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Shopping for Experiences, Not Products: A Primer on Retail CX in the Experience Economy

Retail customers’ primary objective used to be providing a great product, but as brand competition fiercens and consumer expectations rise, retailers need to find new, bolder ways to stand out from the crowd. Consumers are no longer satisfied with “just” a product, and are finding different, more fundamental means of identifying (and spending money) with brands.

Andrew Park, Vice President of Customer Experience Strategy in XI Strategy & Enablement at InMoment, sat down with The Retail Focus Podcast to break down where customers’ expectations have been, where they’re going, and what retailers can do to keep up with it all.

The Experience Economy

As previously mentioned, customers used to consider a great product the end-all-be-all of an experience, but as those expectations have grown, so too have brands’ need to rise to that challenge. These days, retail customers prefer to spend money with brands that deliver great experiences, and great experiences go far beyond what’s on a store shelf.

Conventional wisdom holds that an experience consists only of an in-store visit, but our research demonstrates that, from a customer’s perspective, it’s so much more than that. For a customer, an experience doesn’t begin at a storefront—it actually starts long before that with brand research, reading online reviews, and evaluating whether a retailer’s values match up with their own. Experiences don’t end at the store exit, either. Customers fold their post-purchase interactions with a product into their overall brand experience. 

All of this points toward a single truth: customers consider experiences to be journeys, not single stops, and brands that fail to parallel that expectation jeopardize their very competitiveness. For example, an airline may consider a passenger’s flight the extent of that individual’s experience, but this skewed view fails to account for buying a ticket, waiting in the airport, finding a hotel, and all the other elements comprising that passenger’s customer journey. 

It’s All About The Journey

Brands that focus only on in-store experiences, like that hypothetical airline, are missing a huge opportunity. The winning brands in the modern experience landscape are the ones that create seamless, end-to-end journeys that remain consistent from start to finish. That may sound like a lot of work (and it is), but we’ve found that customers will spend more money with a company that provides a great experience. Creating a journey is a worthwhile investment.

Creating a consistent journey means a lot more than, say, being constantly available to customers. It also means that the experiences a brand provides must not be disjointed. It’s extremely disruptive to a customer when, say, a product’s online and in-store price tags differ. Customers have come to expect seamless experiences—it’s key for brands to deliver on that expectation.

Constant Expectations

It’s become common in the last 5-10 years for retailers to be compared not just to each other, but to other experience providers that may fall well outside the retail scope. It probably comes as little surprise to most retailers that customers frequently compare them to Amazon, but what about a restaurant? Restaurants are not retail outlets, but if they provide a great experience, customers will come to expect similar commitment from retailers and vice-versa. The same is true of other venues and businesses.

The final word here is just that: expectation. As we mentioned up top, customers’ expectations are growing ever more complex as countless brands vie for their attention. This means that, no matter whether a brand sells shoes, cars, meals, or airline tickets, it’s no longer enough to focus solely on a product. 

Make no mistake, offering a quality product is obviously still important, but it’s no longer enough to capture and hold customers’ attention. Experience is the differentiator now, and brands that endeavor to deliver a great experience will come out on top in both their verticals and in customers’ eyes.

To hear more about retail customer experience in the experience economy, listen to the full podcast episode today!

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