Recently a fellow retail blogger and researcher, Tim Manners from The Hub Magazine, asked people a very basic question: Are you satisfied or not with your shopping experiences?  Then he broke that down into shopping for Groceries, Pharmacy, Shoes, Banks, Wine, etc.  Turns out the most satisfying shopping is for Books – where 83% of the people say it is a satisfying experience.  (Comments say there’s a lot of love to go around for Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Independent booksellers and even the Quality Paperback Book Club!) Least Satisfying: Toys – with only 20% of all people surveyed giving it a Satisfying passing grade.  Toys fared even worse than Cars (at 24% satisfactory!)  Among the comments on Toys was “Toys ‘R’ Us should be a great place where kids should be dying to go. Instead, it’s pretty much a messy warehouse that’s poorly organized. So, why make the special trip?”  Indeed, that is the question for all brick & mortar retailers to answer: “Why make the special trip?”

    And that is what customers want from their in-store experience.  Make the store a special place they want to go. Offer an experience that rewards them and make them value their time in the store.  There was lots of talk about the kind of attention they want from salespeople, but mainly “you should feel better about buying something in a store, if the experience is right, and not wish you had just bought the thing on-line.”

    If you’ve read my last two posts “Best Buy: a Retailer Loses its Way” and “5 Retail Strengths You Must Have,” you know that Convenience, Selection, Price, Experience and Service are the levers retailers have to differentiate their brand and become long lasting.  If you can get Convenience online (Sorry, Walgreens, but shopping in my bathrobe is even more convenient than in your store on every corner in America – you are just lucky the laws require me to come in for Pharmacy orders.) If you can get Selection online (Amazon, anyone?) If you can get Price online (I don’t know anyone under 35 who doesn’t use  Then what are brick and mortar stores for if not Experience and Service?

    And that is exactly what the survey respondents said they want in their brick and mortar experiences.  From Cars to Jewelry to Pet Supplies, they physically go to stores to be entertained, to be educated, to be surprised and to feel valued. Under and behind every comment was a request to be personally acknowledged, valued and appreciated. To have interactions with displays or with people who would broaden them and take them from shopper to buyer – without remorse.  The retailers who do that are rewarded with loyalty and sales.

    Clearly, with over 21 square feet of retail space in America for every man, woman and child in this country, we will have brick and mortar stores for the foreseeable future.  People say they do value a well conceived and executed store.  But, increasingly, those stores need to focus on the experience their shoppers are having (with the environment AND the associates working in the stores) and exceed their service expectations (which are ridiculously low in most cases) to decimate competition.  Retailers who are afraid of the online competition of web stores need to remember what they have that no online experience can replicate: human contact.