Something slightly different this week. I thought I'd share three key themes I see as critical to delivering a great store experience in today's digital world.
For those of you who don't have time to watch a 10 minute video, it's worth highlighting the key points below.
In some ways, it seems unfashionable to even be spending a whole day talking about the shopper and why they buy. So much focus in marketing now is on the digital world - real time personalisation, conversion rate optimisation etc etc that the emotions behind why we buy (or indeed why we don't!) seem to get lost in a stream of acronyms.
But, just as Mark Ritson is forever highlighting the remaining importance of TV as a media channel, we have to ensure that, in our lust to focus on the new, we don't overlook the importance of delivering a great experience in the world of bricks and mortar. It's interesting that brands born in the .com era such as Warby Parker still see merit in developing brilliant retail experiences –their concept store in Portland delivers a playful shopping journey in every sense of the word themed around an 80s arcade. In a world where I can take my prescription online and order the same product from a vast array of retailers, Warby Parker have had to work hard to inject theatre and fun into their shopping experience.
So if a .com retailer like Warby Parker sees how bricks and mortar can help their business, why the perennial doom and gloom. Well it's fair to say that the fabric of the high street is changing beyond recognition. Shopper expectations are rising – we expect better products, a better experience and whilst the internet retailers have been able to adapt, unencumbered by legacy infrastructure, the bricks and mortar retailers have struggled to keep up. Once iconic brands like Toys R Us have failed to keep pace and have disappeared altogether.
All this at a time where retailers are competing for a share of a shrinking pie online – footfall in the UK fell by an unprecedented 4.8% in March and April and this isn't a UK phenomenon – March 2018 footfall in Germany was down 6.8% and it’s a pattern we see replicated in most developed markets
But at the same time certain brands are thriving in this challenge. Whilst the PR around ToysRUs demise would have us believe that no-one buys toys online anymore, niche brands like Games Workshop continue to thrive. Smaller 'High St.-centric' brands like The Entertainer have also outperformed the market. What do they have in common? – a focus on service and on letting their core segment interact and engage with their products. In other words, good ol' fashioned retailing principles! Equally, Aldi have transformed themselves from a price only retailer to one that has a real sense of discovery; a chance to find unique continental products giving shoppers the bragging rights of a bargain well found.
So what can we learn from these highs and lows?
Three key success factors that seem to be a common thread:-
1. Building Theatre
Interestingly brands like Smashbox and Warby Parker have managed to do this brilliantly but what better example than Story in New York? Set in a 2000 square foot store located in Manhattan’s 10th Ave. retail corridor, Story is a retail concept that takes the point of view of a magazine, changes like a gallery and sells things like a store. That means every month or so. Story completely reinvents itself - from the design of the store to the merchandise contained within.
We have an innate human instinct to want to play and interact – physical stores can bring this to life in a way that online simply cannot. Sure its easier in a concept store like Lego but the same principles can also apply at scale – a brand like Lush consistently tops the charts for retail experience.
2. Working in Harmony not Competition
Nowhere is this better illustrated than the DIY sector. Traditionally a landscape dominated by Big Sheds, the larger retailers have struggled to gain growth. Meanwhile, newer entrants like Screwfix and Toolstation have transformed the end to end experience, delivering a brilliant service both to trade and consumer segments but all from a smaller square footage.
Kingfisher owns big box retailer B&Q whose like for likes are down 2.8% but is being bailed out in the UK by Screwfix's stunning 10.1% sales growth. All too often business processes and reward structures can mean that channels are in competition with each other rather than working in harmony , working as separate silos rather than a joined up end to end experience.
3. Experience Matters
I mean - REALLY matters. I referred to Games Workshop and Lush earlier – brands whose staff are revered by their loyal customer franchise. They are also great examples of environments where the store and the team work in perfect harmony together. No better example in my view than Charlotte Tilbury. As a brand it doesn't sell cosmetics, it sells transformation . Customers can choose one of 10 looks – bundles of products carefully curated and merchandised in perfect harmony with each other. It's not a rational product sell. It’s an emotional tale of 'a whole new me' backed by skilled staff who are on hand to wave that magic wand.
I wrote in a previous blog about how McDonalds had kept the emotional thread in their above the line comms but the complexity of delivering an emotional experience at scale can mean many brands really struggle to pull this off.
So, despite the doom and gloom, there are clear pointers for how retail environments can deliver a great experience to meet the changing needs of today's shopper. However, like any business transformation, this is easy to say but much harder to do. It has to start by viewing the world 'shopper in' rather than product out and requires teams to work cross functionally to break down the organisational silos. Sure, data is critical here but, just like the shop in Manhattan, stories are even more important - pulling together the key patterns to inspire the business to act.