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Store Walk: Using Fresh Eyes to Review Your Customer Experience

When’s the last time you walked your store(s)?

Not just a superficial wander-through to make sure things are tidy and all the lighting worked, but a focused and purposeful journey that intuited what your customers thought and felt as they navigated your store. And how they judged your store and, therefore, your brand upon departure.

So, arm yourself with fresh eyes and consider these seven focuses for conducting a purposeful store walk that can yield insights that improve your overall customer experience.

Exterior: Allure and first impressions

First, there’s the drive-by. What do you see from your car, approaching from all possible directions? Does it match your goals for exterior signage and brand presentation?

While some brands aspire toward subtlety and even mystery — what does that cool-looking store sell? — most don’t. Know that 95% of customers consider a store’s exterior appearance an important factor when deciding on a place to shop.

Just as it does inside your store, everything matters: a view from adjacent roads, ease of entry into parking lot, parking lot navigation, signage, lighting and upkeep. What about the layout of your BOPIS area?

Your exterior represents the first impression that many shoppers have with your brand. Ensuring that you have a neat, inviting, well-branded and polished exterior is the first step to driving more foot traffic.

Entry: Providing immediate guidance and delight

Your entry area serves many purposes, and therein lies the challenge.

You want it to be impressive, purposeful and delightful. But not cluttered or overwrought. You also want it to offer a welcome and clear wayfinding for products, meeting the wants and needs of diverse customers. This includes those on focused, in-and-out trip missions and those who are unhurried and willing to engage with new products or promotions.

Further, entry displays and messaging are not static. They change for seasons and sales and parallel customer wants. But they also continue to serve the basic needs of entry — efficient guidance for customers with diverse paths to purchase.

An official planogram (POG) can help. It can serve as a visual diagram that shows merchandisers where to place rotating products, displays and signage within spaces that always serve wayfinding needs.

Superior wayfinding boosts sales in more ways than the obvious. Most shoppers enter a store seeking a time-efficient experience. Miller Zell research shows that shoppers who save time because of easy store navigation are often willing to spend extra time exploring and engaging other products.

Finally, entry areas often double as store exits. Your “Welcome” from one direction also says, “Thank you” and “Goodbye” from another. Understanding and accounting for this dual purpose, including checkout, means you focus on your customers from the beginning to the end of their journey inside your store.

Main store: Brand identity made clear

Store design serves multiple purposes beyond pure aesthetics. First, it guides with wayfinding and product info. Second, it aspires to present products in the ideal way, serving customer wants and needs while also promoting browsing and an increased basket size. Third, it engages with conscious and unconscious cues that elevate your brand and distinguish it from your competition.

As customers move from entry to their trip mission, they may know exactly where they need to go. Repeat and loyal customers typically won’t need a sign saying “coffee” or “laptops” or “dog food.” Other customers will need such guidance. Your signage, displays, fixtures and merchandising should aim to serve all customers, looking good while also being purposeful.

As you walk your store, shift between multiple types of customers. Simply getting a shopper to the right section/aisle within the store is not enough. The key to great navigational signage is to consistently present the shopper with the right type of information at the right moment in their journey. Even your loyal customers will need guidance at times, whether granular — where is the magnesium in the “Nutrition and Supplement” aisle? — or general.

An aisle that features 30 types of BBQ sauce needs some clear distinction when 10 types of teriyaki are mixed in. A pet food aisle with pictures of dogs, cats and fish, etc. helps customers turn immediately to the products they are looking for.

The cumulative effect of attractive and effective store design and signage? Customers connect your brand to a great in-store experience.

Digital: Serving all customers

Digital displays and kiosks, QR codes, in-store app use — these all can add to the customer experience. When you walk your store, engage with each and make sure it’s turned on and functional with updated content.

Why are we making this gee-whiz observation? Because if you visited 100 different stores, you’d encounter a surprising number that would fail this seemingly rudimentary test on some level.

Digital displays and highly functional omnichannel shopping are now critical parts of the customer experience. Digital provides impactful storytelling that cannot be evoked as potently from static print. It also yields a way to highlight multiple messages and offerings in a single location. From a shopper standpoint: 83% believe informative digital screens save time during shopping trips.

And Retail Media Networks (RMN) provide a new advertising and promotional revenue stream while also influencing customers’ purchase behavior and driving sales. According to a recent study, in-store retail media offers access to audiences an average of 70% larger than typical digital audiences.

On the negative side, in-store digital failures easily could end up going viral on social media. Regular store walks prevent that from happening.

Finally, train your store associates to help tech-reluctant shoppers to engage with your digital offerings. Just about every customer owns a smartphone, and just about every customer wants to save money. Make that connection with app use and loyalty programs. Show customers how QR codes, for example, offer easy access to extensive product information, as well as more product choices, coupons and delivery options.

Stores within a Store: Mutually beneficial brand partnerships

A store within a store, whether temporary or permanent, is a partnership between brands, typically in a high-traffic area, that may highlight value-added offerings, creating positive buzz — and sales — for both brands.

Stores within a store can provide brick-and-mortar space for direct-to-consumer or local products, as well as bigger brands experimenting with smaller footprints. They are not just stand-alone displays or concentrations of specific branded products. They also are a distinct area that transforms from one shopping experience to another, potentially offering appointments and/or services that seek to be intriguing and useful to existing customers.

If your store features one or a few, how do they look? How do they affect foot traffic? What’s your first impression — curiosity, delight or “ho-hum”? If there’s a sense of wasted space, then neither brand is benefiting.

Stand-alone displays: Small footprints, impulse sales

Engaging POP displays provide an opportunity to attract shoppers to a special offer or specific brand in your store. They can generate quick sales in a short period of time.  

Store walks should include an evaluation of placement, upkeep, relevance and a review of sales data. Is there a sales difference when product is displayed on an end cap or in a POP display inside an aisle? Does it support impulse purchase? Or inspire connected purchases from customers?

This evaluation, of course, includes your checkout area, where customers are seeking a pleasant and efficient pay-and-exit area while also being attuned to a last-second purchase.

Business values: Localized & charitable

Supporting the community where your customers live and charities your customers value is good business. Your stores can simultaneously aspire to increase revenue and act as a positive societal contributor. Both goals are not mutually exclusive.

Just as it is with products and promotions, this is about clear and effective communication. Featuring local products with distinctive and engaging displays? Celebrating community events that are important to customers and associates? Detailing measures your store takes to support sustainability? Authentically espousing values of civility, opportunity and inclusion?

These are elements that can be woven into your in-store communication, and — yes — you can be simultaneously authentic and strategic. It’s not about taping something to your storefront or tacking something to a corkboard in the back of your store.

As you walk the store, think about your customers and what you want them to know and why. You don’t browbeat, virtue signal or exaggerate. You communicate.

While shoppers typically lead with price and need, many also are intentional, particularly younger shoppers. They prefer to shop with brands that align with their values, so communicating that alignment with them will increase their loyalty and, yes, increase their purchases.