Is it really the end of the high street store?
In an article in Essential Retail, Melissa Davison, consultant at Capgemini, asks: when people would rather wash the dishes than go shopping on the high street – isn’t it time we revolutionised brick and mortar stores?
I’ve written many times about the opportunity gap between the standard, retail Customer Experience and the one that would transform customer attitudes, customer loyalty and (obviously) sales. You can read my most heartfelt post on the subject (okay, one of them) here.
Whether your business is a high street store, a visitor attraction gift shop, a restaurant, cafe or bar, it needs to deliver an experience that is worth getting out of bed for – bearing in mind that your customer can now summon your products (or your competitors’), literally without having to get out of bed. (Don’t believe me? Think Amazon, eBay, Notonthehighstreet.com, Deliveroo… you get the picture).
Capgemini’s Digital Transformation Institute report “Making the Digital Connection: Why Retail Stores Need a Reboot” consulted 6,000 consumers and 500 retail executives from nine countries. The conclusion:
Customers are simply not getting what they expect from an in-store experience.”
What a sorry state of affairs.
The Capgemini report explains that part of the problem is that businesses have either not worked out how to use new technology smartly, and/or they are hindered by existing investments in technology, “and by the capabilities of their in-store staff.”
That last point is my cue for a rant!
I will resist however: I’d rather point out that there is hope – and some opportunities for quick wins – amid all the doom and gloom. Capgemini finds that customers want a blended experience, where the physical + online experience is seamless, consistent and convenient.
Furthermore, a fascinating discussion piece in Retail Wire quotes Erika Serow, president and U.S. CEO of fashion retailer Sweaty Betty, as questioning whether “four-wall profitability” – i.e. profit per store unit – is any longer the best way to measure performance:
If you think about four-wall profitability, you start killing the value of that physical point of your customer coming in and touching your product, as you’re seeing more and more volume shifting online.”
In other words, physical stores are both threatened by, and an essential complement to, the online experience. Both are important. Whether the physical store survives, however, is going to depend on whether it delivers a compelling experience, integrated with the online experience.
So what to do?
Firstly, let’s go back to the ‘rant topic’ above. As legendary Southwest Airlines founder Herb Kelleher put it:
Your employees come first. And if you treat your employees right, guess what? Your customers come back, and that makes your shareholders happy. Start with employees and the rest follows from that.”
For all service businesses, it’s the interactions between people that make or break the experience – more than any technological interface can ever do. Focusing on employees, then, is not just fundamental to the survival of many physical businesses. It is also:
- The quickest win you can achieve today (try thanking an employee for their contribution, and watch their reaction)
- The most important source of knowledge about the customer: your team profile may well reflect your customer profile, and they talk to your customers every day. What can they tell you about the experience your customers would like to have?
- The best way to maximise your return on investment: after all, your payroll is almost certainly your biggest cost item. Wouldn’t you want to know that every penny you spend on your employees is returned with interest?
Secondly, there are (relatively) quick wins when it comes to technology.
- For example, according to Capgemini, 40% of retailers have not installed customer Wi-Fi – and yet, there is ample evidence that customers want to share their shopping experience, in real time.
- Similarly, ensuring that your website is optimised for mobile, and that your social media channels are both integrated, and actively managed, is just a matter of understanding how customers want to engage with you before, during and after their shopping experience.
Thirdly, without the need to hire a single tech consultant, reviewing and designing your Customer Experience is something you can do, in-house, with your team. And you must do this before you embark on any sort of digital transformation:
Design a great experience for your customers, delivered by an engaged team, then create a brief to facilitate that experience through technology.
Alternatively, digitise a mediocre Customer Experience – and the result will be a mediocre, digital Customer Experience.
To sum up:
- The physical/in-store Customer Experience is more important than ever
- That experience is contingent on understanding and engaging your customer – starting with your employees
- The experience must pass the “washing-up” test (or if you prefer, the “getting out of bed” test)
- Start with the physical experience – get that right, then work out how to digitise it/facilitate it via technology
- Ultimately, the physical and digital experience must be seamless, consistent, and convenient
- Finally, when measuring the performance of your physical unit/s, think beyond the four walls – how much online engagement and revenue is actually instigated or inspired in the physical space?
It’s a rapidly changing world, as we all know. Human beings, however, don’t fundamentally change: they just want experiences that are more exciting than doing the dishes.
Stephen Spencer is a keynote speaker, business coach and consultant, helping organisations create better Customer Experiences to unlock team and profit potential. He has over 25 years’ experience as a leader, trainer and experience developer with some of the UK’s most prestigious Retail, Tourism and Hospitality brands. Sign up for Stephen’s POSITIVE Customer Experience newsletter here.