Experiential. It’s the word of the moment and something multichannel retailers are striving to provide, as highlighted by John Lewis’s announcement that it will introduce the new role of manager of brand experience at its Westgate Oxford store when it opens in October.
And it’s not only the store’s management that will have a focus on providing a great customer experience: all new employees will be sent to drama school to improve their confidence.
This may be a novel approach to training but the goal of providing the best experience for a customer – whether online or in store – is not new. What has changed is the level of customer expectation of that experience.
I recently spent some time with students at the Fashion Retail Academy, who highlighted the importance of an experience to drive them into stores. The younger generation of digitally savvy shoppers requires something extra in store to attract their attention. Alongside that, as brand loyalty wanes, not only must it catch their initial attention but also provide something that keeps them coming back.
There is a fine line between introducing quirky fads to generate a one-off footfall drive and marketing opportunity, and creating a truly experiential journey for the customer that has a long-term impact on the business and drives sales.
The most important thing when thinking about experience is to tailor it, like any other business strategy, to reflect the brand and the target customer market. Understanding customers’ lifestyles is more important than ever to fulfil their needs and desires in the changing shopping environment.
Retail theatre will vastly differ and there is no one rule that fits all. For Missguided it is the striking store design with a pink monster truck, fake money falling from the ceiling and digital screens to maximise its 16-to-24-year-old customers’ love of social media. When Oasis launched a product preview for top customers called “The Extraordinarium” earlier this year, it used the opportunity to find out whether its key demographic interacted with QR codes, and therefore whether this technology should be introduced in store.
John Lewis will need to be a much different proposition. It has said that the Oxford store will include initiatives such as a concierge to greet customers and help them book in-store appointments.
Once a clear strategy is set, it is equally important for retailers to plan how to measure it. Is it driving footfall? Have reviews improved? Have basket sizes increased? And, most importantly, what has been the overall impact on sales? How this investment drives returns will determine retailers’ strategic approach. Retailers need to make an experience, but also make sure it’s worthwhile.