The vast majority of retailers say that they need to reduce in-store friction in order to attract and keep customers on the high street, according to new research from Qmatic. The survey finds factors such as stock availability, waiting in line too long, congestion caused by other customers, and not being able to locate staff assistance, could drive existing and new customers away if retailers cannot improve the in-store experience.

The research, commissioned by Qmatic and conducted by Vanson Bourne, discovers 98 per cent of retailers agree that their stores need to reduce friction along the customer journey, with 82 per cent stating that customers demand a ‘five-star’ experience, and will shop at a rival if the retailer in question cannot provide it.

When it comes to friction points, sometimes customers are frustrated enough to make formal complaints. Most complaints centred around the volume of people in-store, or the individual not being able to find something they wanted. Half (51 per cent) of retailers say that more customers would return if they were able to remove these common friction points, with half (50 per cent) saying that it would also produce happier employees. Just behind this, 48 per cent think a smoother in-store customer journey would attract new customers. Further, 40 per cent of retailers argue reducing friction would persuade more customers to buy, and 30 per cent believe it will encourage consumers to buy more than they had intended to.

Vanessa Walmsley, managing director of Qmatic UK Ltd, comments, ‘A seamless service means a competitive edge, and this was acknowledged by those who took part in our survey. As consumers, we all feel friction points in the shopping journey; friction when searching the store for what you want, or when there’s high volumes of other customers at peak times, including long lines to pay, return items and click and collect.

‘This can all negatively impact your day. The more that retailers can do to make it easy for consumers to self-serve product information in-store, connect to the help they need, and reduce waiting times – or at the very least the perception of waiting times – will reduce this source of friction and increase customer satisfaction.’

Most respondents (40 per cent) say they had received a complaint about a lack of a desired type, size or colour of item in-store, with 37 per cent saying they had received complaints about waiting too long in queues, and 32 per cent of stores had complaints about the store being too busy and congested.

Finding staff to talk to was also a common issue, with 32 per cent of retailers stating that the customers could not find a helpful member of staff when needed, 29 per cent say complaints focused on a lack of product/service knowledge from employees, and 27 per cent say grievances had been raised against waiting too long to speak to a member of staff.

Walmsley adds, ‘Somewhat ironically, congestion also affected the ability to improve the customer experience, as stores getting too busy at peak times to think about the customer experience was voted the biggest challenge, with 41 per cent of the sample agreeing.

‘There is also a challenge around a lack of support from the top. A quarter (27 per cent) said the budget wasn’t enough to improve the customer experience, 23 per cent admit that business leadership is not prepared to invest, and 17 per cent said that staff are not trained to use the in-store technology solutions designed to help manage the customer journey.’

Walmsley concludes, ‘Ultimately, removing sources of friction are a priority for retailers, and not only can it make stores more profitable, but it can open up a whole world of opportunity for technology enablement, such as self-service kiosks for click and collect or returns, or simply stock checking, and leveraging smartphone use for a smoother, personalised service. With 58 per cent of total sales coming from the bricks and mortar store, and 40 per cent saying that their stores will be just as important, or more important in 2030 as they are now, it is the right time for boardrooms to get behind the high street.’

Further reading on customer experience

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