When it comes to building loyalty but still having an eye on convenience, the in-store experience will always be here.
Whilst a popular topic, let’s bring in some voices within the retail industry to share their perspective.
The Office for National Statistic (ONS) have highlighted during May that retail sales increased 2.3% month-on-month in April, beating analysts’ expectation of a mere 1% rise. Retail sales volumes were 4% higher than a year before.
However, what is it that will keep people coming back into a physical space, rather than through the ease of a screen in front of you?
Our monthly focus brings together Sammi Burden (Head of Creative Design), Georgia Beattie (Project Coordinator), Laura Burnside (Creative Designer) and Pippa Saunders (Marketing Manager). Outside of Resolution Interiors, we share from some of our friends Ian Gibson from Shop Fittings Direct, Sarah Myland from Edge, Nikk Smith from Pixel Inspiration and Howard Sullivan from We Are YourStudio.
A good place to start is recognizing that the biggest asset the physical space provides is this whole idea of generating communities and a willingness to share.
Pippa (Resolution Interiors) highlighted that shopping has always been a form of ‘entertainment.’ Pippa mentions, “The customer and their lifestyles have evolved, products on shelves and hangers alone, don’t work. The physical space represents out-of-home entertainment as much as the retail industry. Creating these shared experiences is the biggest asset the physical space has.”
Alongside the ability to entertain, is the opportunity to build loyalty, something that Sammi (Resolution Interiors) firmly believes in, “the reason we shop, changes throughout the different stages of our lives. However, I have a list of retailers that I am loyal to. This is because I get something back in return. Whether this is service or knowledge, it all comes through interaction with others. Whilst online represents ease, the experience is offline, where association becomes stronger within four walls.”
“People want to feel protected and taken care of by brands they trust.”
The in-store experience is becoming increasingly about selling experiences, not transactions. It is what people will learn and take away with them. A recent example is what Nationwide are investing in, by using video conferencing technology in-store, to engage with customers within 400 UK branches. People can interact with specialists ie. mortgages remotely within the store. The brand is helping connect people and advance their knowledge. This example highlights the need for retailers to create a deeper meaning for people to go to that is relevant to them.
Sarah Myland, Managing Director from agency/architectural practice, Edge, recognises the ability to visit places that are relevant are a ‘privilege.’ Sarah highlights, “The store becomes a privileged place for finding out and experimenting, meeting and socialising, offering the visitor an exclusive, personalised journey. Digital experiences in-store break down barriers between the retailer and people to create intimacy with the objects on display.”
“Undeniably the internet gives us access to a global high street but, in the main, offers low emotional engagement. And at the end of the day we’re sensory beings and like immersive experiences. Ask yourself this? When was the last time you went and told a friend about a great shopping experience that wasn’t a physical one?”
Becoming Customer First Not Product Centric
The in-store experience becomes more pronounced when it takes a customer centric approach. This means a retailer has a single view of their customer, who he/she is, what they want and how they behave.
Nikk Smith, from signage solution agency Pixel Inspiration, stated, “We’re seeing a lot of activity around personalisation of the shopping experience. For instance, digital photo booths or magic mirrors, where a customer gets to associate themselves with the brands they love, which in turn can then lead to further engagement from their social circle”.
“I think there’s still a long way to go for the in-store environment. Certain flagship projects have proved that digital, when integrated into the fabric of the shopping experience, can really elevate the appeal of a store and the emotional connection of the customers, but what I don’t think we’ve yet seen a lot of is how that can then translate to the wider store estate in the regions.”
Laura (Resolution Interiors) highlighted the personalised approach was embraced by Great Little Trading Company (GLTC). “The Wandsworth showroom is where the journey begins. The retailer has created a community base and not just a store. They have generated loyalty (and a following) by providing value for others, such as their book clubs and interactive sessions for their customers. A question the customer will always want answered is, “What are you going to give me, that someone else cannot?”
When a customer first model is nurtured and the store experience is catered for them, represents a brand that is flexible. Pippa said, “We are seeing successful brands that were once market leaders, not always evolving at the same pace as the rest of the high street.” We highlighted in our last article, Next reporting a first half fall in profits for the first time in eight years.
“Well established companies who have had a sustained period of growth tend to formulate unwieldy structures, with departments operating in silos and can experience little integration. By making brands nimble, flexible and enabling a flow of communication, helping to promote a one team ethos, a more customer centric mindset is possible.”
What About The Retailers?
When a retailer houses multiple brands, is there a move from product to loyalty? Connection it appears is key.
Scott Renton, Head of Store Development for footwear company schuh, commented, “schuh is a ‘house of brands’ and all the brands are given fair prominence within the stores.”
“The environment we provide in order to present the brands in this way is designed to convey the width of our product range and our aim to make the ‘customer journey’ as rewarding and satisfying as possible. So our store design must allow us to display in very high product densities and with all the technology integrated (mobile payments, kiosks, live stock-checking etc) required to enhance the customer experience. Yes, there are LED screens and graphic friezes and schuh brand signage; but the strongest message is delivered by the service proposition.”
“We are a footwear retail business that is driven primarily by our shop-floor staff, who are best placed to connect directly with our customers ‘off-line’ and the same message and values are delivered in a similarly personal and direct way (live chat, video chat) ‘on-line’.”
Change & Adapt Quickly
When in-store interaction represents something meaningful, people pay attention. Sammi highlighted, “Whole Foods Market is a brand I have an affinity with, based on natural foods and clean living. They have a clear positioning and it is something that I connect with. For instance, I was looking at coffee to buy and someone came over to tell me more about the different coffee beans. This moment links the brand with my knowledge of coffee, and becomes something memorable.”
“We all want reassurance,” continued Georgia (Resolution Interiors). “Whilst the web represents research and a functional level, store interaction can enhance an affinity with a store. The values of a brand, can provide advocacy and maintain loyalty. These values can be emphasised within the in-store experience.”
Ian Gibson, from Shop Fittings Direct, highlighted the role of trust. “Working in the outdoor retail industry has taught me that customers want to engage more fully in the whole experience. They want to buy from people they trust. They want to enjoy the decision-making process. They want to question knowledgeable store staff that have tried much of the gear. They want to understand and have confidence in the product they are spending good money on and want to know that they can rely on their purchase 100%. They demand a more all-round experience.”
So, Where Are We Heading?
We all have needs to be cultivated and catered for, Howard Sullivan, from retail design team YourStudio, stated, “We are all customers and as sentient human beings we have emotions, needs and distractions that a physical space, if handled and activated well, can leave an impression on us.”
A quote I love is that products are now ‘souvenirs of an experience’. If retailers want genuine loyalty (which is harder these days), there have to be deep emotional and cognitive levels to the experience. You want people leaving feeling better than when they arrived, which is less relative to product but more around what you create to optimise and nourish your customers, physically, mentally and emotionally.”
Those brands that can seamlessly integrate the online and in-store environments to create experiences on interaction, not just transaction will be those who are here for the long term.
Sarah Myland, from Edge, states “we’re at a vital tipping point in the retail story, where those who twig that the worlds of on-line and off, of actual, artificial, or augmented reality are mutually reliant. They co-exist to enable today’s consumer to make choices, and be as they wish to be wherever they choose to be.”
The in-store experience can thrive when excitement, knowledge and entertainment are part of what the bricks and mortar interaction represents. Brands become more attractive when they become more intuitive.
When physical touch points are consistent and are relevant to a customer, it can go a long way for the longevity of a brand. A safe pair of hands can provide immense comfort and get to know a customer base on a deeper level.