The summer sales are in full swing, with brands vying for the attention of consumers on the hunt for holiday bargains.

The summer sales are in full swing, with brands vying for the attention of consumers on the hunt for holiday bargains. And, to add to the high street havoc, thousands of us are also hitting the shops to return unwanted goods. An estimated 40% of clothing and between 5% and 10% of electrical goods and homewares bought via the internet or catalogues are returned to stores by shoppers. This seasonal rush sees many customers visit stores for the first time to return unwanted items.

So what can retailers do to ensure they stand out from the competition and provide a great customer experience during the sales mayhem?

Step 1 - Multiple channels, one experience
This time of year sees many goods bought online returned to bricks and mortar stores, as many brands offer a free in-store returns service. Multichannel experiences form the component parts of the customer’s overall journey - incorporating product research online, store visits, purchase, and social media interaction with the brand and recommendations or complaints to friends and family.

Customer opinions of your brand are formed over time across these channels - you may see them as separate, but customers view them as one brand experience. It is important for brands to deliver a consistent experience, delivering the same brand promise at each point of their customers’ journeys - right through to the possible return of goods for a refund or product exchange. If a store’s return process works well, first time visitors will consider coming back; if not, they will view this as reflective of the overall experience and may stay away. Feedback programmes can ensure each channel is consistent with the desired brand experience, enabling businesses to maintain a strong brand identity across what may be disparate parts of their operations.

Step 2 - The human touch
By taking steps to enhance a customer’s overall experience, you can make them feel good and further differentiate your customer experience from other brands. Little things can make a big difference. A friendly welcome upon entering a store can make a great first impression to shoppers battling their way through sales crowds; shop floor staff can direct customers to what they’re looking for with ease and provide up-to-date stock information via mobile devices; and a friendly word at the checkout with clear information about refunds and returns policies can complete a great in-store experience. Forging a human connection with shoppers can also help grow turnover. InMoment retail studies show a thoughtful product suggestion from a staff member can increase basket sizes by up to 30%.

Step 3 - Walk a mile in your customers’ shoes
Store layouts change to accommodate sale items - at best this can confuse customers; at worst, it can irritate. Examine every aspect of the store environment - starting from the outside looking in, all the way through to what is experienced as a customer leaves. Include all staff interaction points - from shop floor advisors, to check outs and returns desks. Ensure they build, rather than detract from, a great customer experience.

At sales times more than any other, these elements are potential key moments to deliver the brand promise and consistency in operations to ensure every visit is a perfect one. Getting these details right will generate considerable goodwill among new and existing customers at a busy time of year. By delivering a consistent, well executed experience, shoppers will visit more, spend more, and become active brand advocates.

  • Gary Topiol is managing director, international at InMoment