Podcast #139: How to Reimagine the Retail Experience

It’s bargain basement day on the CXM Experience as we look at two recent brick-and-mortar retail adventures. Both positive (or, at least, mostly positive), and both excellent examples of the value of the shopping and checkout experience. It doesn’t have to be fancy, as long as you put the customer first.

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Welcome to another episode of the Unified-CXM Experience. As always, I am Grad Conn, your host, CXO, chief experience officer at Sprinklr, and NYSC listed company, under the ticker symbol CXM.

Alright, so I want to talk about customer experience from the standpoint of, it doesn’t always need to be super fancy, or super hard. So I’m going to talk about dollar stores and Walmart. And, you know, in both cases, they’re categories I’ve not had a ton of experience with prior to moving to the US. Even after I moved to the US, it was not part of the way that I shopped or lived. So only recently, maybe in the last year or two, that dollar stores entered my life, maybe in the last year, actually. And then Walmart is very recent, I’ll talk a little bit about why there as well.

I think you all know what dollar stores and Walmart are, I’m gonna make an assumption, although maybe in some countries, you may not know what they are. And just for the benefit of those folks, I’m going to spend a moment on what dollar stores are in a moment on what Walmart is.

So dollar stores are actually one of the fastest growing and most successful segments of the US retail industry, which I’m not sure I really knew that. And these are, you know, stores that sell inexpensive items. They’re price point driven retailers, and in many cases they sell at a single price, I’ll have a very funny story about that in a second. There are over 34,000 dollar stores across the United States. And two of the bigger players are called Dollar General, and Dollar Tree. And they are featured in the rankings of the leading American retailers. So a very successful strategy.

So I went into my first dollar store, probably, oh, maybe January of this year. And I had moved to Florida, and there was a Dollar Tree nearby. And my lovely fiancé, Rachel is a huge dollar store fan. And she talks about them all the time. And so I was like, okay, you know, dollar store, whatever. I had  sort of a loose understanding of what the dollar store was, but I just seemed like a place for a lot of cheap stuff to be and I didn’t have the need to buy a lot of cheap stuff. And I didn’t see why we would need to go in there. And Rachel kept saying, we gotta go in, we got to go. No, you gotta try this out. You’re gonna love this. Yeah, check this out. You gotta check this out. And finally, we go into Dollar Tree.

So we walked in, and I was like, okay, well just looks like I know, mid 70s BiWay. You know, if you’re Canadian, you’ll know what I’m talking about. Or maybe a mid-70s, Kmart, or a mid 80s BiWay, that’s probably the way I would describe it. And yeah, it was like, you know, not crazy attractive, and the cashiers seem to be behind glass and the shopping carts, they’ll have little sticks on them so they couldn’t get lost in the store. And it was like fairly utilitarian. I mean, it looked okay.

And I’m walking around. And I see… Easter was coming. And so I saw an Easter item. And I said to a clerk, I said, can you just help me for a second? She said, Sure. How much, how much is that basket? She looked at me kind of quick. And she said, it’s $1. I said, Okay, great. Oh, interesting, exactly the same price as the name of the store. And so I walked around a little bit more, and I saw something else was pretty cool. And I said, How much is that item? And the next clerk sort of looked at me with a bit of a weird look on their face. And they said it’s $1. And I was like, Well, how about this item over here? And she looks at me, and goes, a dollar. And I said, this here? And she starts speaking really slowly. Because she obviously has concluded there’s something deeply wrong with me. She goes, a $1. Wait a second, I said, is everything in here $1? And she’s like, yeah, it’s a dollar store. Now, you know, forgive me, but I felt like dollar store was a communication of the value, or that some things were $1 but some things would be more than $1 or… I don’t know. I didn’t get that everything in the store was $1.

it’s interesting how that changed things. Suddenly, I was like, wow, all this stuff’s a dollar. And you know when it’s a$1 it just doesn’t seem that big a deal. I can buy this and if I don’t like it, throw it out. It’s just a buck. And next thing you know, I’d filled a shopping cart with stuff that I didn’t know I needed, but I did need, and all items were a $1. Now there’s no sales. They don’t have half price. It’s just a dollar all the time. And checked out through a fairly utilitarian checkout function. Dumped the stuff in the car, went home, all of it worked great. A lot of cool stuff, things for the outside, work fantastic. And I thought to myself, wow, that was a really great experience. And it wasn’t a lot of Frou Frou and a lot of bells and whistles, and there’s no online experience to go along with it. There were no touch screens in the store. It was very, very utilitarian, was very throwback. And I think why was that so much fun? Why did I get so much joy out of that experience?

That price point, that dollar price point, has a freeing component to your decision making? And the sort of decision making you have to go through in a normal store… do I want to pay this much. Is it a good deal? Do I feel like I could get a better deal somewhere else. There’s a very interesting statistic that about 80% or shopping carts are abandoned when the person checking out sees that there’s a field for a coupon. And what happens is they try to find a coupon. They see the field coupon here. They don’t fill it in because they don’t have one. But they assume there is one because there’s a field. And so they go on a search. And they may or may not find it. And they often abandon their carts. And that’s a very interesting human insight, which is, I’m perfectly happy to buy this item. In fact, I was checking out I was actually getting ready to buy it at full price or whatever price it was. And just the mere suggestion that somebody else is getting a better deal makes me no longer need or want the item anymore.

The dollar stores, same idea, a different way of thinking about it, which is: there’s no sale, there’s no better price. It’s $1, or whatever expression people would want to use. And you’re freed from the constraints of looking for the deal. You’re freed from this constraints of price comparison shopping. It’s a very powerful idea. I don’t wonder it’s the fastest growing segment, the power of freeing people from the worry from the post purchase dissonance.

I’ve got a good friend who bought something recently, it was $20. And, you know, really worried about that $20 decision because it may not have been the best thing to buy. And that 20 bucks just chewed away at her, chewed away at her. 20 bucks. Something about the dollar store that makes it very compelling. I feel like there’s probably room for a modern day five and dime, you know, $5 and $10, something like that. But you remove that, it’s pretty powerful, very powerful experience. Because what they’re doing is they’re not trying to make experience something that you’re paying for, they’re playing with the experience of the purchase, and eliminating some of the worry of the purchase. And there’s a lesson there. And the lesson is that experience is not necessarily about spending more money. Experience is about how you land, the entire choosing, buying, paying experience in a way that people enjoy it more.

Alright, Walmart. So I’ve never been in a Walmart. Not until very recently. Some people may find that surprising. There weren’t a ton of Walmart’s in Canada, they started to roll in, but nowhere near me. I’ve often lived in cities, pretty close to work. And I often walk to work in fairly urban environments. So just never had occasion to go to Walmart. So I finally went to Walmart.

Why did I go? I went to the Walmart because that’s where they had my vaccine. So I got my first vaccine appointment at a Walmart. And I will say the first appointment was amazing. I walked in, there was no line. I was processed and had my shot in minutes, and sat for a few to make sure that I was going to be okay. And then we left. What was kind of funny is that Rachel said, How much time do we have? And I said I have to wait for 15 minutes to make sure my head doesn’t melt or something like that. And she said great. I’ll be right back. And so she did some version of a shopping spree where she was zipping into that store and in 15 minutes, managed to fill the cart. It was great, and got a whole bunch of stuff that she could normally buy at Walmart. And then we checked out.  So that was a great deal for Walmart because they served the vaccine to me and I bought a bunch of stuff.

Went back the second time to get my second vaccine, it was the Moderna. And it wasn’t quite as coordinated… things are a bit busier, took a couple hours. But I live streamed that shot to the whole company. So people saw me getting my shot, which is kind of cool. And they were kind enough to let me do that. And then I had my second vaccine shot.

And what was interesting to me about Walmart, and I’ll try to use beginner’s eyes on this to create maybe some perspective, it’s just how incredibly well organized the store was, from the standpoint of wayfinding. If you look up, all these great huge monster signs are in the ceiling. And they show you where things are, what departments are where. It’s actually a very small store, in a way, although the square footage is extraordinary. But it’s a small store, because the size of these overhead signs is so significant, that you just you know where everything is. You can look around really quickly. And it was very easy to find my way. So it was a really great experience. I was blown away by how easy it was to shop and find things in Walmart. Got what we needed, very efficient process with the vaccines, and we went. And again, it struck me that they’ve delivered a good experience.

But again, they didn’t spend a ton of money. What they did is they put some thought into the finding experience, right? So dollar stores, I think are optimizing on the checkout experience. Reduced price dissonance. What Walmart’s doing is on the finding experience, they make it very easy to find things and go around and get whatever you need in the store fairly quickly. I thought that was a very interesting insight as well. People basically looking at all these different stages. And I would say that the dollar store did a very poor job of finding, partly because I think the inventory is changing all the time. So you just have to kind of randomly go through the aisles. But finding was terrible at the dollar store. Checkout was easy. At Walmart checkout was fine, nothing special one way or the other. There was still that dissonance of am I getting the best prices here. I think I am, but am I? But the finding was really fantastic. So it’s interesting ways of thinking about the experience.

What I encourage you to do is break down your experience, break it down into how easy it is to find the thing that I’m buying, how easy is it to gather it, you know, put in the cart or put my hands on it one way or the other? What is the post-purchase dissonance management system? Like how am I going to check out and pay and would like to get back into my vehicle or transportation and move it back to the house. And the thinking that through from end to end is I think a very powerful idea for retailers. If you heard me talk about B&H photo, video audio the other day, they have done I think amazing job on the middle part of the process. Right? So the findings like okay, you have to talk to a person, the checkout is fine. You’re standing there with a credit card, the usual. But the process of putting everything together into a single order, putting on that little conveyor belt and then moving it to the checkout. Very cool. Very cool. So all sorts of different ways of managing this, but they’re all looking at different parts of the journey.

So think about that we think about experience, don’t think about you know, I got to spend more money, or I’ve got to do things that are fancy. What you really have to think about is how am I making the end experience easier for my customers? And how will that ease translate into loyalty in ongoing usage. For the unified CXM Experience. I’m Grad Conn and I’ll see you next time.