Balancing technology with the human touch

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With shoppers increasingly relying on their smartphones and tablets to research, compare and buy goods online, all sectors need to be considering their ecommerce strategies. The DIY sector is no exception and the traditional ‘out of town’ retailers are having to adapt their strategies in order to succeed in the marketplace. It would in fact appear that the era of big box retail dominance is coming to an end. Over the past 12 months there has been considerable comment on how major DIY brands including Wickes, Homebase and B&Q, which traditionally operate massive 100,000 sq ft stores, have or are at least considering the downsizing of their physical properties and moving  towards smaller, more interactive spaces. In light of these developments, it seems an opportune moment to explore the possibilities for retailers in the DIY sector looking to shake up their spaces and create truly effective in-store experiences.

The DIY sector is undergoing seismic changes, with everything from the economy to the weather being highlighted as the reason for the downturn in sales. However, while it’s fair to say that big box DIY retailers are finding trading tough, they’re certainly not about to disappear. They are simply moving towards smaller formats and investing more heavily in their online retail presence. In order to thrive in this changed landscape, DIY brands need to ask themselves; what can be done in order to optimise the entire purchase journey for customers?

One of the biggest challenges facing big box retailers is the increasing desire to purchase away from the traditional point of sale. With more and more consumers choosing to buy online, the trick here for DIY brands is to integrate their brick-and-mortar spaces with their online stores. Omnichannel retail models are the order of the day for DIY brands attempting to integrate digital and offline sales channels.

Another major factor in the changing DIY marketplace is the rapid proliferation of smartphones and tablets. Consumers are now armed with technology ready to price-compare every product, and are visiting stores looking for deals rather than making one-stop, fill-the-trolley trips. B&Q has been doing particularly well in this area with both its creative mobile app and in-store wi-fi playing key roles in its omnichannel strategy.  Apps are effective tools to utilise online and mobile techniques to drive people in-store, and the customer interaction works well to create a wholly rounded customer journey. However, there is a lot more scope for B&Q and other DIY brands to be doing more in this arena in order to underline the integral part played by in-store communication during the purchase journey. It would be refreshing to see these retailers embracing technology more wholly and implementing regular technology-fuelled in-store activity into their marketing strategies.

Using technology to connect with customers in stores is hugely important, but human interaction and face-to-face communication with a knowledgeable product specialist continues to trump even the most advanced mobile and digital strategies. In other words, while sophisticated online strategies can certainly work hard to increase footfall in DIY stores, positive human interaction on the shop floor is ultimately the most important part of the customer journey. Both the retailers and the owners of the brands sold in-store should therefore be considering their approach to providing product training and brand ambassadors to help drive sales. Although the internet offers unlimited scope for shoppers to research and compare prices, the average shopper will be looking for advice, inspiration and guidance in-store. Using specially trained brand ambassadors who are briefed on your target audience and the brand messages to interact with people in a knowledgeable and engaging way can be an invaluable way of getting customers to consider products they may otherwise have overlooked.

With DIY stores’ footfall in decline, the opportunities for brands to connect with consumers on a personal level within their retail spaces are becoming fewer and farther between. It’s clear that interactive and engaging marketing strategies along with downsized physical stores will be key for DIY brands looking to prosper in 2014.

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