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In a Digital World, Play To Your Physical Experience Strengths

In 2021 more than 2.14 billion people worldwide are expected to buy hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods and services online, up from 1.66 billion in 2016, analysts say. Still, online represents a small percentage of total sales, just 10% and 8.3% in North American and Western Europe, respectively, 12% in Asia, and less than 4% everywhere else.

Wise brick-and-mortar retailers have not only embraced this shift, but have leveraged the new and enduring advantages of selling in the physical world, face-to-face, to other humans. As some retailers are demonstrating, technological advancements and creative approaches are making the trip to the store worth it for consumers and the retailers alike.  

Conferring and consulting with customers

Morten Schwartzmann is Nordic Productivity Manager at Elkjøp, a leading international electronics chain whose more than 400 stores span six countries. Since 2013 they have logged more than 60 million customer responses via the HappyOrNot solution. Elkjøp is known for competitive prices and has a robust online website, but it is their in-store experience that truly separates them from competitors. 

We recently asked Morten (Note! Access to his exclusive interview is available at the link below)—for all of the benefits of online shopping—what consumers give up if they only shop remotely. Immediately, he said they miss out on the expertise of trained professionals with the product options right there in front of them. 

“Most people already know what they want when they come to our stores,” Morten said. “Sometimes, though, through conversation they may find there is a TV that is better for them than the one they saw in an advertisement. They wouldn’t have realized that without seeing the product and conferring with a store associate.” 

In the end, whether a customer spends more or less than they planned, the most important outcome is that they go home happy with their selection.

Visibility and touch

Physical retail locations boost a brand’s visibility. And it seems counter-intuitive, but it’s not always in the best interest of the consumer or the retailer to think of stores solely as places to make sales. 

HappyOrNot Customer Experience Officer (CXO) Kirsti Laasio said, “We live in an experience economy where the stores can serve as a source of inspiration for consumers, a place where they can see, touch, feel and smell your products, and immerse themselves in all that defines your brand. But, yes, it’s also a place where you can combine products and services for upsells and cross-sells.”

The feel of a store can be a real advantage over online. In fact, Elkjøp not only strives to treat people like they are visiting a home, but to show them products in a home-like setting. 

“Since our stores are large you can see how a product might look in your living room or kitchen,” said Morten. “We are selling more products for smart homes, such as cameras and connected devices that can be operated by smart phones, like coffee makers. Our customers are able to see, with the guidance of our associates, how these different products work together.”

Taking this theme further, some retailers are testing exciting new technologies to make the trip to the store much more of an experience than a mere errand. 

A recent article on reports how some retailers are using augmented reality to connect the real world and the digital universe. For example, Farfetch has created the Store of the Future, an augmented solution for fashion retailers that uses data to enhance the in-store experience. This includes smart mirrors that enable shoppers — without leaving their dressing rooms — to request different sizes or alternative products, and even pay for their items. 

Kirsti said that, in the case of clothing and fashion stores, technologies like digital fitting rooms and virtual makeup mirrors give people a unique experience they cannot afford to have at home. They also give more introverted shoppers the time they need to shop on their own, she said. 

Shoe company TOM’s, the article continues, gives shoppers virtual reality tours of a village in Peru which has benefited from the TOM’s campaign to give a pair of shoes to people who need them for every pair purchased by customers. 

Ikea recently used a social media contest to bring 100 winners — out of 100,000 Facebook group members — to a warehouse in Essex, U.K., for a sleepover. Customers spent the night on mattresses, sheets and pillows they selected. They enjoyed manicures and massages. A celebrity read them a bedtime story. A sleep expert offered them advice. This is one of the innovative ways the global design company connects with customers, an effort that also includes HappyOrNot. 

Connecting the digital and physical channels, retailers can also increase inventory without adding storage space. Kirsti gave as an example a German sports equipment retailer that sells snowboarding helmets but does not have the capacity to carry all models and sizes. 

“This challenge inspired them to bring the digital element into their stores where customers can scroll through all the models and colors offered, and have the helmets shipped. This helps the company minimize inventory costs, increase basket size,  and better serve their customers,” Kirsti said.

Synchronizing bricks and clicks

Since Elkjøp operates a dual channel, we were curious as to how they ensure that the two complement one another rather than create dreaded channel conflict.  

“To do this you must make sure your marketing strategy for stores and online shopping are synchronized,” Morten said. “Our prices are the same in the store as they are online, for example. This is important to maintaining the trust of your customers. They must feel confident they are not being overcharged for a product just because they went to the store.”

Kirsti agreed. “All channels need to be aligned. Nothing is more frustrating as a customer than, for example, when you’re online for customer support and they tell you to call. Why isn’t there support right there, in that channel, when and where the customer is?” she asks. 

“Every single experience needs to be offered to the customer where the customer is at the time, not by sending the customer away to a different channel. That’s why a frictionless omnichannel approach and the merging of digital and physical is so important,” the HappyOrNot CXO said. 

Immediate customer insights

We wanted to know, with so many years of experience with HappyOrNot, what elements of the service stand out and how Elkjøp puts it to work. 

“The real-time aspect of the HappyOrNot service is something we rely on a lot,” Morten said. “We used to have to wait a day for feedback and we couldn’t react. Now we can turn a potentially bad experience into a good one.”

“We love when we get happy feedback,” he continued, “but we also are motivated by negative reviews. We see them as an opportunity to impress a customer right away. Not getting feedback is the worst, and getting it too late isn’t as useful. Now when we see an opportunity to delight a potential customer our teams are trained to grab it and take action. It’s a fun part of the job.”

Having a real-time feed of your customers’ satisfaction levels can also improve an organization’s operational efficiency and effectiveness. A dip in happiness might be tied to insufficient staff or inventory. It can point out the need for additional training, or improvements in store layouts and product presentation. 

“Don’t neglect the customer feedback you receive,” Kirsti said, “and don’t let it sit in isolation. Combine customer-generated experience data with operational data, like sales figures and inventory, to make informed decisions about your operation. When you identify a negative trend, generate a plan to turn the trend around.” 

Nurturing a CX mindset across your organization

To best take advantage of the in-store experience, Elkjøp works on the mindset of its employees as much as they do product and pricing knowledge. “We train our staff that their job is not just about making a sale, but treating people as a guest in our home,” Morten said. “We see the benefits of this approach reflected in our customer satisfaction ratings.” 

Kirsti added that customer focus must be a company-wide mindset. “Customer experience cannot be delegated to one department. From retail chain managers to store managers to the frontline professionals, customer feedback tools like the ones we offer at HappyOrNot have to be used as a way for teams to become better at their profession,” she said.

“Good customer experience does not happen by accident,” Kirsti continued. To become a customer experience champion, “You must make everybody accountable. You want to empower everybody. You want to make customer insights visible. This helps take you from a ‘sh*t happens’ organization to a ‘shift happens’ one.” This is how you become a CX management champion.

Morten said the HappyOrNot service helps make CX a company-wide effort.  “We also use HappyOrNot to improve training at Elkjøp, which employs more than 10,000 people. It helps us make sure employees are on the right path to providing customers the best experience they can. We communicate that it’s not just a machine, but a way to make you better at what you do,” he said. 

Exclusive Interview with Elkjop CTA

Key takeaways:

  • When you have them in your store, take the time to listen and understand your customers’ needs. Then use your product knowledge to guide them toward a solution that will delight them. 
  • Differentiate your product by developing a team mindset that is appropriate for your customers and your brand. If you’re selling home products, make them feel at home. 
  • Earn consumer trust by making sure the information they see online is in sync with what is in the store, starting with prices. 
  • Use real-time feedback to identify a customer who might be unhappy right now.
  • Leverage new technologies and innovative approaches to create a compelling and unique in-store experience, something consumers cannot get on their smartphone or laptop. 
  • Encourage your team to get excited by opportunities to turn a customer’s potentially bad experience into a great one. It’s like having a super power that tells you when someone really needs help — and you’re just the person to assist! 

Related reads:

Customer success story, Elkjøp

CX360 Leader Insights with Kirsti Laasio


  • Customer experience
  • Retail