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Customers will define the store of the future

Industry insiders debated the future of bricks-and-mortar stores in an omnichannel world at Drapers Fashion Forum.

When shaping of the store of the future, experts agreed that the starting point should always be the customer: what do they want; how do they want to shop; and what do they want from the business.

“It should be about how customers want to shop,” said Mary Homer, CEO of The White Company. “You should look at where [they’re] shopping, and then how [they’re] shopping within that.”

But in today’s retail climate, retailers must be agile, and willing to try and test fresh initiatives.

“It’s about being able to change quickly and not being afraid to try new things,” said Proximity Insight CEO Cathy McCabe. “Retailers should focus on the ability to adapt in an agile and innovative way. But it’s important to pick what you prioritise. You need to get to know your customer and really understand what they want, and how you build that into the store experience.”

“Our customers will shop almost any time, any place, anywhere,” said Claudia Nappo, retail director at LK Bennett. “With stores you really have to make the experience come to life. Just offering 20% discount or drinks aren’t going to draw them in any more. They want something different.”

However, while the trend for experiential retail sweeps fashion, smaller changes to the shopping experience can still make an impact to the omnichannel proposition. For example, Nappo revealed that LK Bennett has changed the opening hours of its City of London store to allow customers to pick up click-and-collect orders earlier in the morning on their way to work. Not only did this add a new layer of convenience to click-and-collect shoppers, but it eased the pressure on collections at peak periods such as lunchtime, which meant staff were not focused on collections and could offer other customers a better level of service in store.

Although some businesses are making changes or launching new initiatives, not everything will work for all customers, and therefore all businesses. For example, Homer revealed that The White Company does not currently offer click and collect because it found that most of its customers did not want to collect bulky packages and carry them home themselves.

Technology is another key topic that is driving changes within stores but “tech should be seen as an enabler, to bring something to life”, said Roger Bannister, business development director at digital services company Timico.

“It should be there to support and enable,” agreed McCabe. “To automate tasks, inform, educate and inspire teams, and then they can really drive a great service.”

LK Bennett’s Nappo added that in terms of tech, the customer – not retail trends – should also be central to all decision making and investment: “With tech, you have to focus on what it does for the customer and go back to what value it is adding. Is it speeding something up or saving costs, or helping the customer in some way?”

For LK Bennett, mobile payments add speed and convenience. However, Nappo revealed many customers also value having products wrapped in store, so traditional till-point payments remain important.

The panel agreed that innovation is key, but only if it is adding to the customer experience.

“It’s about deciding what is a fad,” said The White Company’s Homer. “An example is RFID [radio-frequency identification] – it was what everyone talked about, but we left it and it was the right to leave it.

“The main thing is, is it right for the customer. Don’t panic if you think everyone else is doing it. Only do it if it is right for your business and your customer.”

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