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Retail Apocalypse: Why customer research must be part of in-store cx assessments

RETAIL APOCALYPSE! It’s a nice little catch phrase that journalists love to use to get attention, and describe the well-reported and very real challenges of the retail industry – usually simplistically attributed to Amazon and on-line platforms – and continues the tendency we have of catastrophising everything. Everything is a crisis. Everything is traumatic. Everything is disruptive. Everything (bad) is record-breakingly so. Except it isn’t. Really. It’s. Just. Not.

All this over the top language goes to the heart of creating an unhelpful trend: with this constant extreme language we have become simply way too sensitive to everything. And yet desensitized to many things too. And because everyone is trying to make a sale and get our attention amidst lots of noise, they’ll say anything to get our attention. In an age where we are awash with lots of useless information, the ability to be clear and critical, is, well, critical.

Now before you write me off as clueless, I will preface this by saying undoubtedly retail is an industry that has been enormously disrupted, challenged and generally turned right upside down. But so have lots of industries. Manufacturing being a major one. Healthcare is another. Logistics too. By digital. By Big Data. By changing customer habits. By technological efficiencies and advancement, and more. But with every disruption, new industries needing new skills and jobs and lots of new opportunities have been created too.

In retail, huge numbers of store closures and jobs have been lost due to technological change. Margins squeezed particularly in the middle by competitors that have better supply chain and logistics, enabled by technology, and generally everything is moving so quickly it is hard to keep up. But equally what is contributing to all this, is simply poor financial management by senior executives, lazily slashing margins in a race to the bottom, a chronic lack of foresight and investment in the future, and significantly of all in my opinion, wealth inequity from decades long stagnant wage growth and poor job security across the world, generally reducing discretionary spend and consumer confidence.

I have been encouraged by an increasing number of articles and news stories appearing on my LinkedIn noise feed, reporting that retailers are investing in major in-store experiences. David Jones in Australia is one. The major luxury maisons continue to revitalise their incredible shopping temples to delight and amaze. Louis Vuitton springs to mind, with those extraordinary art installations on Bond Street, and replicated in other markets. Luxury and premium are not the only segments who see the importance of in-store experiences. Here in Dubai, Nike Dubai has an incredible in-store offering as does the New Zara, both at The Dubai Mall, and GO Sport at the Mall of the Emirates too, with an indoor climbing wall.

I have long believed that immersive in-store experiences will continue to play an important role in retail, and must of course work hand in hand with digital channels. As such, today’s assessment of customer experience (CX) must measure both online and in-store experiences, as One. Today online and digital searches are a precursor to the in-store experience, as studies show 88% of customers routinely start their buying journey with online research before setting foot in a store to purchase, or transacting online. Online experiences are therefore integral to the overall CX, and so should be incorporated in to the CX assessment, or traditional “mystery shopping” experience. Not only would this give a deeper more nuanced understanding of the customer’s experience of your brand, it presents a competitive advantage over other firms that don’t, and also offers revenue growth opportunities as a service as part of any mystery shopping and CX work.

To finish: with all the product knowledge harvested by customers before they walk in the door, be sure you’ve invested in training your in-store teams, and you’ve found a way to Make It Stick. Customers nowadays will often know more about your products and collections than the sales team (I’m speaking from experience as a customer here!). As customers are more and more demanding and knowledgeable, there is no greater turn off. So, make your online experience engaging, keep that in-store experience amazing, and invest in your store people!

This artcile was first posted here.

Stephen Francis

An experienced leader with expertise in international brands as retail General Manager, Country and Regional Manager, in Australia and Middle East, with complete end to end business management responsibility. He has a track record of commercial success by driving business function engagement, influencing across an entire organization through a highly credible and authentic leadership style, to optimise retail and exceed financial objectives. He is experience leading transformational infrastructure and CAPEX projects with international teams.