4 Innovative Brands that are Transforming the Customer Experience

We’ve entered a customer experience renaissance in retail, and these four innovative brands are leading the charge.

Back in ye olden days of retail, a high-quality, innovative, or beautiful product was enough to make a retailer stand out from the crowd. Companies focused almost all of their energy on creating new or better products, and it was up to customers to find the one product out there that perfectly fit their needs. It was a simpler time.

Of course, we all know our basic retail history: after the Great E-Commerce Revolution, product lost its crown. Product alone isn’t enough to differentiate a brand when Amazon and fast fashion brands are offering similar products at a lower price point. But after product was ousted from the throne, a new ruler took over: customer experience.

In 2018, successful retailers are focusing on creating exceptional user experiences, building emotional connections with their customers, and rethinking loyalty programs. Rather than thinking in terms of channels or products, these companies have adopted a customer-centric approach.

Nordstrom, Walmart, Petco, and Casper (three traditional retailers, and one e-commerce native) are all reacting to the retail revolution by transforming the customer experience. Here’s what sets them apart.

1. Nordstrom

The first Nordstrom Local store opened in 2017 on Melrose Ave in Los Angeles. Since then, the department store chain has opened locations in Brentwood and downtown Los Angeles. These unique locations offer stylists on-site, a bar and nail salon, alterations and tailoring, and online order pick-ups and returns. What they don’t offer? Inventory for sale.

That’s because Nordstrom Local isn’t measuring its success in units sold, but rather in customer engagement generated. The Nordstrom Local concept is to provide a unique experience that makes customers fall in love with the brand and keeps them coming back for more. The Local strategy is synced up with the department store’s new loyalty program, The Nordy Club, which offers increased access to services, rather than to discounts, in exchange for loyalty points.

2. Walmart

Walmart has always been passionate about “saving people money so they can lead better lives” — but they’re also passionate about serving all types of customers. That’s why Walmart is leaning into fashion and luxury brands via its new and improved e-commerce offshoot Jet.com, reaching an audience that never would’ve gravitated to Walmart in the past.

Jet.com performs two primary functions for Walmart: first, it offers a beautiful and highly curated online shopping experience for selective shoppers. Second, it allows Walmart to offer a far wider variety of products than would be possible at a traditional brick-and-mortar location.

Jet.com sells at a range of price points, offering dresses from $40 to over $200, and has focused its marketing efforts in urban centers like New York, where it offers three-hour grocery delivery. Jet.com is clearly Walmart’s effort to strike back at Amazon, and with no enrollment fees and a more prestigious roster of clothing brands available, it just might have what it takes to compete.

3. Petco

You can buy pet toys, dog food, and grooming tools at PetCo, but do you know where else you can buy those things? Hint: it rhymes with Bamazon. What you can’t buy from the big bad wolf of e-commerce, however, are pet care services, training sessions, and personal connections with vets and groomers.

Petco’s disruptive new service, PetCoach, provides all of these services and more via an in-person store in San Marcos, CA, or a $9/month app. The physical space is designed to highlight service offerings, with clear visibility into each unique service area and gathering spaces for educational events. Monthly subscribers have access to free vet visits, online training sessions, and product discounts. Following PetCoach’s September 2018 launch, the company set a goal of amassing 1,000 subscribers by the end of the year. After only six weeks, it had gained 2,000.

4. Casper Mattress

The direct-to-consumer bed-in-a-box brand Casper took a niche problem — the inconvenient process of locating, choosing, and shipping a mattress — and created an entire industry to address it. Recently, the rise of the bed-in-a-box trend has been cited as the cause of Mattress Firm’s bankruptcy, as the cumbersome, in-person buying experience was no match for the easy online alternative.

Casper took advantage of retailers that were clinging to the status quo by offering shoppers a new solution for their bedding needs: mattresses shipped directly to their homes at no extra cost. This disruptive model took the confusion and frustration out of the typical mattress-buying experience, which used to require that buyers spend all day testing mattresses in-store and then paying through the nose to have them shipped home.

Casper offered a limited range of high-quality mattresses, at price points well below those offered by their competitors and shipped for free, before moving into bed frames, sheets, pillows, and dog beds, partnering with larger retailers like Nordstrom, Target, and West Elm to increase distribution.

Offering products that consumers need is the bare minimum brands should do to stay afloat in today’s retail landscape. All four of these retailers are curating customer experiences that are anticipatory, contextual, and above all, human, placing them head-and-shoulders above the competition.

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