How to Create Great Commerce Experiences in 2019

How to Create Great Commerce Experiences in 2019

By: Jeremy Duimstra

Today’s retail landscape is very interesting, to say the least. Consumer expectations are higher than ever, and we’re seeing all sorts of players — from larger-than-life corporations like Amazon to media companies like Buzzfeed — disrupting the retail space.

With all that going on, you might be wondering, how can you compete?

We can answer that in two words: commerce experiences.

Commerce what, now?

Commerce experiences are digitally-powered initiatives that let shoppers interact and transact with retailers in new and unique ways. They take traditional retail actions (like browsing products or adding items to a cart) to the next level, by making the shopping experience more immersive and exciting.

But what exactly does that look like?

The answer will vary from one retailer to the next, but upon studying brands that are doing it right, we’ve identified a number of components that contribute to amazing experiences.

Let’s have a look.

Implement omnichannel experiences

Omnichannel is no longer a trend or a hyped up idea — it’s a way of life. The majority of modern consumers move across various channels throughout their shopping journeys, with a whopping 90% of consumers moving between devices to accomplish a goal.

Needless to say, retailers that fail to provide compelling omnichannel experiences will lose out to those that are doing it right.

The successful omnichannel initiatives of the future won’t just be about letting people “buy” on different channels or devices; retailers that will win the omnichannel game will be the ones that can provide seamless brand experiences across channels.

Consider American Girl’s flagship location in NYC. The store features a “makers” area called “Create Your Own,” in which guests can use in-store touch screens to create custom dolls that celebrate their individuality. That experience isn’t limited to the store, though. The “Create Your Own” tool is also available online and on mobile, so girls can enjoy the experience whether or not they’re in the shop.

Another excellent example comes from Sephora, which delivers a smooth omnichannel experience for guests who attend their in-store classes.

The classes take place offline in a special area of the store, where an instructor hand-picks products for each student and gives them hands-on training on various makeup techniques. Once the class ends, Sephora sends a follow-up email containing a “Beauty Recap” and digital makeover guide. The email also showcases the exact products used in class, so shoppers can purchase them online or on their phone.

Keep these examples in mind when crafting your commerce experience strategy. Design your experiences in such a way that people can access the information and products they need no matter what channel they’re using.

Tip: Implementing omnichannel experiences isn’t as difficult as you might think. Many retailers believe they need to rebuild their systems or make major IT or operational changes to support these initiatives, but if you’re working with a savvy technology partner (like us!), you can get your commerce experiences up and running easily.

At MJD Interactive, we can work with your existing API, IT infrastructure, and tech stack to bring your projects to life.

Embrace the need for constant reinvention

Regularly updating your store and website visuals is necessary to keep shoppers interested — and drive repeat visits in the process.

Forward-thinking retailers recognize this and are structuring their stores accordingly.

Take Story, the concept store in NYC “that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store.” Story revamps its location from the ground up every four to eight weeks, which means everything from its design and layout to the products it sells changes depending on specific themes. Doing so keeps the store fresh and gives people new reasons to come back.

Or consider Amazon’s 4-star stores, which are designed to sell products rated 4 stars and above. The shops are incredibly dynamic, as Amazon regularly updates their assortments based on what’s trending and popular online.

Take a leaf out of the playbook of these stores when designing your in-store experiences. Revamp your stores — or at least introduce new things — every few months to continuously drive excitement and intrigue.   

Tip: The most efficient way to implement this is through technology. Tools such as web/mobile applications, digital signage, tablets, and a user-friendly CMS will enable you to easily update your digital products, assets and content, so you can continuously introduce new experiences at every turn.

Promote human connections

Technology may be enabling consumers to perform a variety of tasks without leaving their homes, but the need for human connection is more important than ever. A 2018 poll by Axios found that in-person interaction is still the top communication method across multiple age groups.

This is particularly true in retail. Sure, ecommerce is making it easy for consumers to browse and buy products online, but there is still a real need for human interactions and communities in the retail sector.

The world’s most successful and forward-thinking retailers are already embracing the power of communities.

Apple, for instance, has Today at Apple — free educational sessions held at its stores that tackle topics like photography, coding, art, design, and more. First launched in May 2017, Today at Apple has expanded considerably; according to 9to5Mac, as of 2018, around 18,000 sessions are being held weekly and attended by millions.

The Container Store is another excellent example of a retailer the understands the value of human connection. Their flagship store in Dallas features the Organization Studio, an experience that helps customers overcome their organizational challenges.

Here’s how it works: Customers upload a photo or video of the space they want to organize, describe what they need help with, and then schedule an in-store appointment with an Organization Expert.

On their end, the Expert would receive the information from the shopper and would put together a tailored digital “solution board” that the customer could review, make changes to, and buy in the store or later online.

We’ve found that the warmth of that interaction and the relationship created is an extremely important component of bridging digital with physical stores.

The takeaway? Nothing can ever truly replace the human element in retail. While it’s certainly a good idea to invest in technology, you should always, always, include humans in the equation.

Tip: Want to make sure your initiative hits the mark? Do your research. When we created The Organization Studio, we tapped into The Container Store’s significant customer research to determine the right approach. We held co-creation sessions with focus groups to gain real shopper feedback and we tested the concept with current and potential customers.

We are continuing user testing of the digital product and business model to iteratively increase sales and strengthen the relationships shoppers have with The Container Store.

Ramp up the in-store experience

The in-store experience is a huge driver of in-store traffic, sales, and brand loyalty. The NRF’s 2018 Consumer View study found that nearly 80% of respondents consider the brand experience when deciding where to shop.

NRF also found that almost “six in 10 respondents said they were interested in special events and experiences hosted by retailers,” which tells us that shoppers want to get more out of their store visits.

So, if you’re not offering rich experiences in your locations, it’s high time to consider it.

American Girl, once again, does a great job in this area. Its flagship store in NYC is brimming with unique retail experiences that guests can enjoy, including the “Create Your Own” doll and apparel station, salon services, and a cafe where shoppers can grab food and drinks with their dolls.

Every component of American Girl’s store is rooted in the company’s dedication to serving modern shoppers. “As we look at girls today and millennial moms, they’re seeking brands that deliver positive, meaningful experiences, not just products,” says Wade Opland, American Girl’s Senior Vice President of Global Retail.

In creating the store, American Girl teamed up with MJD Interactive to explore ideas and conduct user design testing with girls and their moms. Doing so enabled the brand to create spot-on experiences that delight thousands of visitors.

Tip: Considering revamping your in-store experience strategy? Start by identifying the things that your target customers are craving for. What intrigues and excites them? What experiences or services can you offer that would compel them to come back to your location? The answers to these questions will help drive your strategy.

Your competitive edge lies in great commerce experiences

These days, it’s nearly impossible to “wow” customers simply by having great prices or an extensive selection. Retailers that want to thrive today and in the future need to get more creative and come up with compelling experiences that add value and make their mark.

Looking for ways to do just that? Catch MJD Interactive at the NRF BIG Show from January 13-15, 2019. Get in touch with us and let’s book a time to meet!

Technology and In-Store Associates Can Be a Match Made in Retail Heaven: Here's How to Get It Right

Technology and In-Store Associates Can Be a Match Made in Retail Heaven: Here’s How to Get It Right

By: Jeremy Duimstra

Digital media and connected devices may be all the rage, but even the snazziest of retail initiatives will fall flat if they’re not backed by human interactions and customer service.

That’s why one of the best things you can do for your business in 2019 and beyond is to invest in your workforce. Study after study has shown that today’s consumers — even the young and tech-savvy millennials — crave human interactions when dealing with brands.

According to PwC, customers will pay up to 16% more for a better customer experience and 75% want more human interaction. Not only that, but consumers won’t hesitate to turn their backs on a brand whose employees provide abysmal customer service.

“Globally, consumers would stop doing business with a company due to unfriendly service (60%), unknowledgeable employees (46%),” according to the study. What’s more, 32% “would walk away from a brand they love after a single bad experience.”

Millennials are even less forgiving. Research from Morning Consult found that “Poor customer service is the easiest way to lose brand loyalty” among Gen Y consumers. The study found  74% of millennials would be less likely to purchase from a brand they’re loyal to if customer service wasn’t up to snuff.

Make no mistake: the human beings in your stores will continue to play a critical role in driving traffic, loyalty, and sales. But you need to enable them with the right technologies, so can they wow your customers and provide amazing retail experiences.

Balance your digital initiatives with a human touch

While hi-tech commerce experiences will continue gaining steam, they won’t go far without the help of real people. See to it that you have friendly and capable human beings to facilitate your digital initiatives.

Consider the case of The Container Store.

The retailer teamed up with MJD to launch The Organization Studio, an interactive design tool and digital experience that helps customers organize their space.

Here’s how it works: Customers would upload a photo or video of their organizational challenge (e.g., a messy room or closet) into The Organization Studio. After that, they schedule an in-store appointment with a live Organization Expert, so they can see the products and consult with a real person. The Organization Expert’s role is to come up with a personalized organization solution for the shopper free of charge and with no purchase commitment.

What’s interesting about this initiative is that it originally didn’t involve live Organization Experts. We initially envisioned customers taking photos, videos and measurements of their organization challenge, then uploading them to an app or website. Then, a machine learning algorithm would create a digital solution board filled with products that would solve the problem.

It was a solid concept, but we felt that it had something missing: the human element.

So, we introduced the Organization Expert into the equation and got positive feedback in user testing. The warmth of the human interaction along with the relationship between the customer and expert were key to the digital experience.  

The takeaway: Physical retail environments perform far better when digital tools enhance — not replace – human interactions. Keep this in mind the next time you’re designing a new program or app. Having real people supporting your digital initiatives will not only enrich the experience, it will also drive better results.

Listen to your team’s tech concerns

If your technology efforts are plagued by poor adoption rates and inefficiencies, consider focusing less on tech and more on the people operating them: your employees.

Turns out, your staff — especially those on the front lines — can have valuable input about your tech. And if you listen to them, the results might astound you.

Just ask Best Buy. As part of its efforts to turn the business around, the company conducted “hundreds and hundreds” of one-on-one interviews with its staff about usability problems around technology and applications.

According to Retail Dive, those interviews helped identify employee pain points and influenced Best Buy’s move to redesign its systems and introduce new technologies in its stores.

One of the key results of the effort was Best Buy cutting its POS transaction time in half.

Speaking at a conference, Timothy Embretson, the director at user experience at Best Buy, explained that the move improved both store efficiency and the customer experience.

The move allowed “associates to spend less time typing on keyboards or holding tablets, and reinvest that time to connect with the customer experiences so that we don’t end up cutting labor or anything like that,” he said.

Use technology to enhance employee training

Have you thought about how valuable tech can be when it comes to educating your associates? New and emerging technologies are making their way into retail training programs, and forward-thinking retailers are taking advantage of the opportunity.

Take Walmart, which is now using virtual reality headsets to train its employees. The company tested the technology in 2017 at Walmart Academies, then decided to roll out the initiative to all its locations in the US by sending its stores Oculus VR headsets.

And while the outcomes of the wider roll-out haven’t been released, the retailer says that its tests at Walmart Academies delivered promising results.

“When you watch a module through the headset, your brain feels like you actually experienced a situation. We’ve also seen that VR training boosts confidence and retention while improving test scores 10 to 15 percent – even those associates who simply watched others experience the training saw the same retention boosts,” said Andy Trainor, Walmart’s senior director of Walmart U.S. Academies.

Now, does this mean you should start outfitting your team with VR headsets? Maybe, maybe not. The only way to figure it out is to evaluate your practices and identify outdated processes or steps. Then, test different technologies and see what yields the best results.

The bottom line

Technology and your employees can certainly be a match made in retail heaven, but it takes work to make it to that level. You need to need to gather the right data, take risks, and test various initiatives to determine how to best use tech in your retail stores.

And here’s the good news: you don’t have to do it alone. While retail giants such as Walmart or Best Buy can certainly take on large technology challenges, many retailers would benefit more by teaming up with a digital innovation agency.

The right partner can assist you in bringing your tech visions to life — whether it’s through ideation, testing, design, implementation or all of the above.

Looking for a team who can help with technology and digital innovation? Get in touch with MJD Interactive. We’d love to hear from you!