Transform brick-and-mortar experiences with a digital mindset

Today, excellence in customer experience has become the chief determinant of a brand’s success.

Back in the day, customer experience was all about visiting a store in the neighborhood, being greeted by the shopkeeper, exchanging a few pleasantries, answering questions about friends and family, grabbing what you needed, paying and then heading out. After leaving, you were left satisfied that the conversation had a personalized touch to it, and the experience left a lasting impression on you.

What exactly does that experience look like when you apply today’s shopper engagement standards? The shopkeeper was trying to learn more about your buying patterns, your family’s needs, who else can they influence to come to the store, and so on. The principles and values of shopper engagement are still largely the same. But in the dynamically changing retail world, the whole brick-and-mortar store shopping experience has become uninteresting and impersonal.

Leveraging digital marketing services to unlock data-driven personalization can transform the modern brick-and-mortar retail experience, leading to competitive advantages and newfound financial success.

Bringing digital marketing services to brick-and-mortar retail

Finding ways to modernize brick-and-mortar retail experiences is critical to long-term retail strategies. However, we can’t talk about brick-and-mortar experiences in a vacuum as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to impact the industry. Even once there’s a vaccine, we won’t simply return to business as usual. There will be lasting changes to retail experiences for years to come.

As COVID-19 spread, consumers accelerated the shift to online shopping because so many brick-and-mortar retail locations were closed. Now that stores are reopening, there’s been a sharp rise in buy-online-pick-up-in-store options as retailers try to create safe shopping environments.

But those options have become the norm. Retailers have to do more to stand out in a positive way. How? Create a seamless and personalized customer experience by leveraging both online and offline data.

Recent studies show that during the pandemic, 87% of consumers prefer to shop in stores with touchless or robust self-checkout options. Many retailers are already using online and offline data to capitalize on this trend and transform brick-and-mortar experiences with contactless options. One example is Kroger, which announced its “Kroger Pay” program to combine checkout, payment, and loyalty into one app that promotes COVID-19 safety.

In order to transform brick-and-mortar experiences to adapt to the pandemic and meet new customer expectations, you need to ask yourself two questions:

  • “How do I best understand my customers’ needs, expectations and  perceptions?”
  • “How do I meet my customer’s insatiable appetite for experiences?"

Read more: Modernizing digital marketing: What "Strategy as a Service" means to us


These questions tie into what Bobby Cameron, a Forrester expert on CIO-targeted business technology research, points out in the Future of Retail 2020 article. He says that “2020 is going to show early-stage differentiation for retailers that have invested in data strategies and data is becoming an essential part of the customer experience.”

Leveraging data-driven personalization through digital marketing services can achieve both aims. The more data you have about your customers, the more relevant the personalization becomes, which in turn helps create meaningful experiences. Without knowing the customer, you can’t create a positive, personalized brick-and-mortar experiences.

As a result, retailers are pushing to become more customer- and data-centric. However, while a significant amount of time and research has been devoted to digital/online personalization, offline experiences—especially in brick and mortar stores—leave a lot to be desired. Bringing the mindset of data-driven digital marketing services to the brick-and-mortar world can change that.

Transforming brick-and-mortar retail experiences

Imagine a situation where a retailer can leverage various data points about a walk-in customer to deliver relevant experiences, have meaningful conversations and make them feel welcome. That’s where the concept of Customer Experience (CX) as a service comes into play, taking offline personalization to the next level.

It could be as simple as an app in the hands of a store associate who greets the walk-in customer with a question: “Welcome to the store! Would you like to have a personalized shopping experience with us today?” If yes, then all it takes is a few quick follow-up questions to identify the customer, determine if they’re part of an existing loyalty program and serve up a relevant experience. It opens the door for the associate to educate customers on current offers and trending products. It’s also an opportunity to capture first-hand feedback, as well as data on the customer’s buying behavior. For customers new and old who aren’t part of the loyalty program, it’s a chance to increase enrollment so you can help them benefit from personalized offerings going forward.

There are many brands out there that are already leveraging the power of data to deliver personalized experiences to their shoppers. Saks Fifth Avenue rolled out a new tablet-enabled app to help their sales associates be seen as a customer’s “trusted adviser.” Early results showed that Saks generated $230,000 in sales from just one customer in five appointments set up by a sales associate.

Indigo, Canada’s largest book, gift and specialty toy retailer, has taken a similar approach and digitally transformed their in-store buying and checkout experience with a mobile app. Likewise, Bonobos uses its ‘Guides app’ as a key part of their customer engagement strategy. The app is armed with all the right customer information like purchase history and shopping preferences, enabling sales associates to make suggestions and help them find the right products to assist customers more effectively.

There’s no longer a distinct line between online and offline customer experiences. Taking principles from digital marketing services and continue to apply them to brick-and-mortar experiences can make all the difference to your bottom line.

5 keys to using CX as a Service to your retail advantage

Using CX as a Service to your advantage means finding unique ways to guide customers through the purchase process while in-store. This can be done in all areas of retail.

Take the educational sector, for example. Normally, parents would be rushing to the stores for back-to-school supply shopping this summer. But due to the pandemic, supplies and buying processes are changing.

Retailers have to adapt promotional offers to support shoppers regardless of whether learning takes place at home or in-school. Either way, 52% of parents plan to use curbside pick-up for their back-to-school shopping needs this year. And, according to an NRF back-to-school shopping update, 49% will make their final purchases one or two weeks before the start of the school year.

Learn more: Epsilon's strategy and insights services 


The school year is coming up quickly and retailers have to adapt as soon as possible to provide seamless experiences both online and in-store. To do this, we have to rethink the ways we use CX as a Service concepts to guide the Gen Z students and parents alike through their purchase experience. If we think about applying CX as a Service through the Pareto Principle where 20% of customers generate 80% of revenue, there are a few strategic thoughts you can apply to make your efforts successful:

  • Focus on the top customers: In case of your top customers who visit the store frequently, tracking their purchases to look for patterns would be a good start as you can target back to school promotions more effectively and make curated in-store upselling and cross-selling recommendations.
  • Keep coaching your frontline: Coach your store sales associates as customer experience guides. Get them to focus on actively showing interest in customer needs, wants and the overall journey to satisfaction to increase the likelihood of returning.
  • Make it easy to consume data: Look for ways to ensure the personalization data points can be easily interpreted by the store sales associate. They only have a few seconds to grab the customer’s attention, so you have to empower them to make the biggest impact.
  • Bring in the right skills: Hire store sales associates who demonstrate good listening, interpersonal and customer engagement skills—especially for Gen Z. The more your sales associates can connect with individual customers, the easier it will be to find additional ways to guide them through their shopping experiences.
  • Have fun: Last but not the least, in-store experiences should be fun and have a lasting impression. We all like to have a personalized touch to everything, but no one wants customers to feel uncomfortable. You have to strike a balance between helping and privacy.

These same points can apply to the wider world of brick-and-mortar retail. Leveraging digital marketing services to implement a CX as a Service approach gives you an opportunity to make the most of marketing technologies and maximize personalization.

It’s never too late to transform the ways you engage customers. When you do, you can unlock a multitude of benefits, such as upselling and cross-selling at specific touchpoints during the customer lifecycle, enriching their customer data to improve conversion rates and building valuable long-term relationships—just to name a few. This strategy has cross-industry, cross-vertical applicability, and is highly modular to say the least.

The potential of personalization lies in thinking about how you would like to be treated, rather than looking at it only from the customer’s lens. It combines relevance, value-based interactions and a hassle-free experience. And in the end, isn’t that what we all strive for?