per person. That is roughly twice the amount in Australia and five times the amount in Europe.

And although ecommerce continues to grow, it will top out at between 30% or 40%. People still want to touch, feel and experience the product and recent data has proven that those customers who shop in multiple channels have a higher propensity to buy and spend more per transaction.

It's time to go all-in on your customer retention strategy. You have to keep the customers you have. Establishing a single view of the customer, and making investments in clienteling, associate enablement, and the digital experience can help ensure that shoppers have an excellent experience across all touch points of the brand.

So before you go falling for the apocalyptic retail headlines, consider this: According to a recent IHL report, retailers are opening 4,080 more stores in 2017 than they are closing and plan to open over 5,500 more in 2018.

It's the retailers who define and execute a clear, cohesive customer experience strategy that will thrive.