4 Ways Retailers Can Bring the In-Store Customer Experience Online


The COVID-19 pandemic radically changed how we live and shop. Instead of heading out to retail stores to browse and buy, more people are shopping online. 

Some retailers reacted quickly. But for others, operational and financial challenges brought on by the pandemic were too much to bear. The list of companies closing or at risk due to COVID-19 reads like a retail who’s who: Gap, JCPenney, J Crew, Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Victoria’s Secret, among others

What can your brand do to come out ahead in the COVID-19 era? The pandemic has taught us that winning in business isn’t all about products, prices, and technologies. It’s about people and the human connections that give our lives meaning.

Thriving in the COVID-19 era and beyond means keeping customers at the heart of your business and embracing the shift to digital commerce. You can replicate some of the personal touches that naturally occur in stores–online. By following four best practices, you can humanize the digital experience for your online customers.

#1 Make Sure the Language on Your Website is Conversational and Human

Often, shopping in-store leads to a personal interaction with an associate. It may be a simple, quick exchange of pleasantries or a detailed discussion about products. Either way, those conversations fulfill shoppers’ needs for human connection and conversation.

Online, that conversation element is often missing. Websites may have detailed product specs, FAQs, and streamlined buying options. But shopping online can feel impersonal and anonymous. It’s easy for customers to feel like brands view them as a transaction, not a person.

But by using language that is conversational and genuine, you can transform the shopping experience and make it feel human. Although you’re still selling products, you can sound like a real person talking to another real person. This approach centers on honesty and transparency to build trust with shoppers. 

Need inspiration? You find many examples of brands that get it right. Grooming products company Old Spice has earned kudos for reinventing its messages to speak to younger audiences. Other retailers with customer-friendly web copy include ModclothChubbies, and Uncommon Goods

#2 Use Human-Staffed Live Chat

As more people shop online, an increase in customer service inquiries is inevitable. It’s tempting to respond with a chatbot-centric strategy. But this approach isn’t always effective–especially during times when worries are high.

Why? Research published in the Harvard Business Review reveals that people want to connect with humans when they feel anxious. Yet, many companies have focused more on self-service technologies that isolate people when they crave connection.

You can take a different path by deploying human-staffed live chat on your website. Today, advanced technology lets and staffing outsourcers like Simplr can help you scale your support capabilities to meet surges in demand while maintaining optimal service levels. 

Also, your customers can shop online anytime–days, nights, weekends. You can have after-hours service reps available to handle customer queries 24/7.

Happiest Baby has been able to convert 20% of live chats into sales using Simplr’s staffing solution.

#3 Set Clear Expectations

When shopping in a store, customers can see and feel the products they’re considering. They can also reach out to an associate for help if needed. But shopping online can sometimes feel like guesswork. 

Consumers may wonder about how clothing will fit or if the colors of home goods will match their decor. Plus, there’s always a wait for online orders to arrive. Both factors can deter shoppers from buying online. In fact, research on eCommerce barriers from Nielsen found that customers prefer to pick out items in person and want products right away. 

Clear communication can overcome these barriers and help customers feel more comfortable with online purchasing. For example, if a surge in orders is causing shipping delays, be upfront about it. People can decide if they want to order from you now, wait to buy, or look for another source. It’s better to lose a single sale than to cause customers to have a negative experience. 

#4 Check in with the Customer After Product Receipt

No doubt, you’ve heard gaining new customers more expensive than keeping the ones you already have. According to the Harvard Business Review, studies say getting a new customer costs between five and 25 times more costly than retaining one. 

Reaching out to customers after receipt of an online purchase is a simple way to boost retention. You can start with a thank you email or post-interaction survey. But you can go a step further by inviting conversation about purchases.

Did customers like the product? Do they have issues or questions? Since many people are branching out into new online shopping territory, these types of inquiries are welcome. 

By connecting with people after a sale, you’ll help people feel that their experience matters and show that you’re willing to listen. Shoppers will start to see you as a brand that values people and relationships. And the goodwill you’ll build will endure into the post-COVID era.

The Digital “New Normal” Is Here to Stay

Recently, COVID-19 has caused more people to seek out online sources for products. It’s no surprise that research from Cap Gemini shows that consumer preference for online shopping is at an all-time high–and likely to grow. In fact, Cap Gemini’s found that preference for digital shopping is on track to surpass in-store shopping soon.

Necessity drove people to shop on the web. Selection, value, and convenience may keep them coming back. But the brands that will excel in the emerging digital landscape will bring the best of in-store experiences online.

For many people, in-store shopping provides important human connections. Although interactions may be brief, they’re still valuable. Social distancing and staying at home has shown just how much those little moments of human connection matter.

You can cultivate the same feelings of warmth and connection online. Use conversational language on your website. Rely on human-staff service to meet surges in demand. Be clear and upfront with product and shipping expectations. And follow up after purchases to let customers know you care.

As retailers look ahead to a new chapter, they’re returning to some basics. They’re remembering that the shopper on the other side of every transaction is a human being. By centering your business around this truth, you can reinvent how you relate to customers.