The most successful of retailers that continue to occupy the high streets and retail parks of this great shopping nation do so because they have adapted. Adapted to provide the consumer, of all generations, with an experience that resonates with them. Now I’m not suggesting that this is some magical panacea or that they have discovered the proverbial fountain of retail youth but what they did do successfully is see into the future. An uncertain future in retail has been a dark shadow for several years now, so how did those who failed not get the message and adapt? And let’s face it, we all know that stores that are left bereft of investment do not create a positive experience for consumers.
So who does do experience well? Lush, who have just abandoned social media, knows what it takes to create the theatre and experience needed to entice the shoppers who will undoubtedly spend in their stores. Its ambience is an extension of the brand voice and its interactive nature immerses the consumer in the brand and its products which works irrespective of whether they are familiar with the brand. Its latest store opened in Liverpool last month and is circa 1,380 sqm. the biggest Lush in the World where ‘every detail has been carefully considered to create a fully immersive brand experience’. Some might say that’s bold and brave in the current climate, but I’d suggest it’s a move from a brand confident in its own ability to ‘retail well’. Because above all the experiential hype, it’s the employees that create the true experience for Lush, something Debenhams perhaps forgot to acknowledge, so busy were they trying to keep the wolf from the door.
Experiential at the point of purchase is nothing without the support of well trained staff to carry the consumer through the journey and ultimately close the sale. The retailers who get this, win. They win by retaining motivated staff who feel valued and customers who having enjoyed the experience may well return in the near future or at the very least refer the retailer through recommendation.
On a recent shopping expedition with my Generation Alpha (under 9) son and daughter I sought to buy my son trainers. The displays were impactful and easy to navigate to what my son wanted but above all, it was the staff. An early 20s Generation Z shop assistant who spoke ‘indirectly’ to my son through his actions suggesting colours and designs. Disaster struck and the trainers my son wanted were not available in his size. Immediately considering another retailer or even going online, the sales assistant jumped in with “you can order these now on line from the store, pay for them here and have them delivered to your home for free”. Without hesitation, I said yes. We walked away all winners enjoying the experience, my son getting his trainers, the store not losing out on a sale and the sales assistant earning the kudos of the sale in his name. That’s omnichannel retailing in its purest form for you. How often has that happened to you?
No matter what you sell or who you believe your target market to be, the experience within your store will either make or break you. Think high end retail, are you kept waiting to be served? Are you unimpressed by the displays, the staging, the cleanliness or the ambience? I suspect the answer to all this is a resounding no. It is therefore unlikely that these stores succeed purely on their brand equity alone and before you all start saying that they can afford to do it, so can every retailer within their budget. At all levels of retail, the ability to create an experience that is worthy of your attention by consumers to entice them to spend is within your capability and budget of a retailers’ imagination and bravery.
For the retailers that succeed, they do so because they consider the experience it offers your customers. Is it engaging? Is it visually appealing? Does it speak to many of the few? Does your staff know how to bring this to life as a sales tool and succeed?
Consider John Lewis, a stalwart in British retail that if you were to base its appeal on its longevity should have failed by now. Having most recently invested £33 million in its new Westfield White City store, it also did it differently. The layout, the decor, the feel and more importantly the staff. Partners, as they are known in John Lewis, are attentive, knowledgeable and in abundance. The store’s secret is its appeal to those with disposable income and to those who aspire to shop there. It enables consumers to linger and take up as much of a Partners time to ask questions and explore a product. It works because they understand not only their audience but also the importance of never underestimating the worth of the shopper.
In hard economic times retailers and brands have to work harder to appeal to an individual’s tastes, requirements and above all budget. When failed retailers pretend not to know why they failed, they are not being honest. They failed to create an experience that appealed to a wide audience and their staff by not engaging with them positively to be the best they can. Ignorance is bliss for directors who don’t shop in their own stores.
The experience within any retailer is borne through your staff and the ability for staff to be brand advocates first and sales assistants second. Make the consumer feel special and they will listen. Keep the consumer informed and they will feel listened to. Keep the consumer engaged and they will shop.
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