The phrase ‘absence makes the heart grow fonder’ has certainly proved the case with in-store electronics retailing. The category has faced some unprecedented challenges over the past two years. However reports of the demise of bricks and mortar retailing have proved greatly exaggerated. Experience-starved customers have voted with their feet and returned to stores in droves after the various lockdowns.
In the ‘considered purchase’ space – purchases made with significant financial or emotional thought – there is simply no match for the timeless ability of an in-store experience to engage all the senses and generate sales. This is particularly the case for consumer electronics – a category with such a high spend on key items and technical questions that need to be answered.
Mind the knowledge gap
We recently investigated the pandemic’s impact on ‘considered purchases’ in a research project called ‘Mind the Knowledge Gap’. Gekko surveyed experiences across several key retail categories in a study of 2,000 consumers, conducted by OnePoll. The categories studied included: Consumer electronics, homeware, baby & child, gaming, home improvement, clothing & apparel. 48% of respondents revealed they had made a considered purchase during the pandemic in the CE category. It was second only to DIY with 50%. However the research also revealed there is no time for complacency. The study showed that electronics retailers had lost out on some significant revenue due to poor advice during this period. 1 in 4 (24%) were put off making a purchase they had gone in-store to make, with 11% actually walking out of the store. This equates to £3.3bn in lost revenue for the category over the past 12 months alone. In fact of all the categories surveyed, shoppers in this category reported having some of the worst advice. This of course isn’t to say a poor experience was universal or even the norm. Indeed 60% said they had received ‘excellent or good advice in store’ overall, highlighting the benefit of human interaction and face-to-face sales. But the point is small improvements in advice can lead to big gains financially. With lost sales during the period and rising commodity and transport costs impacting the bottom line, this is an area that is relatively easy to fix.
The truth is £3.3bn could be a drop in the ocean compared to what could be achieved. 37% of shoppers in the CE category revealed they would be prepared to spend more if they received excellent and knowledgeable in-store advice, indicating a golden opportunity is there to be grabbed. This compared with 30% of shoppers in the home improvement category and 27% in homeware/ home furnishings and 21% in clothing and apparel. The study also unearthed something of a blueprint for success for electronic retailers. Consumers revealed the top factors driving a considered purchase. Number one was the ‘ability to see and touch a product’, according to 58% of respondents. Price promotion was second, rated important by 56% of respondents. This was followed by ‘great advice’ rated important by 37% of respondents and then an effective product demonstration (28%).
Additionally the research highlights another area for optimism for electronic retailers. That is in the behaviour of the younger generations. 18-24 year olds – known as Gen Z – are more interested in consumer electronics than any other category. 52% revealed they would be prepared to spend more if given better advice. Encouragingly for the future of physical retail, Gen Z are most likely to seek out great advice in store (45%) versus an average of 38% and are more likely to find staff knowledgeable across categories. They are also the most likely out of all ages to appreciate product demos (39%) against a 29% average across all ages. Finally 1 in 2 Gen Z’ers (52%) and 38% of Millennials will spend more for a good experience in store across all categories – crucial for the development of experiential retail. So how to respond? I think there are three key actionable take outs for consumer electronics retailers.
1) Invest in experts
Our research highlights the timeless appeal of a positive engagement with an in-store expert in CE. While we have spent so much of the past year and a half shopping online – it is clear online alone is no replacement for the experience and interaction of trained advisors. This is particularly the case in a category where more of us are prepared to spend more. They are consistently the best way to influence and convert a sale of a considered purchase item. Ensure they are on hand and fully trained to answer any question your curious customers may have. While some are struggling, the retailers with a real customer first mentality are succeeding. Every person that walks through the door should be viewed as a potential customer, an influencer, someone who will talk about you positively through their experience and tell others in person, online or on social media. Not viewed as just another body to ‘deal’ with. The benefits to the business can be significant.
2) Engage the senses and think price
An expert’s role is important but they can’t operate in isolation. As our study showed, the number one factor driving a considered purchase is the ability to see and touch a product. Price promotion and a great demo were also high on the list. So when it comes to physical retail and considered purchases, it is vital to engage all the senses and create a joined up experience leading the customer to the checkout. After all this desire to engage all the senses has only been heightened during the long lockdowns we have all endured with so much mind numbing time spent in front of screens. So creating a real retail theatre is vital. Good lighting, a price promotion clearly on display, ensuring customers can interact with the product when they want and of course having the expert on hand to answer questions. It may seem simple but it is worth revisiting your customer experience strategy. Start with a genuine audit of your brands or retail estate to ensure all the senses are being fully engaged.
3) Joined up brand experience
While the thirst for the physical store experience endures, it is not about going back to 2019. The genie is now completely out of the bottle for ecommerce with even the most hardened luddites now comfortable with online search and discovery. The smart strategy is now ensuring the experience is joined up and that we better understand the drivers of the online/offline experience. In our research a conclusive 85% of shoppers said they are now doing online research before making a considered purchase in-store. Belying any remaining stereotypes, the older age groups were more likely to go online first. 89% of 55-64 would research online first. Interestingly, 69% said a well synchronised online and offline experience would make them more likely to make a considered purchase. Brands need to therefore ensure they have consistency across the full spectrum of online touchpoints, including search, social and display advertising and in-store. How does the experience feel to a customer and how is this then prompting a likely sale? Reports of the demise of in-store retail have thankfully proved premature. But while we have emerged blinking into the sunlight and luckily still standing after this period, the world we now observe is changed. Indeed survival going forward is never guaranteed and really never was in the fast paced consumer electronics category. To succeed we need to develop a new ‘experience-centric playbook’ utilising the best that a joined up in-store experience can offer; the right experts on hand to complement an experience that engages all the senses. One that is seamless and joined up with the online world of discovery that led us to the store. As we look forward to a better year, there’s all to play for. Let’s go for it.
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