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Transactions don’t win loyal customers, experiences do

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Retail buzz phrases swirl around like autumn leaves in a windstorm: omnichannel, customer experience, customer lifetime value, personalization.

It can be numbing — especially at the big retail tradeshows, where conversations are clipped, presentations are polished and time for contemplation is short. We got lucky. We found time to slow down at this year’s IRCE and talk to Bloomreach’s Chris Gardner about how those buzz phrases are connected, how one leads to the other and what it all means to retail enterprises.

Gardner, who manages strategic partnerships for the digital experience platform provider, shares some of his thoughts in the brief video interview below.

It’s Gardner’s little story that tells the big story. Consumers aren’t necessarily looking just for stuff. They want stuff, but they often want an experience to come with it. His example of REI is a telling one because the experience the outdoor retailer provides isn’t by accident. The retailer has been working on building memorable experiences for customers for years, focusing initially on seamlessly integrating mobile into the brick-and-mortar mix.

In our longer conversation, Gardner talked about how REI is able to provide that same rich sense of experience on its digital sites (the subject of a future Signifyd Ideas video). And it’s true. Visting the REI site is a lot like diving into a favorite magazine.

It’s loaded with gorgeous and meaningful videos, advice, maps, reviews, travel stories and, sure, stuff to buy, too. It’s the sort of site you could see yourself whiling away a Sunday afternoon reading.

Make the experience about the customer

REI makes the experience about you — not about REI. Like how? How about a home page feature, “Shop Your Closet,” that encourages readers to rifle through their closets before going out and buying more clothes — the idea being, maybe you already have what you need.

So great content, great experience, but why is that important for the business?

This is where we get to the part about how those buzz phrases are connected. Not surprisingly, as Gardner points out, a great experience is what makes customers want to return to a store or a site or both. He talks about his camping expedition and how he outfitted himself and his family at REI.

When Gardner walked into the store, he could see himself at Yosemite taking in some of the world’s most beautiful scenery. He knew what he’d need to enjoy the trip to its fullest. The store was a place he wanted to be.

After the shopping excursion he took to prepare for his outdoor excursion, REI wasn’t finished providing an experience. The store emailed him with inspirational stories about what to do at Yosemite. REI sent hiking recommendations and suggested spots where Gardner, a photography enthusiast, might want to take pictures.

“It was incredible because I felt that from a digital perspective, an omnichannel perspective, they got me,” he said. “It wasn’t just buying the products and ‘see you later.’”

Needless to say, Gardner is a fan. He will provide REI with customer lifetime value. Sure, he said, he could certainly shop for camping gear on Amazon or elsewhere. He could probably find a better price. But in the end, he added, it’s worth it to him to get what he needs and an experience from REI.

It’s certainly something to think about for retailers, who think plenty about what it costs to acquire a customer. And now, listening to Gardner, you’ve got to believe that more retailers will be thinking just as much about what it takes to keep one.

Photo by Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike Cassidy

Mike is the head of storytelling at Signifyd. A former journalist and a retail geek, he covers ecommerce and the way technology is transforming digital commerce. Contact him at [email protected]