The Shopping Experience Matters: From First Impression to Follow-up

Let’s face it: first impressions are big. And when a potential customer first “meets” your product, you want it to be a positive experience. This is why I preach the importance of the shopping experience itself – both online and in a physical bricks-and-mortar storefront location.

It’s quite simple to understand. If the initial experience that a potential customer has with your product isn’t great, you can’t expect that person to actually be converted to a customer. And that’s unfortunate – especially if you put out a quality product that’s probably worth the money, worth the time and worth the effort.

Consider what Bose, the high-end audio company, does with its displays in stores other than its own, such as Target. Bose products could just dangle from peg-board hooks or sit on the same blah-looking shelf as all of the other products in that category. Instead, Bose takes the extra effort to change the look of that shelf, to create a “store on a shelf” sort of experience that includes a customized demo system. Buying that Bose product is different from buying the Sony clock radio that’s sitting alongside everyone else’s clock radio. Bose is trying to send a message to shoppers that when you buy Bose you get a great experience – from the first encounter to the out-of-box experience.

And then there’s Apple, whose fun-to-touch gadgets and Apple Store retail experience could be a case study on how to create positive shopping experiences. Visitors to any Apple store will never see an iPad on display that’s not functioning correctly, or has been messed with by another shopper. Behind the scenes, fresh devices are ready to be swapped at a moments notice if a display model gets damaged or isn’t working correctly. The user experience matters and Apple wants to make sure that everyone who enters the store – whether ready to buy today or just doing homework for a possible purchase another day – leaves with a positive perception of the company and product.

That’s really why this all matters, right? Perception.

Give consumers a positive pre-purchase experience
Give consumers a positive pre-purchase experience

There are some products that leave an impression with us based on a number of experiences. Certainly, I’m not talking about buying a gallon of milk from the grocery store or a box of bandages from the drug store. But when it comes to spending a few hundred dollars or more, consumers need to feel like they’re getting good value for their hard-earned dollars – and a good shopping experience is where that perception starts. That’s also where the online equation comes in.

Let’s face it – people go online to do their research and to do some comparison shopping. If either of those experiences is bad, the consumer will start this potential relationship with your product on a sour note. And that is never good.

Ask yourself if your site is easy to navigate and if the information that customers will want – pricing, specs, reviews, comparisons to other products and even a variety of ways to pay and ship that product – are easily accessible. Look for the site roadblocks, the places where consumers could get stuck while doing some research or shopping.

Think about the methods that different types of companies use to enhance the shopping experiences. Car dealerships, for example, provide things like gourmet coffee, comfortable lobby lounge chairs, and a play area for the kiddies so mom and dad can make a stress-free decision to spend tens of thousands of dollars.

My favorite example these days comes from Everett, Washington, where Boeing is constructing a 180,000-square foot delivery center for customers who spend big bucks on planes. It’s an high-end purchase and, as such, there should be a high-end shopping and delivery experience. It’s not every company that can build an entire building just to deliver a product (nor is it appropriate for every product) but every company should be thinking about what is the best shopping experience they can give their customers.

That’s really what this comes back to – the experience. Companies need to recognize that power of perception and understand that it begins with research, continues with customer service and doesn’t ever end once the customer has taken possession of the product. Packaging, returns and even a follow-up to make sure the customer is enjoying the product sends a message.

It tells that customer that the company values the customer’s business – and hopes that customer will not only come back again soon but will also tell his or her friends about the enjoyable shopping experience.

If it’s a bad experience, you can almost be certain that those unhappy customers will be sharing the stories of their experiences.