How can you offer an in-store experience if you can’t deliver the basics?

How can you offer an in-store experience if you can’t deliver the basics?

In recent months, there’s been much talk of retailers needing to offer an experience on the high street – but is this really at the top of the British consumer’s shopping list?

Since the financial downturn of 2008 and the boom in ecommerce, many established retailers have relied heavily upon cost-cutting in a bid for self-preservation.

Employee bases have been severely reduced – a trend that looks set to continue, given recent announcements from major players like Marks & Spencer, Tesco and Debenhams. This obviously has a place in a changing market, but it can often go too far and does nothing to combat dwindling footfall.

As such, the high street continues to suffer, as do British customers. Our State of Retail Report discovered that 62.1% of people don’t think UK retailers are working hard enough to create a shopping experience worth the time and cost of visiting their stores, while almost 43% of respondents feel that customer service in UK retail stores has worsened over the last ten years. Fewer than one in five believe it has improved.

When presented with a wide range of options, the majority of people (52.5%) also underlined that poor customer service is the main factor that discourages them from shopping with a retailer again.

The high street’s shift towards a more self-service experience, while reducing costs, seems to have inadvertently levelled the playing field with pure-play ecommerce rivals. Now, they need to consider how to rebuild that advantage, using the assets that separate themselves from online-only counterparts.

Come back to what you know

Many retail commentators talk about the need for the high street to create better experiences to lure consumers back to bricks and mortar retail. Some businesses interpret this as introducing a well-stocked café, product demonstrations, fashion shows, or simply ramping up the free giveaways.

Yet for all the intelligent technology and logistics infrastructure in the world, service is a crucial layer that bonds the retail experience together, and one that consumers tell us is severely lacking.

Let’s briefly reflect upon one of bricks-and-mortar retail’s greatest modern success stories. Apple’s stores, while being glass-fronted and inviting, do nothing out of the ordinary. Yes, it took its machines out of their boxes, connected them to the internet and encouraged consumers to interact with them. But the steps it took to truly buck the retail trend was to invest heavily in well-trained, friendly and abundant staff. It made its number-one priority customer interaction, empowering them to give great service.

Apple's unmistakable open store format.

Can you have your cake and eat it?

Sometimes, the most unlikely places provide the best examples of the way to do things right. McDonald’s, in particular, offers an excellent approach to customer service which has become such a part of its fabric, it’s continually overlooked due to its industry roots.

Over the last few years, the fast-food giant has installed self-service kiosks in the majority of its restaurants, but rather than using this as an incentive to cut employee numbers, it instead repurposed these roles to offer a new layer of service for customers, targeting table service, cleaner restaurants, and even just having someone on hand to give kids balloons.

Further afield, service and certainty was a core theme during our trip to Abu Dhabi’s Yas Mall, and nowhere more so than with its sprawling Lego experience. For approximately £2 entry, we experienced its “Pop in and Play” concept. Its walls were giant Duplo bricks, and within these were different product-line building tables for Star Wars, Disney, Technic and more, catering for young and old.

Huge rollercoaster roads created one centrepiece, allowing customers the freedom to build their car and race them against others; those with more digital skills could instead enjoy one of the five PlayStations, each one featuring a different, recently released Lego video games. Every single product being demonstrated was in stock and available to purchase.

Most importantly, brand ambassadors were on hand to enhance the experience, offering advice and support to anyone interested in Lego products. It’s something an online rival just can’t replicate.

Relaying the foundations of retail

While technology, underpinned by cost-cutting measures, has been well used to make the customer experience more efficient, it also regularly replaces – and sacrifices – what consumers want: knowledgeable and helpful staff, a personalised experience, and good service.

As outlined throughout this report, the correct investment in technology can remove substantial costs from omnichannel retail while driving up footfall through more aggressive online positioning and improved click-and-collect services.

But to maximise benefit from these initiatives and realise the full value of growing an engaged, high-frequency, multichannel customer base, the store service level must meet the customer’s expectations.

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