How to Ensure a Top-Notch Customer Experience: A Guide for Brick & Mortars


If you know anything about retail these days, you know that customer experience is arguably the most important thing for brick & mortar retailers. A phenomenal customer experience leads to customer loyalty and sales. Customers live in a world where they have hundreds of options when it comes to buying a product, many of those options online and super cheap. Given that knowledge, as a brick and mortar store, you know you need to be able to set yourself apart.

How do you ensure your customer has a great customer experience? I would argue that a solid customer experience is about two things:

  • Meeting the customer’s base expectations. You have to do this. And you’re unlikely to get any love for it, either. The best “feedback” you want to hear is a customer not noticing that you’re meeting their expectations. After all, most people only notice when you’re not meeting their expectations.

  • Meeting the needs and desires customers didn’t even know they had. Here’s where you start to differentiate your brand. Providing customers with services they didn’t even know they wanted yet is how you dazzle them, how you get them talking about you. At the end of the day, meeting their unknown needs is really about doing a lot of small things – things that often don’t even require a big budget. Any retailer can do this.

These are really vague points, though. I get that it’s pretty difficult to implement those ideas. So keep reading and I’ll share with you a guide on how a store of any budget can create an amazing customer experience, from meeting expectations to exceeding them.

1. Ambiance is everything.

Your store ambiance is very important. Physical shopping is an immersive experience and you need to be sure that from the very first step in the store, your customer is getting an experience they enjoy.

If you don’t believe me that ambiance can be a complete make or break, check out Hollister and Abercrombie’s success in the early aughts. Both stores relied heavily on a teen-friendly ambiance for success: dark lighting, unforgettable (in a bad way) signature scent spritzed on everything, loud music, and literally stand out entries. The ambiance was all anyone could talk about: teens thought it was the height of cool, parents couldn’t think of a worse form of torture.

With that in mind, you’ll want to develop your full sensory experience. Naturally, you want to make sure that your store is clean, organized and well laid out. But beyond that, focus on:

  • Your music. What does your store sound like? Is it quiet? Is it popular music? Sad? Jazz? Don’t just pop on some music and call it a day. Take a look at your buyer persona and work with that to decide what your brand sounds like.

  • Lighting. Lighting makes a huge difference. It quite literally changes the way your product looks. (Remember The Dress?) At a clothing store, flattering lighting in the dressing room can go a long way to making customers feel both comfortable and attractive in your products. Lighting also affects the mood. Darker lighting may seem more romantic and private, a mood that could work really well for a women’s intimates store. Victoria’s Secret employs darker lighting for exactly this reason. A bright lighting can make your store seem awake and vibrant, which would be ideal for a plant retailer.

  • Scent. Many brands, beyond Hollister and Abercrombie, use signature scents. Most of these stores use them in relatively small amounts so they’re not overwhelming, rather than dousing their products in them like the aforementioned brands. When used carefully and correctly, a signature brand scent can help put a customer at ease and shop longer, while also connecting that scent to the memory of shopping with you.

While those are major areas to pay attention to, you’ll also want to pay attention to some small aspects of the physical experience:

  • Location of your store

  • Hanger type (wooden, plastic or metal?)

  • Fixture type

  • Pictures in your store

  • Design of your changing room

  • Checkout area (Many stores are leaning towards smaller checkout desks in accordance with the mobile POS takeover.)

There are certainly a lot of little details that go into designing a beautiful store. Don’t be afraid to get creative!

2. Build real relationships with your customers.

After stepping into your store, typically the next thing a customer will experience is your staff. Your sales staff has the chance to build a real, human relationship with each and every client. What an eCommerce company would give for that opportunity! Don’t squander it.

Building a relationship with a customer is more than just hanging out with the regulars, and it doesn’t just end after the sale. Building a relationship is an integral part of the sales process and typically requires training to do well.

Your sales people need to be given basic sales training that helps them know how to approach clients and ring them up. The training should also give extensive information about products so they can answer all questions. Beyond that, however, your sales people need to be trained in building trust with their customers and in active listening techniques.

Establishing trust between the salesperson and customer is the groundwork for building a good relationship.

To do this, your salesperson will have to clearly relay that they aren’t interested in selling as much as they can no matter what, but rather that they are trying to help the customer find the right solution to their problem. An easy way to do this is to be an active listener (put a pin in that). Another is to be honest. Customers value when salespeople are honest with them, in a constructive way. Here’s a little script I developed while working retail:

“I’m not sure that [product] is quite working for you. I think that this [product] may work a little better because it has [x,y,z]. Why don’t you try this and see if you like it any better?”

Granted, that script is best formulated for a clothing sales person, but it can be altered for any business. A garden supplies salesperson could say something like:

“I understand that this top soil may not fit your needs. What about this [cheaper] one? It has [x,y,z] that fixes your problem.”

A little bit of well-placed honesty shows the customer that you’d rather they leave with something that works for them than hitting your quota.

Active listening is a necessary tool for salespeople to establish trust and build relationships.

Active listening means listening, well, actively. Instead of standing there and waiting for someone to be done speaking, you actually think through what the other person is saying. Here are some specific aspects of active listening:

  • The most important aspect is to not latch onto what someone is saying, but rather to listen through their whole statement before forming a response. Once you’ve latched on somewhere, you’ve stopped listening.

  • After the person is done speaking, you respond with a brief summary of what the speaker said. This allows you to both take your time in forming a response, and it also allows you to ensure that you understood what the speaker said.

  • Active listening involves the whole body. Use body language both to encourage your mind to listen, and to show the speaker that you are listening. An open posture, smiling, and nodding are all strong body motions that show interest.

Why is active listening so amazing? A few reasons:

  • Active listening ensures that salespeople actually learn what it is the customer wants. It frequently helps even the least talkative customers open up.

  • Active listening helps to establish trust because it shows customers that the salesperson cares enough about them to listen.

  • Active listening can help calm angry customers, because, again, it shows the customer that the salesperson really cares about solving their problem.

Using these methods, your salespeople will be able to form strong relationships with each and every client that walks through the door. This will ensure that your customers feel comfortable and cared for.

3. Use the right technology for the job.

There’s a lot of retail technology available these days. For the most part, nearly everything in retail has some software that can either do the task or manage it. Except folding, unfortunately.

That said, you don’t want to just buy all the retail software and expect it to make things better. You want to make sure to purchase software as you know it will help you provide a better experience – whether the software is affecting the whole experience or providing a small, but dazzling, touch.

Here are some different types of software that companies use to create a stellar customer experience:

  • Mobile POS systems. mPOS is fairly new but it’s here to stay. mPOS helps salespeople provide far better experiences by allowing them to ring up customers anywhere in (or outside!) the store. mPOS also makes it easy to order items for customers from other stores or your online shop. The software is also newer and faster, which means it typically takes less time to ring a customer, search for merchandise, or pull reports.

  • Beacons. Beacons are trendy newer technology that companies place around their store. They communicate with the customer via Bluetooth to your app. Beacons allow you to provide navigation, discounts or product information to customers based on what they’re near.

  • Loyalty program technology. There’s no need to run a loyalty program through a key chain card anymore. Software these days allows you to create an app that customers can use to track points, rewards and more. Starbucks’ app is a good example of a fantastic loyalty app. The Starbucks loyalty app allows customers to purchase mobilely; pay with their phone in-store; collect and use points easily; and even play loyalty promotion games.

  • Email marketing software. Email marketing software helps you communicate with your customers, but more than that, there are many specialized solutions that help provide great retail experiences via email. For instance, flexEngage offers a solution that allows you to email dynamic receipts. These receipts can be used to provide various information and promotions that the customer didn’t know they needed. ProFireworks uses flexReceipts to deliver safety information about their products, as well as information on how to pick a good site to set off fireworks.

4. The experience doesn’t end at the door.

Don’t let your customer experience end at the door, even if you don’t have an online store. Here are some ideas for you:

  • Wrap purchases beautifully, so that customers can enjoy the beauty of your effort when they get home.

  • Email customers their receipts so that they don’t lose them or have them clutter up their bags. (Plus, as mentioned before, you can include helpful information in their emailed receipts that you can’t include on a paper receipt.)

  • Create a social media community, whether on Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook or wherever. You can share your customers’ photos, run contests, and make announcements via these channels. Customers don’t have to be actively purchasing from you to be interacting with you.

  • Send thank you notes. Having a salesperson send customers thank you notes, particularly after big purchases, is a good way for your salespeople to keep up their relationships once the customer has left the building. Salespeople may also consider sending birthday or condolence cards for more regular or valued customers.

  • Provide a generous return policy. It may seem counterintuitive, but a clear and easy returns policy can boost sales, by providing a resistance-free customer experience. A return policy of up to 3 months, with the receipt, for instance, allows customers to choose to return something that they realized they’ll never wear. Knowing that you care enough about them to want them to be fully satisfied over making a sale makes customers reciprocate. And giving someone an experience that is completely resistance-free encourages them to purchase from you in the future because they’ll assume it will be just as easy.


At the end of the day, a stellar customer experience is not about making big changes and grand gestures (unless your store is really outdated). It’s about meeting your customer’s expectations and doing a lot of small things that add up to something big. Surprising your customer with information where they didn’t expect it, thank you notes, and extravagantly packaged items, for instance, all add up to a flawless customer experience they won’t soon forget.