Dr. Joel Evans, professor at Hofstra University’s Zarb School of Business, offered his advice on providing a satisfying shopping experience for consumers.
Evans recommended that retailers with more than one channel (online and bricks-and-mortar) must make the shopping experience seamless. “Make it easy to order online and pick up in the store,” he advised. “Make it easy to return an item bought online to the store. Be consistent in pricing since more people use their mobile media to comparison shop in the store.”
Being straightforward with customers will also help retailers avoid problems before they arise. If they have a clear understanding of what they are getting themselves into, there will be fewer issues. “Let customers know exactly what kind of shopping experience to expect,” Evans suggested. For example, share the information that consumers can shop without hassle, or that there is a dedicated team of professionals to educate them about how to use electronics.
In addition, Evans recommended formulating clear policies, and then posting them in a place where customers will easily find them. He offered the example of shipping and delivery. “Shoppers who know in advance how long it takes for an item to be delivered and what shipping will cost are less likely to complain,” Evans said.
The business professor placed a heavy emphasis on the power of communication with customers. “Don’t hide contact information,” he remarked. “Make it prominent. If possible, give the shopper multiple points of contact, such as both email and telephone. Encourage people to contact you; don’t discourage them.”
Sometimes, opening that channel of communication involves receiving negative feedback. Evans advocated dealing with criticism in a forthright and speedy manner. “Answer complaints promptly,” he commented. “Let the person know how long it will take for a complaint to be resolved.” Businesses need to be proactive as well. “Be honest and identify your problems and fix them,” Evans urged.
He acknowledged that admitting a problem exists and solving it is often difficult. However, the cost of ignoring negative feedback is high. “It is a mistake to ignore any such messages,” Evans warned. He explained why it is perilous to discount customer complaints. “First, the company will lose that customer for life,” Evans noted. “Second, if left unaddressed, other customers and potential customers will only read one side of the story – the one that reflects badly on the firm.” Erring on the side of the customer, he added, will help retailers in the long run.
There are many businesses who will disregard Evans’ advice, mistakenly believing that it does not apply to them. The business professor gave a few reasons for these beliefs. “Optimizing the shopping experience can be both time-consuming and costly – if viewed that way,” he said. Some companies do not see the need to provide a shopping experience, and consider themselves to be resellers of products or services.
Another reason retailers and other businesses do not believe it is necessary to improve the customer experience is that shoppers are not giving them that feedback. “With the trend toward self-service, shoppers don’t provide as much in-store feedback as they would if interacting with company employees,” Evans pointed out. “So, retailers don’t always know what shoppers want.”
That communication gap has led retailers to certain conclusions. “Too many retailers believe that shoppers are only interested in low prices and not concerned about convenience, personnel friendliness, product variety, store displays, etc.,” Evans remarked. That assumption is incorrect, though. “Research has shown that this is often not the case,” he asserted.
What can small businesses do to offer a satisfying shopping experience? Evans advised against multi-tasking. “My advice for small retailers is that they should operate as either pure online firms or in a way that uses the Web site as a complement to the store-based business,” he commented. Evans opined that a small business could succeed with a solely online presence. Should its managers or founders decide to put a greater focus on a physical store, a website should act as the bricks-and-mortar’s complement. “Use the Web to provide store information, such as location and store hours; to display the products that are offered so that customers can pre-shop online; to offer coupons and other promotions that draw people to the store; to answer customer questions; and to offer an order online/pickup in store option,” he suggested.
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