The retail sector has always been of great importance to our economies and our communities. The industry supplies essential products to our populations and provides a livelihood for hundreds of thousands of retail sector workers.
The Covid-19 pandemic sent shockwaves through the sector. Travel restrictions, Lockdowns, Supply Chain disruptions and the growing trend of online shopping is putting a heavy strain on ‘bricks and mortar’ retailers. Retail performance plummetted in 2020, with major declines in areas such as clothing, footwear and textiles. Performance in some of these areas has plunged by as much as 50%. Retailers across the sector scrambled to shore up their businesses and continue to serve customers.
Big grocery retailers such as Tesco and SuperValu, which had existing e-commerce infrastructure, had success shifting their operations online. SuperValu reported that they experienced a 400% increase in online sales at certain times. Tesco achieved a record of £1 billion in online grocery sales during the 2020 Christmas period alone.
Some retailers have innovated to remain relevant and maintain their relationships with customers. Brands such as Burberry, Curries and Boots, used new technologies, such as video chat, to provide a virtual shopping experience online. However, many more in the sector did not have the resourcing or business model needed to take this leap. Others have made a strategic decision to not invest in e-commerce and are waiting for a return to normality.
In the world after Covid-19, does in-store retail have a future, and how can the sector attract people back to stores? We believe the in-store retail will make a strong return and that customer experience can be a game-changer in months and years to come.
Having supported a wide range of clients in the retail sector, we know the value of customer experience. We have spent years ensuring our teams contribute to exceptional customer experience because it is crucial to our clients’ success. Customers that have a great experience spend more, are more loyal and are more likely to refer others.
There are many ways in-store retailers can improve customer experience. We have identified five of the areas we believe offer significant opportunities for improvement:
1. People and Culture
Great people create great in-store experiences. From the car park attendant to the receptionist, every person in your team needs to adopt a customer-centric approach and know what it takes to create a great customer experience. Invest in customer experience training and build a strong customer experience culture.
2. Fast and frictionless experiences
The ability to immediately satisfy customer needs is one of in-store retail’s greatest advantages over online counterparts. Seize it! Don’t make customers wait for service. Ensure there are always enough assistants and cashiers ready to help.
Store layouts should allow customers to quickly and easily find what they are looking for. Reduce friction at every point. Once the customer has decided what they want to buy, their path-to-purchase should be as short and seamless as possible.
3. Unique, exciting and enjoyable experiences
Shopping is a leisure activity. In-store retailers can create experiences that are far richer and more rewarding than their online counterparts. As we emerge from lockdown, customers will seek fun and exciting places to go. Make your store a destination by providing ‘retailtainment’. Host an event. Allow customers to interact with products in new ways, provide demos, perhaps create environments in which they can test the product.
4. The right ambience
Sweat the details to create the right ambience. Changing the music played in a store can have a significant impact on the shopping experience. This is also true for colours, lighting and furnishings. Makes sure your teams understand your customers and create environments that make them want to keep coming back.
5. Bring new technologies into the store
Can new technologies help revitalise the shopping experience at your store? Well placed tablet computers may allow your customers to access more information and make decisions faster. Forward-looking retailers use Virtual Reality headsets to enable customers to visit virtual showrooms and experience products in a new way. Self-service checkouts have made a substantial impact in the grocery sector and are becoming more and more popular. Examine the technology you use and ask yourself how new technologies can help you take customer experience to the next level.
Gillian Robb is an Account Director at Bidvest Noonan. Gillian supports the world’s largest furniture retailer. Nick O’Connor is Integrated Accounts Retail Lead at Bidvest Noonan. Nick has over 20 years experience supporting retailers and shopping centres.