Smart Retail

Posted 12 Dec 2008

With the words ‘credit crunch’ having reached every-day vernacular, consumers are being more cautious about where they spend and how they spend while retailers look at strategies to increase footfall and boost sales, they need to also be considering how they deal with the fundamentals of selling. 

With the shakeout in the retail sector resulting in fatalities like Woolworths, and impacting many others, it is clear only the most efficient opportunists will survive. Here at Delete we know that retailers need to embrace digital more effectively than they have in the past. To illustrate the point …..

Six weeks ago my wife and I headed out to buy a new washing machine. We’d done our research online, the headed to the High Street to validate our research, with a view to buying on the spot.

We visited Currys and Comet. The in-store experience was as follows:

1. Sales people who knew nothing about the product (without reading the brochure) - our own research online was more effective.

2. Pricing which wasn't competitive - in both stores the price was much more than the price online.

3. In both cases I had to ask for assistance. Embarrassingly, the sales person in Currys said:  ‘People aren't really interested in appliance features.  They are only interested in brands.’ That wasn’t the case. 

We would have preferred to research online, then buy in store after looking at the product, getting some face-to-face advice but the conclusion after a wasted afternoon was that it would have been better to not even leave the house - We should have purchased online. 

If the bricks and mortar stores are to compete with eCommerce they need to be more responsive to customer need and integrate their in-store experience with consumers experience online.

After the release of the retail figures for October it looks like the drive to shop online is gathering in pace.  Figures released 9 December by the British Retailers Consortium show UK retail sales declining fast, highlighting worsening economic conditions.  The positive news is that UK online sales (most of the non-food, non-store segment) have increased in October by 16.6% and 9.5% in November over last year. More details

Here at Delete we believe that this Christmas purchasing online will see another surge with consumers feeling safer making careful considered (researched) purchases in the comfort of their own home (safely tucked away from the “influential” sales person and temptation of the store). 

So how do the bricks and mortar stores make in-store shopping viable in the economy of the internet enabled consumer?  We think they should consider the customer journey more seriously beyond the physical store.

Online research is influencing in-store shopping habits, especially for younger adults and cash rich, time poor AB consumers.  British shoppers are more net-savvy than their US peers and want a more closely tied in-store and online experience: * 66 percent research products online before buying in-store; rising to 73 percent of 16-24 year olds and AB shoppers - Internet Retailing, June 2008

Given these basic facts, and the state of the retail sector, we think it's time for retailers to consider that the customer journey starts in front of the screen and understand how to deliver value in that experience for the consumer - then integrate the experience in store when traffic is driven from researching to in-store.

In the digital part of the customer journey, the retailer is opening up a dialogue with the consumer where they are open to being "sold to".  In this space it is possible to show them alternatives (up-selling and cross selling).  Of course, some people will always want to buy online, so the bricks and mortar retailers that have an online presence too can capitalise on this need - but we think that for a long time there will be people who will want to “try before they buy” for some purchases and B&M retailers need to be better at servicing this need, after securing the attention of the researching consumer online.

Wouldn't it have been great when shopping for my washing machine to be able to make a decent comparison between machines on the Currys site, get a good base of information about it, book a sales person in-store and have them inform my purchasing decision after I've kicked the tyres?  In that scenario, I would certainly have bought in store paying over the (internet) odds for what I perceived as "real person customer service" and reassurance offered by the retail brand that I was buying in a reliable environment. Also I get to take it home straight away!

FYI – We went for an LG purchased through Sainsburys - they offered outstanding service and delivered promptly.

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