Imagination

Walk down any High Street these days and what do we find? Pretty much the usual mix of banks, estate agents, charity shops, bars, restaurants and of course the national chains we come to expect to be there. But every once in a while we might stumble across something different, something which we may never have experienced before. Something which makes us stop and take notice; become curious. Just such a thing happened to me recently when I was enjoying a break in Majorca and spent a few hours exploring Palma. Amongst the shops and bars and restaurants in the centre of town I came across this……..

ImageNothing especially noteworthy about Imaginarium until you notice the doors; yes there’s one set of doors for the grown ups and another for the little ones. Pure retail genius. Why? Well, first of all I imagine it would be difficult perhaps well nigh impossible for parents with young children to prevent them from wanting to use ‘their’ entrance and second, once inside, the magic of entering through their own child size entrance would be sure to lead to high conversion rates. Mum and Dad would be sitting ducks! Clearly Imaginarium have given thought to the importance of the customer experience and come up with an inspired solution befitting their name. It would be fascinating to experiment with one normal adult size entrance to see what this did to sales; I bet I know the answer.

So why is customer experience so important? Surely price, product and availability are the most important metrics to get right for any retail business? Well, yes and no.  In his very entertaining autobiography, ‘Best Served Cold’ Malcolm Walker describes the 5 key ratios of any retail business as being: 

  • Sales
  • Gross margin
  • Cost to sell
  • Shrinkage
  • Overheads

And whilst I certainly wouldn’t argue with that, I would suggest that these days, the ability to measure levels of customer experience when consumers are engaging and interacting with your brand is a vital underlying indicator as to the health of the business.

Why? Because these days there is no such thing as consumer loyalty – at least not in the conventional sense. Stop for a moment and consider your own shopping behaviour as it applies to grocery shopping. I would venture that it is rare that we do all our grocery shopping with one or even two brands. We are promiscuous, we shop when and where it is convenient to us. Yes, price is a factor but maybe only when it comes to certain items such as household cleaning where quality isn’t so important and we are not prepared to pay more than absolutely necessary. On the other hand we might be prepared to pay more for fresh and meat produce in order to obtain the desired quality. So against this promiscuous backdrop of consumer behaviour, of course retailers can invest in price but as Philip Clarke declared when announcing Tesco’s latest set of results, the discounters such as Aldi and Lidl ‘are impossible to win’ against (on price). So it should be no surprise what strategy Tesco should adopt in order to compete.

As consumers, we are ever more demanding. More demanding of price, convenience, quality and above all of the experience we have on the High Street. We seek difference, personalisation, artisan retailers, tailored offerings, eco-friendly conservation led retail. In fact what we seek increasingly is an experience which enriches us, adds to our lifestyle, something which in some way improves the quality of our lives. Unlocking this and consistently delivering it across all channels and touchpoints is, I would suggest, the key today to retail success.    

 

Workforce: Shelf stackers or brand ambassadors?

The workforce are possibly the most undervalued and yet most valuable asset a retailer possesses. Here Andrew Busby argues the case for reinventing the workforce for competitive advantage.

Interactive, immersive retail personalised to a level currently unheard of is the future of retail.
Consumers more than ever demand an experience and need to feel that they can both engage on their terms and that the brand engages with them in more and more inventive ways. Coupled with this, we will see more and more artisan type experiences from coffee shops to fashion outlets. As people travel more and more we get more and more demanding and our expectations increase based on the best of breed we experience around the world. In addition to this, the expectations and behaviour of millennials is dramatically different from the baby boomer generation. The former want, no expect, to be able to influence the world around them eg. through social media and for their consequential experience to be positively impacted accordingly.

All this has huge implications for retailers and the High Street. Whilst all the attention these days focuses on online shopping, especially via smartphones, in the US although growing rapidly, online still only accounts for 6% of all retail transactions* and although this ratio is changing, the criticality of the store experience cannot be underestimated. The instant “get in the car and get it” desire is something the likes of Amazon cannot (yet) compete with. A well integrated multi dimensional retailer should always win over a pure play simply by reason of the fact that we are social beings and shopping for many of us is a social activity. Imagine if the situation were reversed? Doing all but 6% of our shopping online via a smartphone or tablet would get incredibly dull and one dimensional.

According to Forrester “We’ve entered an era in which the only sustainable competitive advantage is knowledge of and engagement with customers”. And I would suggest that in the main this needs to be a physical, sensory engagement.

We need experiences, we need to be stimulated and in particular we need the experience of going shopping to be a positive sensory one which involves all of our senses. Sight, smell, touch, taste and hearing all play an important role and in order to achieve this, retailers must drive more and more innovation in order to differentiate their brand and in turn drive loyalty; if such a concept still exists on the High Street.

But here’s the interesting thing. One key advantage which clicks and mortar retailers have over pure play is staring them in the face. It is an asset which is widely undervalued and sometimes almost disregarded when considering customer experience. It is something which is ever present in stores and can drive loyalty or it can turn customers off in the blink of an eye. What is this asset? The workforce. Traditionally looked upon simply as sales assistants, the sad reality in the industry is that retail is not seen as a valid career path by the majority of teenagers. All they witness are over worked, underpaid store staff stacking shelves in order to earn a little extra money. This is a tragedy. What is needed? The reinvention of the role of the store employee from sales assistant to brand ambassador should be at the top of every retailers list of priorities.

And unless this happens and happens rapidly, the implications are clear. As mentioned previously, the likes of Amazon cannot compete with the emotional engagement and stimulation a great store experience can deliver but the window of opportunity is rapidly closing. It will only be a matter of time before this changes and for those clicks and mortar retailers who fail to grasp this, they will only have themselves to blame.

*source: US Department of Commerce