British high street

Retail; there was a time when all you needed to do was build a store, fit it out, stack the shelves, charge a decent price and people would come flocking.

Simple really. Well, actually not really, at least not anymore.

In today’s retail world, we know that whilst we must continue to focus on the product and the customer, it is no longer a guarantee that customers will beat a path to our door.

Because things have changed. The world has shifted and as humans and consumers we have shifted with it too. And we’re still trying to make sense of it all.


Untangling The Mystery

In the run up to peak trading 2017, Tesco ran a delightful job advertisement:

Tesco is launching the UK’s first light untangling service in one of our Wrexham stores and is looking for an enthusiastic individual to fulfil the role of a Tesco Christmas Light Untangler to help customers prepare for the festive season


Attributes required for the job included:

• Be able to untangle 3 metres of lights in under three minutes
• Be persistent and patient

No technology. Not a digital screen in sight. No great product or prices. Just a wonderful human interaction. And think what great customer experiences this person will be responsible for.

Grappling with endlessly tangled pressures and demands is the new normal in retail. Simplicity vanished years ago and the old methods and approaches no longer apply.

But despite this, many of us still cling to outdated KPI’s, processes and structures, seemingly unaware that the customer has moved on and is now in a completely different place. Both in terms of their expectations and their ability to either discredit or praise your brand as they see fit.

Today, the complexities of retail and the consumer are almost without end, and the challenge for retailers is not simply to provide great product, prices and service (those are a given) but to understand what journey your customers are on and where they are in the process.

Try to engage with me when I’m on a quick convenience journey and I won’t appreciate the intrusion. Avoid me when I’m on an indulgent journey, perhaps unconsciously putting out signals that I want to engage, and I will resent you.

Who said that retailing was easy? More than ever, in order to deliver great customer experiences, retailers must train their store staff to understand human behaviour and to build relationships with strangers, quickly and effectively.

Most brands forget that brands morph into whoever is on the shop floor

Bob Phibbs, The Retail Doctor

Great customer experience means great customer engagement. In the Deloitte Global Powers of Retailing 2017 report the art and science of customer engagement is discussed to help retailer design fresh experiences, enabled by the right technology, which in turn can strengthen customer loyalty.

Make Humanity The Core Of The Mission

Putting people at the centre of everything sounds simple but is often overlooked, because in the digital tsunami currently washing over retail, it is easy to forget that this is a human industry first, technological second.

Sainsbury’s for example, are trialling something which they refer to as ‘slow shopping’. On certain days and at specific times, on entering the store, customers are greeted by a store colleague who offers to assist them with their shopping. Chairs are placed at the end of the aisles so that the less able can take a break from time to time.

“Human interaction opens the doors to trade from all sorts of people, who on their own may comprise distinct, particular and perhaps small groups, but altogether represent a sizeable customer base”, George MacDonald, Editor Retail Week

But why does all this matter?

Because first and foremost your customers happen to be humans; infinitely different, wonderfully unpredictable but surprisingly straightforward in many ways.

And as consumers, they are on a mission, it might be they are on that previously mentioned convenience or indulgence journey, but nevertheless the mission remains.

“And because what we feel drives our emotions, in turn, our emotions drive our decisions. And it is entirely within a retailer’s auspices to influence those emotions”, Andrew Busby, Retail Reflections

All they ask is that their journey be made as easy, painless, enjoyable and as inspiring as possible. Because nowadays, more often than perhaps you realise, consumers are seeking a pleasurable, memorable experience.

Today they are defining themselves less by how many things they own and more by how curated their lives are in terms of possessions and experiences.

Ask yourself; does my brand fulfil this ambition? But let’s leave the last word to someone who, more than a hundred years ago, knew a bit about retail:

A store should be a social centre, not merely a place for shopping
Harry Gordon Selfridge, Founder, Selfridges

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