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Shopper experience has always been king; trip differentiator may be more crucial in 2012

WHAT IT MEANS AND WHY IT'S IMPORTANT — Retailers have always been about enhancing the shopping experience, but there are two factors this year that really should underscore the importance in that customer focus. Differentiating a retail shopping trip by experience is a lot friendlier to the margins because a shopper willing to trade on shopping experience also is willing to spend a little more. And with the proliferation of social media and apps for smartphones and tablets, there has never been a more efficient means to target a message to a shopper who is physically in the aisles and making a purchase decision than today.

(THE NEWS: 2012 will be all about the customer. For the full story, click here.)

As noted in DSN's Dec. 12, 2011, 'Tale of Two Retails' coverage, more retailers are targeting higher-end shoppers because they're more likely to be ahead of the curve in economic recovery and less likely to be as penny-senistive. Within pharmacy retailing, that's been evident across both CVS/Caremark and Walgreens with their upscale department-store beauty experiences in Beauty360 and Look Boutique formats, respectively. And Walgreens has even been making a long-term play against electric car owners, most of whom make more than $100,000 on average, according to a J.D. Power survey.

The latest Walgreens flagship stores represent this push toward shopping chic in many of their additional services — manicures, brow bars, on-site sushi preparation and juice bars — as well as a commitment to technology that enables a 'richer' shopping experience — the virtual bartender kiosk adjacent to an upscale wine selection or the Maybelline touchscreen beauty kiosk that now is Facebook-enabled.

And it's the functionality of that experience that really stands out with shoppers. The Temkin Group released its survey of 10,000 consumers on what makes for a good customer experience earlier this week (for the story, click here). According to that survey, Sam’s Club, Publix and Subway were tops in functional experience. The top 10 also included Winn-Dixie, ShopRite, Kroger and H-E-B. And while those Walgreens flagship stores still are relatively new, Walgreens was one of the companies to score high in functional excellence as well.

Accessibility experience was another significant driver of the overall customer experience. Again, Sam's Club, Publix and Subway were on the top of that experience factor, too, though that list of optimal accessibility experiences also included Walgreens, CVS Caremark and Rite Aid.

But these days, just as important as the in-store experience is how each retailer is engaging its customer. As many as 75% of an on-the-go audience take action after seeing a location-specific message, according to JiWire's latest Mobile Audience Insights Report (for the story, click here). The top three actions included clicking on location-specific ads (31%), searching for the nearest location (21%) and/or conducting additional research (21%). After clicking on an ad, iPhone users were most likely to conduct additional research (22%), Android users searched for the nearest location (25%) and Blackberry users immediately made a purchase (21%).

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