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In the press: in praise of exceptional retail experiences

Following our brand building webinar last month for members of the NAJ (National Association of Jewellers), we wrote the article below for the Retail Jeweller Magazine, as part of their COVID-19 Advice Series for jewellery and watch retailers. However, the content is equally relevant to the wider retailer industry in which we work so we wanted to share it here…


The COVID-19 pandemic has undoubtedly hastened retail evolution and the important relationship between the store and its online platform. But to move entirely online would be a knee-jerk reaction.

Last month, Carla Buzasi, MD of Trend Forecaster WGSN, opened her latest retail market analysis by saying:

“As we navigate these rapid changes, one thing that will remain the same is the importance of human connection. That doesn’t falter in a rapidly changing world…customers still want simplified retail experiences, calm commerce and reassuring relationships with brands.”

After months of lockdown, we can all relate to this consumer sentiment. If we didn’t know it already, store closures have proved that we can buy nearly everything we want online – from household items to the latest Panerai watch! But how much joy has that brought us?

The ‘experience economy’ has arrived, and the impact of COVID-19 does not change the need for retailers to raise the bar. Retailers need to shift from a ‘sales’ to ‘service’ approach because today's customers are choosing ‘experience’ over ‘products’, they want convenience and value- added services and, as previously mentioned, they also want reassuring human connections.

Yes, the pandemic is further proof of the importance of online, but stores remain the only places where retailers can deliver the full brand ‘experience’ that shoppers crave. Done well, stores are a physical manifestation of a brand and allow customers to fully immerse themselves in products and service values in a way that is impossible to deliver online.

Exceptional retail stores

Writing in the FT last month, Mary Portas, said “…great brands will always want to express their power in three dimensions. There will always be a place for physical shops, but they will have to be exceptional.”

But what does ‘exceptional’ look like? Exceptional stores are ‘customer-centric’ spaces, and this requires retailers to have a deep understanding of their brand vision and values, and what these mean to their customers.

Understanding brand vision and values

A brand is definitely not what you say it is, it’s what your customers say it is. Understanding what customers really think and feel is a vital part of unlocking how to express your brand in a clear and engaging way to your target audience.

Customer research forms part of the brand development exercises we conduct for retail clients to help them understand the vision and values that need to cut through in their brand storytelling. It’s an invaluable process that always reveals surprising insights about what really matters to customers. Through brand and store audits we then help retailers to express their brand more clearly across all touch points with customers, both in-store and online.

Expressing your brand clearly

Your brand embodies the essence of the vision and values you deliver every day and drives your business. Dinny Hall, Designer and Founder of Dinny Hall Jewellery, sums up the importance of expressing your brand clearly:

“I’m passionate about my brand and I need my staff to share that passion and product knowledge with our customers. So this requires everyone in the business to be clear about who you are, what you are doing and where you are going.”

Delivering exceptional ‘customer-centric’ retail

The good news for jewellery and watch retailers is that yours is a high service sector and many of you already place customers at the heart of your businesses.

But as you re-open your stores and focus on the priority of keeping staff and customers safe in the coming weeks, make time also to revisit your brand vision and values and ask yourself:

- Do my staff and customers understand them?

- Do our brand stories communicate them?

- Do our physical store(s) and website reflect them?

- Is our customer service consistently superior and repeatable?

- Are we listening to staff and customer feedback (and acting on it)?

- Are we watching the retail innovators and constantly evolving?

If you can answer ‘yes’ to all the above, then congratulations – you’re delivering an exceptional retail experience!

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