No matter how much online retail websites attract new customers, the traditional shopfront will always be a retailer’s greatest weapon – but both online and offline must be adequately catered for, writes Josh Rowe.
Try walking into an Apple store for inspiration about what new retail looks like.
You won’t see endless cluttered shelves full of stock. You won’t see a bulky cash register with a line of people waiting behind it. What you will see is Apple staff focused on serving customers all throughout the store. Customers can explore the Apple products in an environment that feels more like a home office than it does a retail store. When you do buy something an Apple staff member will take your payment on the spot – processed on an iPhone – and then send you a receipt via email.
I love this type of retail experience – it’s frictionless and experiential.
However, it’s important to note that Apple is not the only retailer to bring digital innovation to in-store retail.
Burberry has made significant investment in combining the best of their online and offline environments to create a more immersive brand experience. Burberry.com and Burberry’s flagship retail store on Regent Street, London both provide music, live events, and of course products for sale. Burberry’s aim is for brand experience consistency across their channels. Customers don’t just come to the Burberry store to buy the products – they come for the whole experience.
Sephora has invested in technology that delivers a better customer experience for in-store shoppers. Sephora added ColourIQ technology that matches skin tones to cosmetic products and iPads for ordering from the full range of Sephora products. Sephora’s retail strategy is not to compete with online channels, but instead to offer them in-store. This is smart thinking that gives customers choice and convenience.
Myer’s Fountain Gate store, one third the size of its Melbourne store, has added iPad ordering in-store as a means of extending the product range available to in-store customers. Myer CEO, Bernie Brookes, understands the competitive advantage he holds with the breadth and depth of Myer’s product range. This is something that pureplay online retailers find difficult to compete with. When this is combined with a superior in-store customer experience customers must consider what they value most from product range, service and price.
Some retailers have chosen to shun customers who browse in-store and buy online (also known as showroomers and fit-lifters) by charging all customers an upfront fee for pre-sales service. This is the wrong approach that diminishes the customer experience.
Retailers should not fear the advancement of digital technology. On the contrary, it should be embraced and used as a source of competitive advantage. Physical retail outlets provide a customer service and experiential differentiator over pure play online offers. When combined with digital capability this can be the compelling reason why customers choose them over pure play online retailers.
Fundamentally, consumers will make their own minds up about what they value most with respect to each retailer’s product range, customer service and price mix. Traditional retailers have a natural advantage with in-person customer service, which they can leverage and enhance with digital technology.
I look forward to more digital innovation in the retail sector that delivers better customer experiences and grows retail trade.