Why go to the shops?

Dan Hartveld, 19th June 2017

How retailers create compelling in-store experiences

This article originally appeared on MyCustomer.

A recent opinion piece in Fortune magazine declared that ‘selling stuff is no longer the point of retail stores’ – a bold claim largely backed by anecdote rather than evidence. Taking its lead from online startup businesses using pop-up showrooms to bring their products to the offline masses, the article talked about shoppers ‘wanting to feel the energy in the room’ and ‘be a part of something’ rather than simply buy a product – in this case, cosmetics.

While it’s hard to imagine fully extending this proposition to other retail areas – it’s unlikely that shoppers looking for lawnmowers, for example, would be interested in ‘feeling the energy in the room’ – its basic premise has some sound thinking behind it.

Transactionally, today’s shoppers expect online and offline to be the same thing

Of course ‘selling stuff’ will always be the point of retail, but the lines between online and offline have all but been erased in the mind of the customer. Each channel is now as front of mind as the others, with its own pros and cons. Online shopping is typically much more convenient than making your way to the store and offers a wider product range, but it takes longer to buy what you need and there is an increased risk that the products do not meet your expectations. Successful retailers focus on using each channel to enhance the overall experience for customers.

According to Julio Hernandez, Global Customer Lead at KPMG International: ‘As part of an integrated customer-centric business model, customers expect that goods can be delivered or picked up wherever they are located. They want their orders consolidated, they want shipping bundled with service, and they want to be able to return things easily’.

Delivering this kind of service to people who no longer ‘go’ shopping but ‘are’ shopping whenever and however they choose relies on one thing – making sure that the ability to access all the benefits of online shopping in a physical store is a hygiene factor rather than a ‘special feature’. That means offering services such as online ordering in-store and click-and-collect and equipping staff with everything they need to be experts at their job as a matter of course. These shouldn’t be classed as innovations – they’re a fundamental part of the retail experience and customers, especially those who have never lived without access to the internet and mobile technology, really don’t expect to hear that they can only get what they want through one particular channel.

Removing obstacles to purchase allows retailers to focus on experiential activity

Getting the hygiene factors right and removing any channel-based obstacles to purchase frees up time and resource to develop the truly innovative, more ‘theatrical’ side of retail – the ‘energy in the room’ craved by those who want a reason to visit a physical store. Video games company Game did it by gamifying its loyalty programme and tying activity through its application with in-store actions including watching trailers, comparing prices and searching/scanning products for more information. And earlier this year high street fashion brand Oasis offered shoppers ‘a once-in-a-fairy-tale chance’ to view its Autumn/Winter collection at The Extraordinarium, its London-based pop-up experience. The brand married ‘old-time’ customer service including customised keepsakes and rickshaws to transport customers to Oasis’ flagship store with entirely up-to-date technology – visitors could use Oasis’ shopping app to scan the barcodes of items they liked and ask to be sent an email when they are available in store.

Provided retailers commit to a fundamental strategy of connecting all data across all channels and recognise that the distinctions between online and offline are no longer relevant to today’s shopper, it’s entirely possible to consistently deliver the kind of retail event proposed in Fortune magazine. The difference is that, once the connections are in place, ‘selling stuff’ very much becomes the point for both businesses and shoppers.