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Whether online or physical, all shoppers follow the same retail customer journey.

The first step is creating Awareness. Simply letting prospects know you exist and what you stand for. – the brand promise. For many businesses, it is a logo, a tagline and an address repeated in as many channels as possible. Awareness is required to even be a part of a customer’s consideration set when they are ready to make a purchase.

The second step is Trial. A promotion or a convenient location spurs Trial. A promotion is the reason to come into the store NOW. Coupons, special sales, limited time offers create urgency and a call to action to get customers to open the door. Online, it can be a promoted link in a social media post. Once inside, your brand comes alive. Greeting the customer, offering helpful advice, a clean environment, a straightforward check out and sincere appreciation combine to determine whether the customer will wish to repeat the shopping visit.

After a successful Trial is Repeat.Over and over. For customers, a satisfying first visit leads to second or third visit only if each trip is consistently appealing. For products with long purchase cycles, the time between visits can be weeks or months. In furniture, it can be years. So that impression in the store must be long lasting. A customer is considered to be in the “repeat” phase for as long as necessary until the customer would say that ABC Store is the ONLY store I go to for my ABC supplies. To keep customers in the Repeat cycle, retailers usually continue the promotions that have worked in the past.

A Loyal customer only considers one store to shop for their needs. One “brand” if you will. They have had such pleasant and consistent experiences, that choosing which store to visit is no longer a decision. Many brands get to this stage if you think about your own personal favorite brands of toothpaste, deodorant, coffee or shampoo.  The decision to buy them is automatic.  It is more about refilling the product rather than deciding which product to buy. Similar relationships exist in retail when a customer builds a relationship so deep that they literally think of their grocer or bakery as “my bakery” instead of “the bakery.”

At the final step, Evangelist customers are your best marketers. They are the people who recommend your store, tell their friends about it and enthusiastically endorse your business. Clever marketers push loyal customers to become enthusiasts by offering incentives to “like us on facebook”, “review us on yelp” or give special friends and family coupons to loyal customers to share out.

But a misstep along the line and customers move backwards in their journey. It is why stores that were once popular wane.  When “the service isn’t what it used to be” or “they never have what I want in stock” loyal customers may move all the way back to the first step. They become a “lapsed customer.” Fundamentals that do not meet expectations can ruin years of customer development along the path.  Retailers need to realize that the retail customer journey is not just the elements outside the store that bring a customer to a store, but the entire journey inside as well.