After Sainsbury’s announced a decline in its online sales, with shoppers returning to its stores, there’s now greater pressure on retailers to provide more engaging shopping experiences – and one key way to do that is to improve the in-store customer experience. 

In this “phygital” environment, retailers need to combine the best of digital and in-store experiences. Virtual displays showing other customers’ reviews, photos and videos, QR codes that can be scanned to read reviews, and availability of live/up-to-date star ratings in-store based on live customer feedback will help promote the customer’s voice in an authentic, relatable, and real-life way that no traditional marketing strategy can deliver. 

So how can in-store and online user-generated content (UGC) promotion create a mutually beneficial relationship for retailers and customers? Let’s look at a handful of tactics you can try yourself, with a few examples of how others are making it work. 

QR codes for product reviews 

A recent study from Bazaarvoice found that 55% of consumers are shopping more in-store. Shoppers want to see things in person, but when customers can’t find what they need, they won’t think twice about pulling out their phones. Already widely used by brands, the humble QR code is one of the best tools for our phygital world.  

QR codes are a cost-effective and highly versatile tool for instantly providing (and changing!) detailed information. Try adding strategically placed and visually prominent QR codes to your product displays so that shoppers can quickly scan them and find reviews to help them buy with confidence. 

QR codes can also be a helpful driver for creating UGC. Printing codes on product packaging or price tags can make it easier to encourage customers to leave a review with an easy scan. Just keep in mind that any page where users are being directed needs to be optimised for mobile. 

Show real-time star ratings and review counts 

Leveraging basic e-ink displays, electronic shelf labels (ESLs) are a fairly low-tech but high-impact way of letting retailers display live star ratings alongside products in-store. They make it easy to wirelessly update live counts of ratings, reviews, and dynamic pricing, among other inventory management benefits. For instance, electronic labelling also has the added benefit of showing consumers the number of items in stock, even if they are not all directly available on shelves.  

When Amazon launched its Fresh stores, it introduced ESLs. This is a prime (pun intended) example of the phygital era in action. The same research from Bazaarvoice revealed that 42% of consumers have permanently switched some of their staple products to private label goods, and ESLs can help brands like Amazon gather useful data about which of its private label brands can stand up to the perceived quality and popularity of name brands. 

Create visual UGC displays 

Installing visual displays is an incredibly straightforward way of introducing UGC in-store. It means leveraging visual UGC in printed brand and marketing assets, like promotional banners, posters, stickers, and window displays. But it can also mean digital installations, like “social screens” that feature curated feeds of branded hashtags. 

These displays can bring a liveliness that printed materials can’t, but their effectiveness is limited. Retailers might instead consider flipping the script with experiences that prompt shoppers to get out their phones and actively contribute to creating UGC. 

Recently, we saw beloved bakery chain Greggs open a Parisian-inspired ‘fine-dining’ pop-up bistro in Newcastle. The selfie-worthy experience inspired customers to share photos and videos of their experience, creating invaluable word-of-mouth marketing on behalf of the brand.  Similarly, Selfridges has partnered with London Craft Week to launch the RESELFRIDGES pop-up event. The event, which focuses on the importance of repurposing, reusing, and repairing unwanted items will create a temporary Instagrammable area for customers to post about the brand to social media. This not only gains exposure for the retailer, but it also leans into the key trends that matter to its customers. 

The phygital era 

With brands like Sainsbury’s attracting more shoppers to its stores, there’s now an opportunity to reposition stores as places of brand discovery and education. Retailers need to consider how customer content and feedback can create a more playful, engaging, and even immersive experience. Bringing the online research experience in-store and utilising software to integrate user-generated content onto store shelves would let shoppers buy with confidence. Both online and in-store. So in short: it’s time to get phygital. 

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