Looking for Freedom: The future of in and out of store experience in the digital age – part 1

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What do David Hasselhoff and the future of retail customer experience have in common? Well, it relates to breaking down barriers and ushering in change.

Retailers are having a torrid time. Sales have slumped, January consumer spending fell for the first time in 5 years high street footfall dropped 1.9% in January year on year, business rates are rising, and the slide of Sterling has pushed up costs.

However, Amazon’s Go concept stores, acquisition of Whole Foods, and partnerships with physical stores, show that mortar isn’t heading for the mortuary anytime soon. In fact, Aldi, Apple and H&M are planning to open stores, and digital-native brands such as Warby Parker and Bonobos are moving from online-only to having a physical presence.

Let’s get physical

So, what is prompting this renewed focus on the physical?

The answer is the customer; expectations, needs and wants have significantly increased. Customers want a shopping experience based around speed, value and convenience, where they can choose when, where and which channel to shop through. In fact, 74% of shoppers choose to shop with a retailer based on convenience and the available options of how and where they can shop with them.

Retailers with a digital and physical presence are best placed to deliver this. Whilst this narrative is nothing new, bricks and clicks retailers have been too slow to truly adapt and change, with only 31% of customers who shop across channels having a consistently positive experience.

To solve this, retailers must leverage their stores to break down the barriers between the in and out of store experience; putting the customer at the core by providing a unified experience that engages, enables and excites across channels.

There are two key steps to achieving this; true omni-channel transformation and customer experience transformation.

True Omni-channel Transformation

 Multi-channel and omni-channel; buzz words that have been around for , used interchangeably, and have become synonymous with providing customers with a consistent brand experience across channels. This misses the mark.

Multi-channel relates to providing customers with the ability to shop and complete a purchase with a brand through more than one channel. Whilst customer’s see a single brand regardless of channel, the behind the scenes activities and management of these channels are siloed.

Omni-channel refers to a much more comprehensive and integrated approach to retailing. Customers can start and stop their customer journey in one channel then pick up and complete it in another.

Whilst customers still have a single view of a brand, behind the scenes is a much more complex landscape. With a properly implemented Sales and Operations Planning process piecing together the jigsaw of a orders, payments, products and inventory to offer both employees and customers a more connected and convenient cross-channel experience.

Too few retailers have truly understood the differences and deployed an omni-channel strategy. Whether this due to clunky legacy systems, a lack of willingness to invest, or the hope that front-end upgrades will be enough to provide the veneer of being omni.

True omni-channel transformation will allow retailers to derive real value. It will enable stores to act as fulfilment centres, creating hassle-free shopping for customers, whilst also increasing footfall and reducing the cost to serve.

Creating a single source of truth for product and payment information, whilst empowering employees to roam stores with tablets, gives customers a more informed, personal and seamless journey.

Also, with 77% of people researching a product prior to purchase, having a single view of inventory and orders allows the customer to ‘showroom’ or ‘webroom’, enabling them to research and buy through a channel and fulfilment option that is most convenient for them.

This all aligns with what Alibaba’s Jack Ma has termed ‘New Retail’, which sees the future of retail as integrating offline and online experience, logistics and data together across a single value chain.

By bringing the benefits of ease and speed that come with online shopping into the store, true omni-channel transformation can allow bricks and clicks retailers to offer a compelling and connected customer experience.

Customer Experience Transformation

Omni-channel transformation provides retailers with the foundations and capabilities to transform their customer experience, but what does great customer experience mean and look like in the digital age?

It should be centred on breaking down the barriers between in and out of store through creating an inspirational, informational, immersive and interconnected experience for customers.

Inspirational

The way customers browse has changed; platforms like Instagram and Pinterest mean that more and more customers are inspired and want to buy into the experiences and lifestyles they see and share online. Retailers should use edits and narratives to present products, so e-commerce captures the imagination of customers. The in-store experience must mirror this, store space should be reimagined to showcase products to inspire and surprise, rather than relying on traditional and sterile aisles and displays.

Informational

51% of customers believe that store associates do not have reasonable knowledge of their products. Leveraging omni-channel to empower employees with the technology and information to quickly help customers is key. Similarly, as the number of higher value considered purchases increase online, customers must be provided with enough information to feel comfortable, so sales are converted.

Immersive

Shoppers increasingly want to engage with a brand that provides them with an experience. By tying together immersive elements with inspiring customers, retailers can use videos and 360-degree previews to allow online customers to view products in all their glory. Turning stores into playgrounds where space is transformed into interactive showcases, supported with digital displays and product testing areas, creates an immersive physical-digital experience that draws customers into store and makes them want to connect with a brand.

Interconnected

This isn’t just about combining all these elements of customer experience into a unified offering to customers but tying them together into an interconnected digital and physical experience that spans across both online and in-store. Leveraging interconnected experience with interconnected customer data across channels will also drive customer engagement and loyalty, enabling retailers to provide a personalised and emotional experience built on a true single view of customer.

Channel the Hoff

In 1989, a symbol of change was strutting atop the Berlin Wall. The Hoff’s seminal performance of ‘Looking For Freedom’ signified the winds of change were brewing, helping to blow down barriers of difference and usher in change. Retailers too must seek change and break down the barriers between in and out of store experience; freeing themselves by using omni-channel and customer experience transformation to rethink the store’s rationale and role.

With stores still being the primary revenue earner for bricks and clicks retailers, the store should work in tandem with digital assets to create and in and out of store experience that engages and connects customers to a brand, enables and provides them with a seamless experience, and excites and inspires them with a great experience that builds loyalty. Breaking down such barriers will enable bricks and clicks retailers to drive conversion, sales, and the cross-channel recruitment of loyal customers in the digital age.

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