Sunday, January 5, 2014

Retail Stores Can Differentiate Through Humanizing Interactions


Retail shopping and on-line shopping may offer similar products, however the experience that shoppers are wanting is very different. The creation of a retail destination needs to tap into an experience beyond the products on offer. Even though the way we shop has evolved our need for social interaction and face to face service remains as strong. The question is can traditional retailing tap into these latent needs to revolutionise the shopping experience in the same way as on-line retailers have.

Product design and displays are the 'hero' when browsing through stores.  Clever product innovation and promotion is abundant. Customers look for
product brands with distinct benefits. Even supermarkets have increased their branded line of products. Product seeking has become a key choice driver for shoppers.

It seems that the focus on the customer experience and service excellence at many retail outlets has given way to product promotion. The retailer customer value proposition is determined by the products on offer. With products being widely available or easily substituted across competing distribution outlets, including on-line shopping sites, loyalty to a retail store brand seems pointless.

In many retail stores it feels as if the customer is an annoyance and self service is expected. This is not a complaint, rather an observation. This had contributed to the growth in on-line shopping as customers have little emotional reason to stay loyal to traditional retailers. The on-line shopping phenomenon highlights the importance of creating a compelling customer value proposition for shoppers.

Virtual retailers have stepped up to deliver reliable service, intuitive on-line user experiences, customised communications, as well as, value for money. They have built a clear customer value proposition and most importantly delivered consistently on their promises.

The successful on-line shopping sites have realised that exceptional user experience offers benefits for shoppers. Quality products attract customers, however it's the shopping experience that converts to sales. Tapping into how 'we want to shop' and delivering this has driven their success.

A great example of how this philosophy has been successfully implemented is the Apple store vs on-line proposition. The on-line experience is about user intuition, access to information, superior functionality and customised on-line communications. The store environment is about customer interaction, knowledge, expertise and training. There are lots of staff and people. To put it simply it's all about 'technology interaction' vs 'human interaction.' As shoppers we desire the benefits of both, and seek them out for different reasons.

Creating a retail destination is the aim of shopping centres and stores. The customer value proposition therefore revolves around 'human interactions.'  It is this focus that differentiates the traditional shopping experience from the on-line one.

It seems that on-line providers have embraced user experience and follow up, where as retailers have lost their focus on their key differentiator. Beyond product and convenience, there is the value proposition of assistance, care and socialisation.

A refocus on human interactions would differentiate retail shop brands. Ways for traditional retail brands to "hero" the experience.

Customer recognition: We all like to be treated like an individual and valued as a customer. Greeting regular customers has a "huge" impact and builds affinity. It does not even have to be by name, just being recognised is enough eg. welcome back. On-line sites create the perception of personalisation with friendly greetings and constant name usage.

Product knowledge: Engaging with staff who do not know anything about the products on offer is frustrating for customers. Potential customers are driven on-line because they feel it is the only way to get information. Having knowledgable staff available for customers to ask questions too or get advice from secures sales.

Engage the senses: Sensory impressions are benefits that on-line shopping  can not provide. Captivating shoppers in an experience beyond the products on offer reinforces the retailer benefits. Even simple hygiene factors such as cleanliness and presentation create an impression.

Customer care and support: Create an environment where staff support each other and customers to create positive experiences. A friendly and welcoming atmosphere is always remembered and positively perceived. It needs to be conveyed in all interactions, including the way staff treat each other. On-line shopping services have the advantage of customers being removed from staff appearances and attitudes impacting on service perceptions.

Unique quality and/or belief: Defining a quality or belief that is unique to the retail brand helps frame the proposition in customers minds. With retailers all offering similar products demonstrating a rational and/or emotional reason for choice can be the most effective way to attract customers.

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