Online shopping is increasingly popular but people still want to visit bricks and mortar stores where they demand a fully immersive brand experience. “Experience is about going in-store, knowing you have been understood and made an informed choice,” argued Ann Summers head of store development Caroline Philipson, speaking at Retail Design Expo on the subject of new store formats.
In a lively discussion Philipson and Emma Gullick, senior 3D designer at creative agency Phoenix Wharf, examined what ‘retail experience’ should mean to shoppers now.
Gullick described experience as “Getting something extra, a feeling, a link to that brand, something new… Not just going into a shop, picking something up transactionally and paying for it.”
Ann Summers aims to offer a balance of friendly, helpful knowledgeable staff with efficiency, in terms of cutting down on queue time and speeding up payments. “It is [about] how do we get people in and give them a full service, no matter what element they want to be part of?” said Philipson. “Really helping the customer to have a memorable experience when they are shopping in-store.”
Examples of how Ann Summers helps shoppers in-store with excellent, speedy service include separate tills for click and collect orders and ‘sexpert’ advice. “Online at Ann Summers we have lots of information on sex toys,” said Philipson. “In-store, we have a sexpert.”
Contemporary stores should make shopping easier as well as delivering inspiration, said the speakers. Staff can help build trust with the consumer. “Everyone is time poor,” said Gullick. “Actually, doing research online is very time consuming and people often just want to be able to walk into a shop saying ‘please tell me what to buy’.”
“Having staff that can read a human being, people who can tell if a customer wants to engage or get in and out is really important – it is where you can differentiate as a bricks and mortar store,” adds Philipson.
In a physical store, the customer can engage with a brand on a sensual level and Ann Summers leverages sensuality in its store design to great effect. Rather than just outlets for its product, they offer an experience of its savvy, sassy, daring brand values. The brand’s Oxford Street flagship includes a parlour run by celebrity tattoo artist Dan Gold. “Some people just come in to watch,” commented Philipson.