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Opinion: Retailers must embrace changing technology says Andrea Burrows

The impact online has had on retail in the last decade is undeniable. The explosion of ecommerce and more recently, mcommerce, has transformed the way customers shop – from weekly groceries to white goods, cakes and coffee to cars. Consumers can now browse, compare, then tap, swipe, pinch, and purchase products, when and wherever is most convenient to them.

So what are the four golden rules of engagement?

1. Put mobile at the heart of everything you do – build your online offering with mobile first

2. Make it personal – with a lightness of touch, make it real and relevant

3. Customer service is the differentiator – hire the right talent to be your brand ambassadors

4. The customer journey and brand experience must be seamless – ensure your bricks and mortar team are integrated with, and knowledgeable about, your clicks offering

With technological advances showing no signs of slowing it has never been more important for retailers to ensure they aren’t forgetting the customer engagement opportunities that exist in bricks and mortar shops. They need to capitalise on a customer’s reason for going there in the first place and deliver a high quality experience to guarantee a return visit.

With that in mind, there are key areas for retailers to focus on to keep the customer engaged and to guide them successfully through to purchase.

Showing understanding of what a customer wants in-store, and meeting those needs, helps increase dwell time and to build a deeper level of interaction. The in-store experience needs to suit the overall personality of the brand, but there are basics to get right, no matter what end of the retail scale or product sector you are in.

Making the space aesthetically pleasing, ensuring products look inviting and creating an interactive experience to let the customer to engage with products are all important.

Despite operating in different sectors and price brackets, Wilko, Leon and John Lewis are all examples of retailers that have worked hard on making sure their stores and products are visually appealing and engage the senses, which should in turn keep them in store longer, exposing them to more opportunities to purchase.

Keeping the experience consistent is important. McDonalds and Starbucks have shown how in-store experience, including layout, vocabulary and branding, can be replicated across the globe. Of course, adding individual touches to each outlet is fine, but customers who are at ease in familiar surroundings, are more easily guided seamlessly through the journey to purchase.

Retailers must ensure they view the on and offline channels as part of the same journey, and find ways to build digital aspects into the physical experience in order to encourage purchasing to take place. The social shopper phenomena is only set to become more sophisticated. Retailers have no option other than to embrace it.

Mobile has become central to many consumers and is a key vehicle through which they make experiences personal to them, so it’s an area retailers should be making the most of. Whether this is by offering free Wi-Fi to enable check in, voucher redemption through code scanning, showrooming and photo sharing or through installing phone charge points for customers to use while shopping, these elements will help enhance the overall retail experience.

Integration of off and online services, such as the increasingly popular click and collect, is an example of how retailers can offer the best of both worlds. In enabling purchase online, but offering a free collection service in-store, they are recognising the customer need for convenience. Once in store to collect the item, the brand has yet another opportunity to maintain the customer interaction, build on the personalised shopping experience and prolong the relationship. It’s a chance for brand ambassadors to demonstrate their knowledge and provide assistance to the customer they would not receive online.

Of course, it’s vital for the in-store experience to match the online one in terms of service. Customers would not expect to queue to purchase an item online, so they shouldn’t have to in store. Processes to ensure busy shops keep moving are vital.

The store environment still has a lot to offer consumers, but retailers must recognise that competition between engagement channels is greater than ever. Those that are delivering on the core values of good customer service whilst evolving to incorporate developments that will encourage customers to stay in-store will have the greatest success. 

 

Andrea Burrows is managing director of Lick Creative

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