Calculating the ‘Wow’ Shopping Experience

Discussion
Jul 15, 2009
Tom Ryan

By Tom Ryan

A new Wharton survey
found that 35 percent of shoppers have had a "Wow" experience
recently. But it also revealed that as many as 10 different elements have
to occur simultaneously to make one happen and it’s a bigger challenge
for larger chains.

The online survey of
1,006 shoppers in the U.S and Canada asked: "Can you think of a shopping
experience that you had in the past six months or so that was especially
great, in that the experience created delight and surprise for you in any
way?"

The report, titled "Discovering
‘WOW’ — A Study of Great Retail Shopping Experiences in North America," pointed
to five underlying areas that contributed to a great shopping experience:

  • Engagement: being polite, genuinely caring and interested
    in helping, acknowledging and listening.
  • Executional Excellence: patiently
    explaining and advising, checking stock, helping to find products, having
    product knowledge and providing unexpected product quality.
  • Brand Experience: exciting
    store design and atmosphere, consistently great product quality, making
    customers feel they’re special and that they always get a deal.
  • Expediting: being sensitive to customers’ time on long
    check-out lines, being proactive in helping speed the shopping process.
  • Problem Recovery: helping
    resolve and compensate for problems, upgrading quality and ensuring complete
    satisfaction.

The researcher found
that retailers can focus on creating a "bedrock," or
platform, based on the five major pillars of retail satisfaction to increase
the probability of creating a
"Wow" experience.

In all, however, respondents
mentioned 28 distinct elements for creating a great experience, such as
salespeople who "immediately acknowledged you" or "could easily
explain a product to you" or
"seemed genuine." As much as ten needed to occur
simultaneously to make a "Wow" experience.

"Peoples’ expectations
are pretty high. It’s easy to [fall short of those expectations], and hard
to eclipse [bad experiences, even] with something that’s over-the-top," Wharton
marketing professor Stephen Hoch told Knowledge@Wharton.
"Bitching and moaning is more common than praise."

The report also found
that creating a "Wow"
experience is tougher for larger chains than smaller chains because many
stores tend to look the same and even offer a similar shopping experience.

"Most chains are
cookie-cutter," said Prof. Hoch.
"Even if the stores themselves are different from each other, the same
store is in every mall. It’s probably a lot easier for a small merchant to
provide this brand experience. Unfortunately, if people see the same look
over and over again, they find it mundane."

Discussion Question: Do you think larger stores have a chance to create
a "Wow" experience? What do
you think are some critical elements underlying an extraordinary shopping
experience?

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25 Comments on "Calculating the ‘Wow’ Shopping Experience"


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Kevin Graff
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Look at the list of factors contributing to a “Wow” moment and you’ll quickly discover that most of them involve the front-line staff stepping up and doing the job right. Customers are more knowledgeable and (rightfully) demanding than ever before, so the pressure is on the front-line staff to perform better. This isn’t purely the domain of small independents (however, they may have a small edge).

Retail chains can meet the service challenge, and at the same time differentiate themselves within the sea of sameness that surrounds most malls and power centres. What it takes is a commitment to doing a better job hiring, training, coaching and managing staff performance. It’s not rocket science, and it can be done. We see performance improve for our clients when they do these things right. The key is to stop talking about it, and start doing it.

Marc Gordon
Guest
Marc Gordon
11 years 10 months ago

I think this article just reinforces the sorry state of customer care when it come to retailers. All five of these “pillars of retail satisfaction” should be the norm, not the exception. No wonder people are wowed when a salesperson is knowledgeable, or they’re made to feel special.

Retailers should not see this report as a benchmark to aim for, but as a minimum standard that should be met everyday with every client.

Dick Seesel
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Let’s face it…there are so many factors included on the “Wow” list that a company needs to have all of these elements ingrained in its culture in order to execute them. These should seem like subconscious “second nature” in order to come across as genuine.

It’s likely in today’s retail climate of big-box chains and standardized processes that the “Wow” experience is a rare one. Most customers would be pleasantly surprised to encounter a service-focused mentality today, even expressed in the form of efficient checkout lanes or no-hassle return policies. Hitting all the points on the checklist is retail nirvana…and frankly the list is more focused on service than merchandise content, anyway.

Max Goldberg
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

The five underlying areas that contribute to a great shopping experience are not new. They can be offered at a chain retailer as easily as a mom and pop shop. It all comes down to treating a customer with respect, a topic we have frequently discussed in RetailWire columns.

If a retailer makes customer service a cornerstone of its core story and brand identity, and lives by that tenet from sales associate to CEO, there is no reason why WOW experiences cannot be delivered on a daily basis. Nordstrom and Trader Joe’s excel at this.

Too often retailers talk the talk but do not walk the walk.

Bill Robinson
Guest
Bill Robinson
11 years 10 months ago

WOW happens. It can be orchestrated. Smart retailers can dedicate themselves to operational excellence, outstanding inventory management, and employee motivation. These things create the atmosphere where WOW can flourish.

Can large stores and national chains achieve the WOW factor? Of course. But it becomes more difficult when institutional ennui sets in. Front-line people have difficulty with operational excellence because the management above them is constantly cutting expenses. They can’t achieve outstanding inventory management because the decisions are made elsewhere. And the actions for excellent customer service are unknown or misunderstood by management.

This is why well-niched, independent stores are entering a golden era in retailing. Shoppers like to be WOWed. They know their chances are increased with a store that is focused on them, not their shareholders.

Susan Rider
Guest
Susan Rider
11 years 10 months ago

Absolutely, larger stores probably have an advantage because they have the capital to train, reinforce, train and incent. The engagement and execution is a discipline. A constant, ever-evaluated discipline that should be affirmed and reinforced internally with more training and incentive programs with recognition and clarity. Retailers that understand this will be able to create “WOW” experiences. They should have a VP of Customer Experience. Someone watching, evaluating and creating WOWs!

Carol Spieckerman
Guest
11 years 10 months ago
I think that the Wharton study’s pillars cover the bases of possibilities and desired states; however, “WOW” experiences are contextual and situational based on pre-set expectations and shopper need states. When I go into Urban Outfitters or Sephora, I expect to be greeted and assisted with my shopping needs because these retailers set those expectations with me years ago. In Walmart, I expect to be greeted (after all, they do have the “greeter” thing down) but am pleasantly surprised if I’m assisted with my shopping. If I’m not assisted, it doesn’t register as an anomaly or offense. On a few occasions at Walmart, I’ve been assisted by associates in consumer electronics that were quite knowledgeable and who went above and beyond. That alone made those trips a “WOW” experience because of the overall lowered expectations. I think that part of Target’s suffering could be attributed to this expectation vs. reality conundrum. The first four pillars are uniquely expected of Target in the mass space; however, I’ve never had more than one of them met while… Read more »
Bob Phibbs
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

These seem to be the basics, not the exception. That the other side of 65% didn’t have a WOW experience shows how easy it is to stand out from the rest.

Ron Margulis
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

One thing missing from the list is acknowledgment. Acknowledgment is one of the key factors that can get a shopper thinking about the next trip to the store. It is a confirmation of everything positive that went on during the store visit and an opportunity to resolve any issues that resulted in that visit. A simple follow-up email (Apple does this beautifully) or a coupon or a note the next time there’s a promo on something bought (or should have). It can mean a lot to the shopper. Think about it. A retailer sees that a customer shops the store every three weeks for a year and then there is nothing for two months. Is it a lost customer? Someone away for a holiday? How do you get that person back to the store? Acknowledge that the shopper is important and make an offer.

David Biernbaum
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Except for a few exceptions, most retailers are moving further away from creating WOW experiences. Instead, many retails chains that compete are offering consumers the “ME TOO” experience. So much so that it’s difficult for a consumer to know which store she’s shopping because most carry almost exactly the same product assortment, at nearly exactly the same prices, with almost exactly the same promotions almost exactly at the very same time, and most stores now have very similar schematics and planograms, and even the same color schemes on the signs and the walls. I think all the chain drug stores ought to simply merge and become one; and many of the supermarket chains ought to do the same. Otherwise, what’s the point?

Marge Laney
Guest
11 years 10 months ago
The author is correct in his analysis of the five points that drive an exceptional experience. He gets mired, however, in the twenty-eight distinct elements that are just a subset of the five points. Once a retailer has defined a great “brand experience” it’s all about execution which is all about hiring, training, and tools. Many of the retail associates tasked with delivering the WOW were hired simply because they were customers. This in itself is not bad, but when the vetting stops there it can lead to poor and inconsistent execution. The “bedrock” of the retail experience is the sales associate whose job it is to deliver that exceptional experience. Selection and training of the sales associates should be as comprehensive as any corporate hire as they are where the rubber meets the road in delivering the brand experience. Make no mistake, engagement, or lack of, between the sales associate and the customer drive conversion, loyalty, and everything in between. Being “cookie-cutter” is not a bad thing unless the experience stinks. Consumers find comfort… Read more »
Matthew Spahn
Guest
Matthew Spahn
11 years 10 months ago

Consistency will be the biggest challenge for larger chains. Creating a Wow experience begins with the Sales Associate and the quality of each Associate will vary from location to location.

The table stakes these days are an exciting in-store environment, quality merchandise at great prices that is in stock and good customer service.

Graduating to a Wow experience requires that Sales Associates deliver expert knowledge of product assortment, a desire to make the customer happy at any cost and delivering on the promise.

Recruiting, training and incentive structures that motivate Associates are a great place to start.

Cathy Hotka
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

I’m with Marc Gordon. Given the number of shopping experiences each adult has every week, only 35% of shoppers say they had a wow experience recently?

Among other things, the report highlights how much more purchasing households would do if they had a better experience in the store.

John Boccuzzi, Jr.
Guest
John Boccuzzi, Jr.
11 years 10 months ago
What’s exciting about this study is the opportunity for retailers to achieve great results through very simple and inexpensive solutions. None of the five pillars mentioned are very expensive to implement. Training your employees and incentivizing them on the importance of customer experience is a quick way to get noticed and differentiate yourself from your competitor. Walmart has their greeter, but I still struggle with the overall shopping experience at Walmart. When you shop a Meijer store, for example, you can feel and see the difference. Clean format, easy-to-read signs, outstanding and helpful employees, great private label brands and competitive pricing. Customers need more than just low price and this survey supports that conclusion. Another great example of a retailer that reinforces the impact of the 5 pillars is Stew Leonard’s, a local East Cost supermarket. They have very limited assortment, but the traffic through the store is impressive. More impressive is the average market basket at Stew Leonard’s These two retailers are great examples of delivering the “WOW” experience to customers on a regular… Read more »
Gene Detroyer
Guest
11 years 10 months ago
Perhaps, I am a cynic. Professor Hoch says “People’s expectations are pretty high.” Mine aren’t. I really don’t expect much from retailers and anything positive is a surprise. A few months ago I wrote of the “WOW!” experience I had at The Container Store. I think that qualifies as a large chain. My most recent “WOW!” was at Home Depot. I had to buy 4 things all in completely different parts of the store. The first person I met directed me to the first item. After finding the first item, I asked for help on the second, etc. I interacted with 4 different people. Each was very friendly and helpful and directed me precisely to the items I was looking for, even if it was out of their department and at the opposite end of the store. Then I used the self check-out. It was a quick and mindless exercise. That is the way all shopping should be, and that experience can be fostered by large stores and large chains if they desire.
Jeff Hall
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Larger stores and brands certainly have the opportunity to create “WOW” experiences, provided commitment to doing so flows throughout the organization from the highest level. The key is in hiring to and building a culture which empowers every frontline associate to deliver an intentional, consistent customer experience based on these five basic pillars of experience success.

Lee Peterson
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

IKEA, as a big box, hits on all cylinders, I believe. Unquestionably though, Apple’s customer experience is unmatched for specialty retail. Tough to match that experience. They create a wow every time and appear to have fun doing it. There’s also a local restaurateur here in Columbus–Cameron Mitchell–whose philosophy, “The answer’s ‘yes’, what’s the question?” has created a wow experience for anyone who’s been to his concepts (try Marchella’s the next time you’re in town). In summary, those pillars are all great to know, but if your customer service is incredible (engagement?), the others tend to pale.

Phil Rubin
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

Maybe I’m cynical but this is somewhat surprising on two fronts:

1. 35% is higher than I’d expect. The bar in terms of retail customer experience is incredibly low and perhaps this accounts for such a number. That said, the majority of customers still have not had a “wow” experience, illustrating what kind of opportunity there is to serve and build relationships with customers.

2. “Wow” is now defined as executing the fundamentals. How sad is that? In the loyalty marketing space there’s always talk about creating “wow” and implementing surprise & delight strategies. As an old colleague once said, “It’s not how good we are but how bad everyone else is!”

Ralph Jacobson
Guest
11 years 10 months ago

As with everything in life, I try to keep this simple. We can over-analyze this, and most of us already have. Think of your own WOW shopping experiences. More often than not it includes a human interaction, not just the product, price or promotion. Ones that come to mind for me immediately are The Apple Store when an associate walked up to me to help me find something, found it, asked me if I’d like them to ring it up on their handheld POS, and then asked me if I’d like them to email me the receipt. Cool! And they even got my email address, however I never got any spam from them.

Bottom line, if you demand that your store employees talk to everyone they come within four feet of, life will improve dramatically for the company.

Sandy Miller
Guest
Sandy Miller
11 years 10 months ago

While customer service is, of course, a key component to the shopping experience, what shoppers really want is information. Studies are verifying that again and again. The sales associate is typically that source of information – locating merchandise, directing shoppers, expediting checkout. Unfortunately, in this economy retailers are pressed to find alternatives to the sales associate. Cutting the head count without replacing that source of information is how you get 65% of people dissatisfied with your store.

Strong visual messaging is a viable alternative that (1) helps shoppers find what they want, (2) provides reason-to-buy information and (3) promotes cross selling suggestions. When used properly, with intent and with the shopper in mind, visual messaging can bolster the shopper’s perception of the store experience, especially in a larger store.

Ted Hurlbut
Guest
Ted Hurlbut
11 years 10 months ago

To me, the bar for “Wow” is set pretty high. It’s more than the difference between meeting expectations and exceeding them. Meeting expectations is simply not having anything go wrong. It’s not a high standard, but for many retailers the track record is pretty spotty. Exceeding expectations is having a truly positive experience. For most chain retailers, this is about as good as they can get.

A “Wow” experience, however, is way beyond expectations, it’s an experience that captures your imagination and leaves you talking about it afterward. This is simply out of reach for many chains, because in striving for consistency they eliminate the possibility to surprise. Breaking the mold on this kind of scale can be a risky, not to mention an expensive, proposition.

From my experience, most “Wow” experiences come from independents who have created something unique and memorable around the vision and passion of an innovative and dynamic founder.

That makes “Wow” an aesthetic to strive for, but that will rarely be fully achieved or experienced.

Terry Scott
Guest
Terry Scott
11 years 10 months ago

Engagement is definitely the starting point of any retail WOW experience. Being located in a small town environment with repeat customers a must, finding the right person who will simply engage conversation and offer suggestive selling is the key. Finding that one “right person” can make or break you. “Personality Plus” wins out every time.

Second would be Brand knowledge, knowing your inventory and what that repeat customer might be looking for.

I do realize that I expect a whole lot more service and engagement from a Macy’s than I would a TJ MAXX, but the rules of engagement remain the same: Talk to your customer, get them involved, know your inventory, and check them out quickly.

It is still a people business!

Bob Livingston
Guest
Bob Livingston
11 years 10 months ago

The report states that if a consumer experiences 10 of the elements from the 29 mentioned above during the same trip, you have a WOW experience. Now this list is relatively uncomplicated; it suggests caring, being in a moment, putting the customers first, listening to them, anticipating their needs, satisfying them…. In some ways, quite simple. However, if it is that simple, why is service so bad and why do only 35% of the shoppers studied by Verde experience a WOW at retail in 6 months?

Service is in theory simple. But the nation’s inability to provide this relatively uncomplicated interaction is complex and thus the wonderment.

Mark Price
Guest
Mark Price
11 years 9 months ago
Ultimately, what we are seeking from relationships, both in stores and in the rest of our lives, is authenticity. We want people who care for us in stores to be genuine, who they really are, and to do their best for us, as they would for anyone whose relationship they value. Now, sometimes authenticity is not enough, if you are authentically annoyed at a customer, or at the company, it will only serve to compound the issue. That is true. But the point is that Wow customer experiences come from the inside-out, not the reverse. The company must first start out to admit the centrality of customer service to their mission and their success. Otherwise, any efforts from headquarters will just ring untrue. Then the company must make the hard decisions, and invest in delivering an outstanding experience. Part of the hard decisions is the decision to trust the line employees. Many of my clients have reacted cynically to the need to empower their floor staff. The effort is usually dead at that point. The… Read more »
Scott Knaul
Guest
Scott Knaul
11 years 9 months ago

Customers are looking for value right now. Value is the product of price, experience and quality. Everyone is looking at price right now but the retailers that can weather the economy should be looking at the experience in store. They will capture long term customers that will be loyal to them. The “wow” experience is out there but it can’t just be manufactured. It has to be promoted and rewarded by the company.

You can only go so far in training for positive client interactions; the “wow” factor is delivered by the talent you put in your stores.

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