New technologies and changing consumer behaviors are putting pressure on retailers to be as innovative as ever. While the old mainstays of the retail industry announce store closures, other more dynamic companies are thinking out of the box when it comes to connecting with customers.

1. They have brick & mortar outlet(s)

Contrary to what many think, brick and mortar is not dead. Target, Gap, Aldi and Warby Parker are just some of the retailers opening new stores in 2018. Some of these openings are a reflection of the brand’s newly acquired market share, while others represent strategic shifts in audience demographics or the type of experience being offered, as in the case of Target which is looking to position itself within the boutique category, or Warby Parker which is known as an ecommerce player.

In addition to the efficiencies provided, retail stores offer value by allowing brands to create richer, multi-dimensional customer experiences that go beyond purchase transactions and offer brands the opportunity to tell their story.

2. They integrate the online and offline experience

Omnichannel services such as click-and-collect are an in-store priority for 21 percent of retailers, along with 15 percent that cite ship-from-store as a fulfillment priority. An NRF report shows that 42 percent of retailers say that faster delivery of online orders is their top customer-facing priority, and many plan to use brick and mortar stores to achieve that goal.

Digital innovation has led to improved point-of-sale technologies and opportunities for personalization, a high priority for retailers. Forrester reports that nearly three out of four consumers respond to personalized offers, recommendations or experiences. Used correctly and with consent, the availability of customer data allows brands to anticipate the needs or preferences of a customer as they walk in store.

3. They let customers try and buy

The paradox of choice has turned shopping into a baffling, anxiety-inducing ordeal for consumers. With so many options available, consumers feel more pressure to research their purchases which often leads to greater uncertainty. Studies have shown that lenient return policies reduce the perceived ‘risk’ on the part of the customer, leading them to buy more. Interestingly, leniency in time allowed for a return also reduces return rates. With a longer window of time, customers seem to decide they either can’t be bothered to make the return or that they like the item well enough.

Another tactic businesses are using to reduce the ‘risk’ of buying something new are the ‘try before you buy’ programs. Amazon and Sephora allow customers to select from a range of free product samples to be shipped along with a purchase. Casper, a mattress company, allows you to sleep on your new mattress for 100 nights before committing. Asos’ ‘try before you buy’ program goes further by allowing shoppers to have items shipped to them without making a payment, only charging customers for what they decide to keep.

4. They offer an experience beyond selling their products

Consultations, in-home services, and delivery are just some of the ways that brands are enticing consumers to shop more.  Smart brands are finding ways to develop services that actually alleviate or remove pain points.

Swedish amusement park Liseberg developed a game that allows park visitors to compete with other visitors waiting in line for rides. Because the game is contextually relevant (involving the people standing next to you) it contributes more directly to the park experience. IKEA’s purchase of TaskRabbit is an example of how a typically very product-focused business is broadening its brand to offer services that remove the pain of flat-pack furniture. Copenhagen airport is connecting solo travelers by inviting them to mingle at its pop-up restaurant Hallo Hello.

5. They don’t take the customer experience for granted

Nothing can replace attentive customer service staff who promptly respond to customers’ needs and emotions, but having enough resources available to guarantee that every single customer is satisfied at all times is a difficult task. Feedback loops, however, have improved with real-time technology and can be a valuable and efficient channel of communication.

Customers are generally tired of long surveys that are emailed after they’ve left a store. Studies suggest that 80% of customers have abandoned one of these surveys halfway through. Being ‘entered in a draw to win a prize’ is hardly adequate compensation. Brands who prioritize the customer experience make feedback something that customers willfully opt-in to and then action the feedback in real-time, creating meaningful impact and providing instant gratification.

There is no one-size-fits-all approach to collecting customer feedback. However, it's not impossible to avoid the pitfalls of anonymous responses. Choosing a customer feedback tool that allows identifiable feedback in a supportive manner will greatly aid your support teams and improve the overall customer experience.