There’s a myth that needs busting in retail and it’s the one that goes along the lines of ‘facilitating payment is the most important part of the customer journey’.
When considering a retailer’s fundamental purpose is to make money you can see why this notion gains traction, and as a representative of a checkout technology company myself, it’s a conversation I’ve experienced many times with retailers, but I think it misses some key points.
In retail, the checkout process should not be something that customers are even thinking about – it should just work, a true frictionless experience, and as hassle free as it can possibly be. What is of critical importance to bricks and mortar retail businesses is attracting the customer, putting the right products in the right places at the right price to ensure the shopper wants to get to the checkout in the first place.
Encouragingly there’s a real movement in retail right now that is following this mantra. No-one is taking customers and their needs for granted anymore, and it’s resulting in some intriguing in-store experiences that, until now, you could never have predicted.
Take a look at what’s happening at Sainsbury’s over the coming months, and you’ll see my point. The UK’s second largest supermarket group is introducing a host of new beauty products, services and department store-esque displays in and among its aisles.
It is also opening The Fragrance Shop store-within-stores in two of its shops, and eight of its supermarkets will host specially trained beauty colleagues to offer advice and provide customers with salon-like beauty services to give customers the option of makeovers, nail treatments, et al.
Paul Mills-Hicks, Sainsbury’s commercial director, promised “an alluring space where customers are inspired to browse the new ranges and try before they buy”, in a move that echoes Superdrug which has introduced multiple in-store services that increase dwell time and make stores a customer experience (CX) destination for shoppers.
Superdrug’s success here and Sainsbury’s move to take them on in this space is all representative of the retail services movement we’re seeing a lot of, where additional revenue streams and engagement opportunities are being rolled out in stores to cast a wider net over customers.
Retail apocalypse? Only for boring retailers
It’s no secret that there have been several casualties in UK retail in recent months, with companies falling by the wayside due to irrelevant propositions or financial challenges that just could not be overcome.
Even for those that continue to trade, there is an overriding feeling of uncertainty – and many are reducing store estates accordingly to lower costs and reshape their operations for a physical and digital shopping era.
But the phrase “retail apocalypse” that has emerged in some quarters to describe these events does not do the industry justice. There are so many examples of retailers evolving and doing well – in the UK alone, Fat Face, Joules, Selfridges and The White Company are names that roll off the tongue – and they are proving that traditional retail is far from dead, as some commentators would have people believe.
To paraphrase industry analyst and former US retailer Steve Dennis, who has gained many plaudits on the conference scene of late through his descriptions of the current state of the industry, what is certainly “dead” is boring, unoriginal and uninspiring retail.
And that comes down to in-store service levels, the likes of which are a key positive feature of the brands I’ve already mentioned. They all also have the ability to spot new ideas and trends, and then run with them in stores to delight their customer base.
That’s what is needed in retail at the moment. Yes, the checkout process is typically the ‘final mile’ of an in-store customer journey and remains a critical part of the whole process, but what’s absolutely fundamental to success in today’s market is getting the experience in the store fresh and right.
Getting great product, useful services, new features, special events and engaged colleagues all in line will help retailers drive positive CX – and that, in turn, will drive conversions in the store environment at the checkout.
Don’t let your customers zone out before they’ve even reached the checkout. That’s my mantra, and for the forward-thinking retailers and brands among us, it is for them too.