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Building back better: the instore experience

What’s been your experience as you’ve headed back to physical shopping again?


High street shoppers on busy high street

A colleague recently reported her frustrating experience when she went shopping for an expensive new gadget. She’d done her research and chosen where she wanted to buy it from but she still had a few questions that she couldn’t answer online. So off she went, excited to be back out in the world again after her second vaccine, looking forward to making her purchase.


But her expectations of an enjoyable shopping spree were immediately dashed by a shop assistant who said, “I’m not a sales person and they’re all really busy right now. They won’t be available for a long time so I suggest you go home and go online where you can chat with one of our experts”.


So that’s just what she did – went home and made her expensive purchase online but not from that retailer! What’s more, she also went on social media to share her disappointment and frustration among her very large network. She hasn’t named and shamed the retailer yet but that day may come if they don’t respond appropriately to her written complaint.


Building back better


Coincidentally, the very next day we had an email in the studio from The Institute of Customer Service entitled “The pandemic is no longer an excuse for poor customer service.” It brought a few wry smiles to the team followed by a lengthy discussion about how retailers should be working harder to ‘build back better’.


Such service problems usually come from a lack of staff training and support tools but frequently they can stem from a more worrying dissonance between retailers, their staff and their customers. This is because there are still too many retail brands who don’t understand that a brand is not what it thinks it is - it’s what customers and staff say it is.


Therefore our retail design work with clients starts by revisiting their brand vision together with their staff and customer insights. We help them to dig deep to unlock the essence of the business values they deliver every day, and to confront some of the disconnects in service and messaging that are impacting the customer experience in their physical stores.


Then, when they have a deeper understanding of their brand values and what these mean to both their staff and their customers, we help them explore the opportunities to express these values in clear and engaging ways with shoppers in store - making sure that the physical brand experience works in harmony with the digital experience.


Meeting and beating customer expectations


Our colleague who chose to leave the comfort of her sofa to visit that particular retailer, did so because of an expectation of excellent service. Having been locked down for most of the past 14 months, she wanted a real life-affirming retail experience – one that felt helpful, engaging and human. She wanted to see that gadget up close and be reassured about her expensive purchase decision. What she got fell far short!


Unfortunately that retailer has failed to understand that their stores still matter. They may have invested in their online ‘virtual experts’ during the pandemic but they appear to have forgotten the importance of the store experience for customers.


So as the pandemic becomes endemic, the key to retail recovery lies in being highly attuned to changing customer needs. By blending the very best elements of physical and digital, retailers should be able to deliver exceptional retail experiences to meet and hopefully beat customer expectations.


Sadly, the unfortunate retailer in this saga did not only lose a significant sale, they also seem to have lost their human touch!