It’s often said that the online world has made everything readily accessible, quick and easy for our time-strained consumers. While I agree, I would argue online can’t deliver on everything, and particularly there is now more than ever, a great importance placed on personal interactions. Even online dating companies have caught on. After 17 years of success with the online model, match.com launched special nights and socials, which bring members together over shared interests such as photography or cooking lessons.
With this in mind, I will turn from one of our favorite topics in the office, dating, to another, shopping. For years competition from online retailers has been seen as a threat to retail stores. But in fact it can be argued that for ecommerce to thrive the retailors will play an increasingly important role, and future of retail is in ‘bricks and clicks’. There is already evidence for this growing trend, in 2013, department store John Lewis found that 40% of its customers ordered online to pick up in store, up 27% from the year before. With an increasing number of touch points, consumers want to control how and when they shop. Retailers must respond to the demands and expectations of the digital consumer by being flexible and answering to needs by creating a personalized and relevant shopping experience. Optimizing the retail stores through online and vice-versa is the only way to move forward.
When Amazon came to market, there were great fears that retailers couldn’t compete, particularly from their core category of books and media, because Amazon just makes the customer experience so quick, easy and seamless. So one may think opening a huge Foyes flagship bookstore on Charing Cross Road in the iconic St. Martin building in central London is risky business, but in fact by making it a destination it has a good chance of success. Upon entering, you are confronted by an exciting maze of books, spread out over eight levels. Digital has been fully embraced with in-store Wi-Fi, click-and-collect, digital screens and a smartphone-enabled book search function. The latter shows stock availability and has an interactive map of the store, so that customers can easily find their chosen book amongst the 200,000 stacked on the shelves.
Additionally, catering for today’s shopper goes beyond the purchase journey as customers increasingly seek reasons other than the products to engage with a brand. Rapha, the cycle wear brand, launched online in 2004, but in 2011 they opened bricks and mortar stores. The stores have created an area for customers to absorb cycling culture, meet fellow cyclists, organize cycle rides as well as watch major races on big screens. The brand has created a ‘space’ for their target audience, and in turn this helps the brand better understand it’s customers and what they truly want.
It appears that to better understand customers and deliver to their needs / wants and expectations, the retail stores must live on. After all, if you can’t convert the customer in the store, they won’t even bother searching for you on Google.
We seem to have a theme here but last weekend, I spent 5 hours in Covent Garden in central London, helping my brother find the ‘perfect suit’ – honestly, I deserve a medal. After several hours we ended up in Paul Smith, where a friendly sales assistant immediately greeted us; he stayed close at hand, bringing different styles, sizes, offering advice and the casual glass of champagne. 3 hours later a suit was successfully bought. Safe to say, if it wasn’t for our wonderful assistant, we would have given up and left. Just goes to show, personal interactions convert.