Inspiring in-store experiences

Brook Calverley, Jul 28,2016

Traditional retailers looking at their store network could be forgiven for seeing little more than an expensive liability.

Bad property deals and unsustainable rents have triggered some of the biggest high-street failures in recent years (think Woolworths, HMV, BHS).

Retailers trying to manage the twin challenges of big fixed costs and highly competitive online rivals tend to approach their estate in one of two ways –

Supermarkets largely fall into the first category, desperately shedding property they can’t make profitable and focusing on much smaller stores. Banks are similarly downsizing as transactions go mobile.

Most other retailers just try to limit costs. The result is bland environments that haven’t changed much in twenty years.

A few leaders however are answering the challenge with something much bolder – realising that as the retail landscape has changed, consumers have too.

For them shopping is no longer about the transaction – it’s about the experience. Customers want moments that excite, surprise and entertain, that don’t just facilitate the purchase but add value too.

Stores are still the best place to deliver these experiences. They’re physical, immediate, sensorial. And people are still the best way to create those experiences; because shopping is essentially social and we love human connections.

Retailers who understand and respond to these needs build far deeper relationships with their customers, inspiring genuine loyalty and advocacy.

So who’s doing it, and how?

Rapha – an expertly delivered experience

The cycling brand Rapha has gone interactive. The Rapha Cycle Club in Spitalfields not only stocks all the latest gear, but also has the ‘Rapha Vault’, a climate-controlled chamber that helps customers find the perfect fit for their riding apparel. All of Rapha’s staff are bicycle enthusiasts and Rapha experts as they get to test out all the latest equipment before the customers do – making sure that their customers are not only dealing with experts, but also sales assistants that are like minded and truly passionate about their sport.

Alfred Dunhill – living the brand DNA

Alfred Dunhill’s Bourdon House, an 18th century Mayfair residence that embodies the brand DNA in every single way. It has the feel of a private members club with an in-house bespoke tailor, barber, cellar and screening room, all ready for customers to enjoy. The attention to detail doesn’t stop there, all of Alfred Dunhill’s sales assistants receive extensive training not only on the brand, product and customer, but also on a core skill in line with their DNA – tailoring.

Lululemon – a community of like minded enthusiasts

When Lululemon was first launched in Canada 16 years ago, it shared its store with a yoga studio and since then the brand has always focused on connecting with its community and customers. This year the brand launched a new store in Manhattan, creating the ultimate destination for its loyal fitness obsessed customers, which includes a fitness concierge to help customers find the perfect exercise classes close by and a hangout area with a community board to help customers discover new places to run, new classes, and even new places to eat.

All of these examples share three things in common: in each case the experience is directed by the brand; springs from a deep understanding of its customers; and is delivered by knowledgeable sales assistants in tune with it’s values.

We think there are five steps to achieve this –

1. Understand what your brand means for service – translate brand strategy into clear direction for the kind of service experience you should deliver

2. Design a brand-led service experience – built around ownable hallmarks and rituals that can be applied throughout the customer journey

3. Equip your people with better product knowledge – customers love learning more about the provenance behind the product

4. Decode the brand for local relevance – define what the brand proposition means for the customer in each location. If you are a global brand, you have the opportunity to develop relevant local store experiences that your customers can identify with.

5. Attract and recruit the right people – not just those who can deliver good service: find the people who can deliver your kind of service

Together these steps enable retailers to go beyond ‘good service’ to deliver truly distinctive brand-led service, utilising space and people to create deeper connection, loyalty and advocacy. For those willing to take the leap, the store network can be transformed from liability to your greatest asset.

Thanks to Charlotte Black who co-wrote this with me!