Do stores need to take shoppers on an ‘experiential learning’ trip to succeed?

Discussion
Photos: Glossier; Fabletics
Jun 24, 2021

A university study finds selling “deep” products at physical stores is a core builder of trust with customers and a primary reason digital native retailers open stores.

Researchers from Colorado State University, Amazon.com and Dartmouth College examined the role of physical stores in selling “deep” products. Researchers posited that products differ in the inspection depth customers require to purchase them. Deep, vs. “shallow”, products require ample inspection in order for the customer to make an informed decision.

Over the course of three studies, transactional data involving 50,000 customers showed that by using a “deep products in-store” promotional strategy to migrate new customers from a “low-value” to “high-value” states, average spending per trip increases by 40 percent, long-term sales increases by 20 percent and profitability increases by 22 percent.

Jonathan Zhang, a marketing professor at Colorado State University, said, in a statement, “The general lesson of our research is for retailers to create a concrete, tangible and multi-sensory experience for customers buying products that require this physical engagement.”

The authors suggested a number of steps for driving such “experiential learning” in physical stores:

  • Enhancing merchandising and training sales personnel to walk customers through a deep engagement experience can help customers try and use deep products in-store;
  • When a customer is found buying deep products online but their spending is decreasing in value, providing a promotion for deep products in-store can increase customer value;
  • A deep/offline onboarding strategy for new customers can be used to encourage first purchases to be deep/offline.

The research comes as digital-first retailers like Amazon, Warby Parker and Fabletics ramp up store expansion coming out of the pandemic.

Glossier, which shuttered its two permanent stores during the pandemic, just announced the opening of stores in Seattle, Los Angeles and London, with more planned. Glossier CEO Emily Weiss said in a blog entry, “Each of these stores is designed to inspire everyone to find joy and confidence in their personal beauty style, with a customer journey centered around self-discovery and belonging. People first, products second.”

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Is close product examination the primary benefit physical stores bring that the online shopping experience can’t match? How can stores do a better job of highlighting and enabling inspection depth?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"I will continue to believe that 'experiential learning' is deeper and more meaningful than 'screen learning.'"
"I’m sorry, deep products, shallow products? What? Yes, some items require more information than others but we’re talking about shopping here, not rocket science."
"Constant and consistent upskilling, training brand ambassadors on the latest and greatest products, and knowing the assortment deeply is how offline wins."

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13 Comments on "Do stores need to take shoppers on an ‘experiential learning’ trip to succeed?"


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David Naumann
BrainTrust

Depending on the product, deep product examination doesn’t necessarily require an in-store visit. For example, electronic products can be research extensively online with a wealth of technical details. Apparel, on the other hand, is a product category that is much more effectively examined in a physical store.

John Orr
BrainTrust

Agree David, 100%. Yet, the in person experience is more than deep product inspection. In addition to touching and feeling, there is the social experience and engagement experience. It is shown that there is a magic moment between the associate and the customer that drives experience and revenue. That engaged associate’s provision of caring from its employer makes all the difference. Optimizing engagement with traffic lifts sales anywhere from .5-3% overall due to improved optimization of coverage to demand in a traffic-based model.

  • .5 to 2% improvement in forecast accuracy
  • 1.3% conversion rate increase
  • 3% increase in average transaction<

So in store engagement starts with the right systems and culture of the retailer extended to the customer in store.

Liza Amlani
BrainTrust

A retailer’s distinction will always be in their product range, brand ambassadors, and the delight customers feel when engaging with the brand. Deep product knowledge is the first lesson of retailing and this is where chatbots will never take the place of amazing store staff. Constant and consistent upskilling, training brand ambassadors on the latest and greatest products, and knowing the assortment deeply is how offline wins.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

Whether digital natives operating a physical outlet or a CPG company selling products in a traditional brick-and-mortar store, there is an opportunity to drive product interactivity by combining the physical and the digital. For example, a quick QR scan should be able to tell information on nutrition, the brand story, how it is better than a competitor product sitting on the same shelf, uses of the product, etc.

Bob Phibbs
BrainTrust

I missed the difference between deep and shallow products. There are many ways to inspect items both online and off. I thought the upshot was going to be well-trained employees spending a bit of time with a customer resulting in greater attachment to the product and sales. Unfortunately this wasn’t written that clearly.

Rick Watson
BrainTrust

This sounds related to ownership psychology in retail marketing. If you can get a consumer to interact with your item, the value immediately increases as you go from “why would I ever want this?” to “can I afford to lose this?” in terms of your mind.

This is true even if the sales clerk can make you imagine owning the product. The psychology is exactly the same.

Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

I thought the key word in the whole article was “learning.” And I will continue to believe that “experiential learning” is deeper and more meaningful than “screen learning.” I also have to confess to my bias of Explore + Experiment = Experience. Digitally native brands are teaching us this lesson every day.

Bob Amster
BrainTrust

In the words of a world-class philosopher (my wife), “there is a cover for every pot.” While the store experience may be a must for certain categories – such as luxury – it is not essential in others. Retailers should not all feel pressured to offer an “experience” at every turn but some will improve their brand image and sales if they make their customers’ experiences fun, conducive to purchasing that additional item, and memorable in some way.

Georganne Bender
BrainTrust

I’m sorry, deep products, shallow products? What? Yes, some items require more information than others but we’re talking about shopping here, not rocket science. Some of these studies are getting ridiculous.

Onboarding customers? Offer a store tour if it’s necessary. People know how to shop. A strong, curated assortment, solid merchandising, and knowledgeable store associates can handle deep and shallow product or whatever the next study comes up with.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

I don’t want to sound like the old guy in the room, but this recalls sales trainings in which staff learned how to make the customer so smart and involved in the product that they just have to have it. This interaction was called — surprise surprise — “feature, advantage, and benefit selling.” After training associates with this strategy, customers are able to sell the item on the street to complete strangers. This same strategy can be created online.

Melissa Minkow
BrainTrust

I don’t think the primary benefit is close product examination if that’s all the physical store brings. In my opinion, there are three attributes brick-and-mortar brings that digital can’t at this moment. Being able to interact with the product in person is certainly one attribute, but knowledgeable sales associates that can answer the questions that pop up for shoppers *while* interacting with the product are also a key attribute. The third attribute is convenience. Until online delivery is within minutes, being able to leave with product immediately is a major benefit brick-and-mortar has over digital.

Though the physical store easily indulges these three attributes, the auto industry is an example of a vertical that has overcome the limitations of being completely conducive to brick-and-mortar only. The fact that consumers have been adjusting to and enjoying buying cars online demonstrates that shoppers can feel satisfied with inspection depth virtually.

Phil Rubin
BrainTrust
1 month 12 days ago

Close physical examination is no longer a prerequisite when it comes to purchases, from deep and considered through to shallow and risk free. While it helps – Theresa Mottoros, the former president of Macy’s used to say that merchants and especially customers have to “feel the merchandise.” Products from cars to soft goods to consumer electronics and eyeglasses are now sold digitally. It comes down to brand trust, customer advocacy (referrals and recommendations), humans who can relate and sell and, of course, the right goods and services. Consistently.

One lousy store experience can kill it all, as can one lousy digital experience.

RandyDandy
Guest
1 month 12 days ago
I agree with the others. This is a “study” in the obvious. Of course, the greater the knowledge of the staff along with showing customers details they will not have seen (or known about before coming in) will lead to greater sales and eventual brand loyalty. (To a point, and then some will just move elsewhere. Which is so “human”). Meanwhile, perhaps the more interesting study would be figuring out how many shoppers do due diligence before going in to certain stores, as between those that are the big (and, bless them, mainstream) stores vs specialty ones. My sense is that the majority of persons who walk into a Target (or Macy’s) assume/expect a (brand) item will be there merely to buy—and it’s mostly a matter of shopping convenience. But in shops that “specialize” in certain things, the visitor’s expectations very often come with some having done a bit of homework prior to their entering them: and they expect it to be acknowledged by staff reinforcing those pre-conceived notions. And for first-timers to those places:… Read more »
wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"I will continue to believe that 'experiential learning' is deeper and more meaningful than 'screen learning.'"
"I’m sorry, deep products, shallow products? What? Yes, some items require more information than others but we’re talking about shopping here, not rocket science."
"Constant and consistent upskilling, training brand ambassadors on the latest and greatest products, and knowing the assortment deeply is how offline wins."

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