CX expert predicts outlook for bricks and mortar brands in 2022

Customer experience industry expert Jill Spencer reviews the key challenges for brick and mortar based businesses and how they can ensure they’re front-and-centre in the hearts and minds of customers

What’s changed since the pandemic hit? Are in-location experiences still relevant?

Yes! At the onset of the pandemic, many experts predicted the certain death of the brick and mortar.

Yet despite multiple lockdowns, supply chain disruptions, and rising prices, brick and mortar sales actually rose throughout most of 2021. It’s clear that e-commerce, for all its benefits, is fundamentally different from in-store and in-restaurant experiences. Human beings still crave in-location experiences, pandemic or no pandemic. There’s a strong customer desire for socialisation and the need for tangibility – consumers still prefer to try before they buy for example and the online channel, even with virtual/augmented reality solutions, just cannot offer the same experience.  

At a brand level, fierce competition remains for share of wallet and loyalty. The last two years kickstarted several enduring trends, prompting brick and mortar retailers to expand their omnichannel presence and shopping options for customers. Such trends will undoubtedly continue but brands now need to do more to ensure they don’t lose customers in the coming months and years.

So can brick and mortar survive?

Absolutely. But the pandemic has left an indelible mark on shopper expectations, so brick and mortar retail must be agile in repositioning itself. By creating shopping experiences that engage and delight, retailers can be more certain of navigating successfully through a fast-changing retail landscape. Rather than thinking of face-to-face environments as a transactional space, they should be considered brand-building hubs by businesses that want to connect and resonate with customers to build market share.

What else do brands need to do differently?

Brands should think ‘Phygital’ (combining physical and digital experiences). By that, I mean that they should view all of their channels as a single ecosystem. Rather than opposing or distinct forces, phygital experiences use digital means to enhance the in-store experience and vice versa.

They must also appeal to customers’ new-found values and life priorities; Brands are facing intense pressure to stand for something bigger than the products and services they sell. Nearly half of Gen Y and Z state that they prefer brands that make them feel part of something bigger and connect people around common causes or beliefs. The way they treat their employees is increasingly important to customers too. Frontline workers today report facing numerous challenges, resulting in attrition and burnout. Customers will support brands that employ well-trained, good-natured, and motivated employees.

How important is customer experience in 2022?

Brands should be encouraged by the fact that customers continue to prioritise customer experience in terms of their likelihood to return to and recommend brands. And they’ll vote with their collective wallet even during a recession – with 86% stating that they’re prepared to pay more for a great customer experience. PwC research reinforces the notion that the provision of fast, friendly and knowledgeable service delivery remains the combined metric on which customers base their purchase decisions.

If you had to give one piece of advice to in-location brands, what would it be?

With more ways to consume products and services than ever before, customers don’t need to visit locations in person, so must be given a reason to. Brands should continue to refine and rejuvenate the in-location experience alongside a wider strategy. As customers continue to feel the pressures of life in 2022, they’ll seek out memorable experiences just as much as quality products to support their emotional and financial well-being.

Jill Spencer is associate director, at ReactCX. She has worked as a mystery shopping service provider at the senior level since 2000, having previously earned a strong reputation for expertise in the Customer Experience arena whilst working in varied and challenging roles for blue-chip retailers.
Jill was elected President of MSPA Europe/Africa from 2017-19 and Global Chair from 2019-21.

About ReactCX: ReactCX is an industry-leading mystery shopping research specialist providing customer experience planning, measurement and analysis services across all customer touchpoints. Their unique approach towards data collection produces high-quality data integrity which in turn allows clients to identify and boost revenue performance.