Two strikes and you’re out

The store no longer operates in isolation. Walk down any aisle and you’re likely to see shoppers browsing their smartphone to check they’re getting the best deal, receiving consultative selling from a sales associate with a tablet computer, or paying for goods independently through a self-service checkout. But how efficiently do these technologies work in the bricks-and-mortar environment – and what’s the cost of a poor digital experience to retail stores?

Vodat recently commissioned research among 1,000 consumers for our latest report, Battle of the Bandwidths: Why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks, which reveals that many shoppers are feeling let down by the quality of digital services they receive. We found that more than a three quarters of consumers (78% of men and 76% of women) have encountered problems with slow running store technology in the past 12 months.

But even more alarming for retailers is the knock on impact on customer loyalty. Our research shows that while 30% of shoppers will give a brand the benefit of the doubt after experiencing slow running technology issues in-store, they won’t return if it happens a second time.
So how can retailers create a digital-ready store? Their number one priority should be to invest in a network that is business strength. Many organisations are falling into the trap of investing in software and hardware to bridge the online/offline divide, but failing to support this new technology with a robust network, capable of managing the increasing number of customer and staff devices logging on.

Our research has found that slow running networks are impacting the service shoppers are receiving within the store. Nearly all (95%) of the shoppers we surveyed have experienced network issues that forced them to wait up to 30 minutes for the problem to be resolved.

The strain of more technology being added to the bricks-and-mortar environment is already beginning to show. It is not only a matter of providing enough bandwidth capacity to ensure speed and performance; networks must be able to effectively connect all stores and other sites.

It’s clear that technical problems can dramatically affect consumer experiences. But for many organisations their biggest worry is that they don’t have adequately specialised staff to problem solve, either at a network level, or in-store. They know they need to invest in a resilient network and ensure failover systems are in place, but they want a solution that is crisis ready.

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retail businesses should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. It is important to consider what level of support is on offer in the event of a technical problem.  By using a third party provider, retailers can tap in to their telecommunications experience and technological insight, rather than needing experts in-house. This provides access to support to resolve issues quickly and efficiently, as and when it is needed.

As retailers start experimenting with connectivity, both behind the scenes and to power customer engagement, it is vital they invest in solutions that are future-proof. Taking into account bandwidth capacity and management services will help create a network which is able to scale and flex as businesses and estates grow.

To find out more download our report Battle of the Bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks

What must BHS do to survive its CVA revival?

BHS’ owners breathed a sigh of relief this week when creditors voted in favour of a Company Voluntary Arrangement (CVA) that will see rents cut on many of its stores, but this is just one small victory on the road to recovery.

The department store chain’s past has been somewhat chequered in recent history. Loss making for 7 years, BHS was bought by invesment group Retail Acquisitions for just £1 in March 2015, when retail Tycoon Sir Philip Green failed to revive its fortunes.

BHS’ chief executive, Darren Topp, has placed the blame for its latest poor performance squarely at the door of retail property prices, claiming the retailer’s problems are down to cost rather than sales.

The CVA will certainly ease some of this pressure, as 47 stores will have rents slashed by either 50% or 75%, while negotiations will take place to reduce rental on the remaining 40 stores (excluding those held separately by BHS Properties Limited) by 25%.

What’s more important, though, is that Retail Acquisitions use this lifeline to raise the capital needed to reinvigorate the BHS brand, as its lacklustre results are down to much more than rising costs. “The shops are tatty and the clothing lines dowdy,” remarked the Financial Times’ Jonathan Guthrie in his analysis of the situation.

However, Guthrie’s conclusion that “department stores have themselves fallen from fashion with shoppers” couldn’t be further from the truth. BHS has to look no further than John Lewis and House of Fraser – both of which pre-date the 88-year-old chain – to see two examples of similar businesses that have evolved much more successfully.

So, where did BHS go wrong – and what does it need to do in order to put it right? Certainly within omnichannel retail, the business has been caught napping. John Lewis and House of Fraser have put significant investment into their digital strategies, both in terms of online offering and promoting technology-led engagement in the store. House of Fraser has gone mobile-first with its website, while John Lewis’ retail app was recently voted third best in the UK. Both companies have invested heavily in click-and-collect.

In contrast, BHS has been driving down its margins even further with seemingly permanent discount promotions, and trying to diversify into new areas such as foods rather than reinventing its core clothing and homeware range.

Recently, though, there has been light at the end of the tunnel. The convenience food initiative is still in play, but BHS seems to have turned a corner with regards to prioritising what needs to change. 23 stores have already undergone a rebrand, and Topp has vowed to streamline its product range and focus on the brands which resonate with its customers. It’s also implementing an aggressive ecommerce strategy, to increase online shopping’s share of sales from 12% to 20%.

Interestingly, BHS has hired ex-House of Fraser brand marketing director, Tony Holdway, as marketing and creative director. He has already vowed to overturn the company’s lack of brand appeal and investment.

The fact that Holdway has jumped ship from House of Fraser is almost a bigger coup for BHS than the CVA. Having someone who knows how to run department store marketing, 2016 style, will help the retailer to shake off its outdated image and start embracing the omnichannel, multi-touchpoint journey to purchase that hallmarks modern retail.

One thing is for sure; if BHS doesn’t aspire to the relevance and agility of John Lewis and House of Fraser, it’s going to find itself back in the danger zone pretty quickly. And it would be a huge shame to lose one of the High Street’s most recognisable heritage brands.

How can retailers make in-store a more flexible shopping environment?

For every positive story in the retail press at the moment, there seems to be a contrasting tale of lesser fortunes. For example, Ocado has announced a first-quarter jump in sales, with average orders increasing nearly 17%, and weekly orders passing a quarter of a million for the first time. Compare this to the wider grocery industry, where profits are falling and sales are stalling, and it’s clear that more needs to be done to keep customers satisfied.  It’s not a just supermarket thing either; only last week, John Lewis revealed a near 10% fall in pre-tax profit.

What makes John Lewis unlike some of the other retail brands to have suffered a dip in sales is that they simultaneously announced a plan to drive recovery. The department store chain is moving their services to 7-day delivery, driven by the “need to reflect how and when our customers are shopping with us” in the words of Managing Director, Andy Street, as “customers increasingly want flexible shopping and delivery times”.

The fact that John Lewis wants flexible shopping as well as delivery is important. The recent success of Ocado would indicate that fulfilment is high up the priority list for consumers, but convenience and seamlessness rank highly also. PWC’s Total Retail Global Report 2016 shows 55% of UK consumers cite convenience as their main attraction to online shopping, compared to just 37% being motivated by price.

Bearing this in mind, retailers need to focus on making the store more flexible and agile, in line with shopper priorities. Click-and-collect has been the first hugely successful cross over service in this area; 60% of consumer report they have used it, and a huge 98% recognise the concept. This illustrates that, despite drops in foot traffic, shopping in-store is still an important channel for most consumers.

So how can retailers create a store environment that not only attracts shoppers, but also meets their expectations and encourages them to spend? PWC asked a sample group of online shoppers how retailers could enhance their physical stores, and better alignment of in-store and online services ranked highly. With this in mind, we would recommend retailers focus on enhancing three core aspects of their bricks-and-mortar business:

  1. Increase communication between staff, and locations, to streamline the customers experience

Poor in-store communication has long been a problem for some retailers, but improving it needs to be a priority. We know that a third of consumers have abandoned a shopping trip because they couldn’t get the information they needed prior to purchase, while 4 in 10 have left a store and sought the item elsewhere. The industry needs to understand that consumers place value on the ability to check online stock quickly (32%) and sales associates with a deep knowledge of the product range (40%).

Alongside providing training to empower their staff with all the information they need, retailers should consider investing in managed data networks to address this problem. Giving sales associates connected devices can improve their access to knowledge about the customer, as well as giving instant access to stock information, store transfers, and transactional capabilities, but these will only run efficiently with a robust supporting network

  1. Improve systems to reduce waiting times

Shoppers, rightly, demand the speediest checkout experience (35%) possible, and retailers know queuing times can have a negative effect on sales. Yet many are working with overloaded systems, which can affect not only payments, customer queries, and processing orders, but also core tasks including inventory. This has huge potential impacts on customer loyalty, with a third (32%) of consumers not returning to stores with slow service, and 1 in 5 being put off buying from that brand over any channel.

In response, retailers should review their systems and consider updating them, or even just increasing bandwidth, to avoid technical downtime.

  1. Invest in the customer across all channels, to deliver a joined up experience

PWC’s report clearly demonstrates that technology is as important in-store as online. A fifth of customers are interested in store WiFi (22%) and most use their mobile phone as an important research tool when wandering the aisles. Alongside this, many shoppers would like to receive mobile promotions in-store, be able to access loyalty programs, and make mobile payments.

With 3 in 10 believing the quickest way to answer queries is to look up the question on their own mobile device, retailers can better facilitate consumer needs by ensuring there is a fast, secure WiFi offering in place, and also providing independent technology experiences such as in-store tablet information points.

To find out more download our report More than words – Why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it

The secret to successful store expansion

Online retail is no stranger to positive headlines. In fact, it sometimes seems that all we hear about in the industry is the strength of ecommerce.

And it’s these types of stories that have put stores in the spotlight for the wrong reasons. Although 90% of all sales still happen in physical shops, there seems to be far more of a focus on the aspects of bricks-and-mortar that aren’t doing quite so well. For example, in the last few weeks alone, BHS, Greggs and Dixons Carphone have been making headlines regarding store closures.

One of the key reasons that stores close is because they don’t resonate with shoppers; in the interactive, instant world of digital commerce, store layouts and processes can appear outdated. However, this is something that can be amended – and there’s a huge appetite amongst retailers for getting the store right and growing its presence. New research by CBRE has revealed that retail estate expansion still remains high on the agenda, with 83% of retailers adamant that store growth will not be influenced by the rise of ecommerce this year. After all, there is no online substitute for seeing, touching and trying items before purchase.

The benefits of bricks-and-mortar haven’t gone unnoticed by e-tailers. Already this year, we’ve seen their eyes move towards the high streets, with the likes of Missguided announcing its first offline stores. Yes, the business is doing very well trading as it is, but if they want to grow even further, it makes sense to offer a physical experience as an alternative too.

So how can retailers optimise their stores for profit growth – and potential expansion if they get their formula right? For starters, today’s connected consumer is all about convenience and, as we well know, that doesn’t necessarily mean choosing between online or offline retail. Instead, shoppers want to switch between the two at different stages of their journey, and they need to know that retailers will allow them to be flexible in this respect.

Achieving this level of agility means incorporating some of the elements that shoppers love about digital platforms into the store experience. Some retailers are already way ahead of the game, launching concepts that aim to convey the ‘store of the future.’

House of Fraser, for example, recently experimented with shoppable windows, whilst Tommy Hilfiger has brought the runway to the store using virtual reality headsets. These are pretty ambitious of course; the store must focus on perfecting the basics before taking this kind of leap. Investing in more mainstream technology such as mobile POS is one good example of connecting the bricks-and-mortar experience through online functionality.

Another key consideration is the interaction between ecommerce and store activity through click-and-collect. Even though many retailers already offer the service, there are still elements of the process that frustrate customers. Perfecting the ‘collect’ part should now be a major focus for stores, making it a pleasant experience for those finalising their purchase. Enabling speedy payments technology, such as contactless, will be handy here, as well as ensuring the right amount of staff are there to keep the queues running smoothly. Streamlining the click-and-collect element will increase the opportunity to encourage further impulse purchases.

Of course, not all online browsing will take place at home. In an era of smartphone addicts, it’s now habit for consumers to rely on their devices whilst in a store too. Vodat International recently commissioned some research that revealed 54% of shoppers use their smartphones to compare prices in the aisles, 46% look up product information and 44% for personal reasons, such as checking social media. The bottom line is that consumers expect to be able to connect to the web whenever suits them – and that includes within the bricks-and-mortar shopping journey.

It may seem obvious, but there are still retailers that do not invest properly in strong WiFi to encourage this behaviour in controlled circumstances. In fact, 3 in 10 shoppers don’t find the current standard of WiFi unreliable. Retailers with sub-par WiFi are not only at risk of frustrating their customers, they are also losing a valuable opportunity to understand (and react to) their behaviour patterns. Provided they select the right provider, retailers will be able to interact with, influence and capture insight on consumers when they log on to the network.

It’s great to hear that retailers are feeling optimistic about the potential of stores, especially at a time when ecommerce is threatening share of sales channel. Gone is the time where stores and online were two separate things; the future of the store is very much intertwined with digital interaction. If they go about it in the right way, retailers can now harness the power of ecommerce in the physical environment, and use it to boost profitability.

Stay tuned for our new report – Battle of the bandwidths: why customers are won and lost on the strength of retail networks – which will provide even more insights into the connected consumer.

Is fashion a step too far for Amazon?

For many retailers, Amazon can feel like an undefeatable giant. As if its achievements to date aren’t sufficient, the e-tailer has announced its first foray into private-label fashion brands – but is this a step too far?

Undoubtedly, Amazon has a loyal customer base. The site has 244 million active users and is widely praised for its convenience, prices and extensive choice of products. Jeff Bezos and colleagues also have deep pockets when it comes to fulfilment, which will ensure fashion followers get their purchases as quickly as possible, regardless of cost.

However, Amazon’s widespread appeal may also be its Achilles Heel. If their audience is everyone, how are they going to segment that vision for the highly targeted world of fashion?

To be successful, Amazon is going to have to compete with online upstarts like ASOS and internationally-established retailers like Topshop, which both have a strong following from style-savvy shoppers.

Equally, because they are focused on fashion and fashion only, the likes of ASOS and Topshop have had time to really get to know their customers – not just what clothes they like, but how they shop, what their interests are, what media channels they use. This has enabled them to craft a brand based around a clear picture of their target market.

So, is Amazon trying to conquer too much with a foray into fashion?

If anyone is going to make a new venture yield returns, it’s going to be Amazon. After all, the e-tailer has good knowledge of fashion already, having sold clothes since 2008. It added a series of high-profile names to its repertoire last year, including Hugo Boss and Gucci, and opened Europe’s largest fashion photography studio in London last summer.

Amazon is also investing in a knowledgeable leader to increase its chances of private-label success; the former womenswear boss of Marks and Spencer will be heading up the launch. With a background in how fashion and consumer behaviour, she may have what it takes to ensure Amazon’s new foray is completely customer focussed.

There are two things that will ultimately determine its success. The first is how well it can use the wealth of data it generates to map its fashion offering to potential customers.

The second is a problem that faces all online retailers: how well it can promote its private-label range without potential customers being able to feel and try garments.

While online is ideal for items such as electronics and entertainment, clothes are very visual, and many consumers still treasure the act of going into a store. Fashion shopping is a leisure activity, and asking a sales assistant to bring you a different size is always going to be easier than buying something in two sizes and sending one back – no matter how quick and simple the returns service.

Only time will tell whether Amazon lives up to its self-described vision of ‘the ultimate fashion destination’, but it needs to apply the innovative thinking for which it’s renowned to triumph in a world which values style AND substance.

Do you think Amazon will succeed in the fashion market? Tweet us your thoughts.  

 

Morrisons invests in its staff – but in the right way?

Savvy retailers will already know just how important its staff are to their success. As the faces to their name, it’s essential that the happiness of the workforce is prioritised.

Morrisons is certainly attempting to do this with its latest move, which will see the supermarket chain invest a huge £30 million into facilities for its staff. Not only will this include a décor revamp, but employees will be treated to perks like subsidised coffee.

However, the change that is likely to result in the most enthusiasm from its workers is to wages. Employee benefits and pay is a hot topic right now, as retailers prepare the implement the new National Living Wage in April. And Morrisons is staying ahead of the curve on this one, promising its 90,000 staff a 20% pay rise to £8.20 an hour, more than the expected £7.20.

This is sure to boost staff morale– much needed considering Morrisons has been suffering falling sales for quite some time now. But are the changes actually going to help staff do their jobs any better?

Being the ones who work in the stores every day, store associates are the only ones who can really know what needs improving. Yet, they’re often the ones who retailers listen to the least. For example, new research from Miura Systems claims that UK retail businesses are losing millions of pounds in sales by not listening to staff who’ve spotted a vital need to improve store technology.

Today’s shopper is tech-reliant, so it’s no surprise that this is a major factor in how they rate a store experience. Whether it be a speedy checkout service, or the ability to browse the web as they navigate the shop, consumers expect technology to run seamlessly – and it’s often the staff they’ll blame if it doesn’t.

So, even with a free cup of coffee in hand, it’s unlikely that Morrisons staff will feel very motivated if shop floor processes aren’t optimised.

Miura also revealed that 72% of retail employees think customers are more demanding than ever before, even asking them questions when they’re serving others. With this mind, retailers should be doing all they can to help employees in high-pressure situations. Arming them with tablets so they can check product information and stock availability quickly, perhaps, or placing interactive kiosks in-store to allow shoppers to serve themselves easily when a staff member is unavailable.

A further 80% of retail staff said shoppers put pressure on them to hurry when there is a queue. In busy trading periods this can’t always be avoided, but it can certainly be improved. A speedy payment process is absolutely essential here; as the final stage in their journey, this is the memory most shoppers will take away when they leave. Therefore, retailers must in the most cutting-edge payments technology to keep queues flowing – such as contactless and mobile.

Of course, this is no discredit to what businesses like Morrisons are doing. Rewarding staff with treats is a great way to show appreciation for all their hard work, and happy store associates tend to be more productive. However, this work will do little good to the performance of their business if they’re not armed with the right tools to keep customers happy too.

Inside the mind of the modern consumer

Understanding customers is no easy job for retailers today. What consumers want is changing all the time, as is the technology that they rely on as part of their shopping trip. It’s no wonder that many businesses are struggling to keep up!

It doesn’t help that retailers are inundated with headlines that profess the latest insights into consumer habits; which ones can they actually trust? Here, we’ve detailed the most recent retail research that retailers – online and off – should factor into their customer experience strategy.

“They are impatient” – Vodat International

5 minutes; that’s how long a customer will wait for their query to be answered in-store. That doesn’t leave much time for a staff member to gather the information they’re unsure of, before that shopper abandons their journey completely.

How to respond

Ensure that your workforce receives regular training regarding your product offering – especially if new items are added. For an extra helping hand, why not implement tablets in stores so that answers are always at staff’s fingertips?

“They expect personalisation” – iVend Retail

A third of shoppers think they get personalised offers online, but not in-store. Perhaps this is one of the key reasons why ecommerce seems to gaining its sales share of channel.

How to respond

Yes, online has automated capabilities that allow loyal customers to receive information that is specific to them – but there is something the store can do better.  The ability to see, touch and try products cannot be replicated online, and even better, the presence of staff means that shoppers can get even more insight into the products they’re interested in. There’s nothing more personable than face-to-face interaction, so encourage conversation to give staff the opportunity to upsell products that might compliment a customer’s purchase.

“They tap-to-pay” – Visa

The number of contactless transactions made in the UK last year increased by 250%, according to the payments specialist. It’s suggested that this is largely due to the spending limit rise in September, which saw consumers able to pay for goods of up to £30, as opposed to just £20.

How to respond

The speed of the payment method fits the profile of today’s busy, impatient shopper. Therefore, now is definitely the time to ensure that your store not only accepts contactless, but encourages its usage.

You’ll also find that the same NFC technology in contactless terminals works with some mobile payments services, e.g. Apple Pay. As availability widens, consumers will come to expect all retailers to offer the method to them in-store. Those that don’t are likely to be viewed as outdated pretty soon, while those that do will see queue times accelerate and customer satisfaction soar.

Of course, if you’re planning on implementing such technology, you’ll want to make sure that your card payment network security is up-to-scratch. You can find out how to ensure this here.

“They go mobile” – Episerver

Mobile shopping is already playing a huge part in how people are shopping this year; 59% of Brits used their device to purchase items in the January sales.

How to respond

Shopping on a mobile device is meant to provide the ultimate convenience for consumers, allowing them to browse retailers wherever they go. With this in mind, it’s essential that you make your own mobile experience easy – ensure that you’re website is properly optimised, and that the payment process is neither lengthy nor fiddly.

“They click-and-collect” – Atomik

Shoppers might love mobile, but not quite as much as click-and-collect. A recent survey saw it beat mobile as the method that impacted their 2015 shopping experience the most.

How to respond

The role of the store has evolved from being just a sales channel, it now has to deal with a constant flow of click-and-collect orders. As most retailers now offer the service, they need to make sure that it’s the best it can be to stand out from so many others that offer the same. Training staff, implementing dedicated click-and-collect personnel, or adding an interactive kiosk are all ways to better optimise the store for click-and-collect. Of course, with all this extra technology, retailers must invest in a network that’s robust enough to support it.

Have you seen any recent retail statistics that you think offer real value to retailers? Then share them with us on Twitter via @Vodat_Int.

 

Are fashion e-tailer’s attempts to venture offline Missguided?

It’s a great time for online retail. Hailed as the most convenient means of shopping, ecommerce is in the midst of one of its most successful seasons yet – December alone saw a sales increase by 15.1% compared to the previous year.

However, it seems that this level of success isn’t quite enough for some retailers; in a bid to grow even further, they’re looking offline too. Fashion e-tailer Missguided recently announced plans to open its first store in the UK, and it’s not the only one – the likes of Boohoo and Fabletics have also taken their first steps into bricks-and-mortar.

And who can blame them? News headlines about the death of the high street are fast becoming replaced with success stories. Services such as click-and-collect are providing stores with a new lease of life, with John Lewis being the latest retailer to praise the shopping method’s contribution to its strong festive trading figures. Meanwhile, some are even calling out for store opening hours to be extended, with 64% of retail workers in London supporting longer trading on Sundays.

So yes, heading to the High Street offers great potential for an online retailer. But there some things to factor in if they wish to replicate the great customer experience they create on the web.

Unlike ecommerce, the store has a helping hand in converting sales: staff. Personal service is something that gives bricks-and-mortar an edge over online shopping, so it’s essential that retailers make the most of this opportunity.

Offering great bricks-and-mortar customer service relies on the retailer’s ability to give consumers the same informative experience as their digital platforms provide. Yet, we recently found that 43% of shoppers voiced frustrations with inconsistent answers from staff. In order to address these communication challenges in-store, some leading retailers are equipping staff with tablets. This way they’ll have access to product information and stock availability at the swipe of a finger, making it far more likely that they can address customer queries.

This is especially important at a time when most shoppers enter the store with some level of product knowledge. Recent research from omnichannel retail specialist iVend Retail revealed that 68% of European consumers will research online before visiting a store – and clued up customers expect far more from retailers. These shoppers have already done their research, and just want to touch or try the item before committing to a purchase. In this case, staff members are far more likely to be faced with technical queries regarding the item, rather than general product information. In this case, a tablet device will prove even more valuable to your staff – they can’t be expected to understand the ins and outs of every store product on their own after all.

And not all shoppers restrict their online research to the comfort of their own homes. Instead, many are relying on their mobile devices to have a quick browse in-store, either for more product knowledge or to compare it with those available from other retailers. During the festive period alone, 41% of shoppers ‘showroomed’ when buying gifts in-store.

This shopper desire to use mobile in-store, combined with staff usage of tablets, means more devices devices than ever are connecting to store networks. Retailers that have not invested well enough in their network may be faced with a whole host of issues; slow running technology, intermittent connections and, in the worst case, complete connectivity blackouts. Not only will this be extremely frustrating to those working at the business, but most importantly, customers will be left disappointed too. Then, all the good work that retailers have done to blend their store and online experiences will be completely undone.

The battle for consistency between online and bricks-and-mortar shopping has been raging for years, and retailers like Missguided must tread carefully to ensure their in-person experience lives up to the digital hype. Much attention will have been paid to the marketing, store layout and such like, but it’s the network underpinning their store that will define their ability to deliver what customers want.

 

 

 

4 stores that are ripping up the rule book of bricks-and-mortar retail

Consumer patience with outdated stores is fading.  As discussed in our previous blog – make better communication your store’s New Year’s resolution – 43% of shoppers have voiced their frustrations with in-store service, and it’s fair to say that now’s the time to invest in new ways to impress and delight.

Of course, there are some retailers that are already staying ahead of the curve, innovating their traditional store formats to reinvent what physical retail means to shoppers. The future of the store relies on its ability to wow the customer every time they visit – here we list four stores that enhanced their experience to do just that:

McDonalds – build your own burger

There are countless fast-food outlets out there; couple this with the expectation of speedy service, and you’re in an environment where it’s especially tricky to stand out. However, McDonald’s has found a way to tick both of these boxes with its latest piece of technology.

The fast-food giant has added a ‘build your own burger’ kiosk to one of its New York restaurants, allowing diners to choose from dozens of ingredient combinations to create their ideal order. Founded with an easy-to-serve menu, it was certainly a risky move for the retailer, yet one that answered their customers’ cry for variety.

Cranleigh Bridal – virtual bridal party

Back here in the UK, a bridal shop in Surrey has found its own way to offer a unique experience to customers. Cranleigh Bridal is the first store in Britain to be fitted with a mirror that has integrated Skype capabilities, enabling brides to call friends and family to show them their dress choice. This really plays to the emotional investment in planning a wedding, significantly enhancing customer satisfaction.

House of Fraser – scan the glass

Black Friday is now an integral part of the UK’s retail calendar, and shoppers are taking notice. In 2015, House of Fraser used the event to pilot a new way to entice passers by.

The department store created shoppable windows, integrated with augmented reality technology in its flagship London store. Consumers passing the store were able to use the House of Fraser app to scan the glass for a full list of Black Friday deals, reserve items and pick them up from a collection point. It was a launch that was perfectly timed, appealing to busy festive shoppers when the queues were likely at their longest.

Tommy Hilfiger – straight from the runway

New York Fashion Week is a designers’ chance to showcase their latest creations to the world. A lot of time and budget is spent to ensure that the runway show not only highlights the clothes in the best way, but is a memorable performance. But while it’s easy for those in the audience to be blown away, what about the brand’s wider customer base?

Tommy Hilfiger has managed to include brand fans in its Fashion Week experience, with the help of virtual reality. Some its stores are kitted with Samsung GearVR headsets, allowing shoppers to watch a 360-degrees 3D version of the runway show, as if they were sat in the front row. This way, the iconic catwalk is brought to life instead of relying on press images to do the talking.

Have you seen any innovative stores of the future? Share your stories and images with us @Vodat_Int.

Make better communication your store’s New Year’s resolution

There’s no doubt that online retail has had its fair share of flattering headlines this year. Hailed as the speediest, most convenient way to shop, it’s getting harder for bricks-and-mortar to compete.

However, there is something that the store can triumph in – and that’s personal service. While it may be easy to drop a few products into an online basket, the advice and expertise of knowledgeable in-store staff is something that can’t be matched.

Yet, it seems that 2015 may not have been the store’s finest hour. Our own research showed that there’s still much work to do to perfect the in-store experience:

  • 37% of shoppers hate receiving inconsistent answers from staff
  • 30% of consumers have abandoned a purchase because staff couldn’t answer their question
  • 5 minutes is the maximum time customers will wait for a query to be answered before leaving the store

That leaves retailers with a very short window of time to wow the shopper. If they don’t do just that, they risk losing a once loyal customer – one who will no doubt share their negative experience with family and friends.

However, with a New Year comes a new chance to change bad habits. So why not make 2016 the year to perfect your in-store service? It all starts with giving your staff the tools to succeed:

Invest in training

60% of customers believe knowledgeable staff deliver better customer service. Yet, with changing layouts, new products and time-sensitive offers to contend with, it’s no wonder that your workforce may be left confused. Communication is key here; ensure each member of staff is briefed at the start of their shift, alerting them to anything that may have changed since they were last there.

Implement tablets

21% of shoppers want sales associates to be given point of sale technology. And, it’s a request that will make life a lot easier for your staff. Allowing them to walk the floor with a tablet in hand, ensures they will always be ready for that tricky customer question. They’ll be able to check things such as product information and stock availability at the touch of a button, before finalising the purchase with a speedy payment.

Empower customers

22% of consumers would like to see more digital information points in store. There are a number of reasons why your staff might be unavailable for customer queries – whether the queue is too long or they’re locating an order, for example. The point is, sometimes a shortage of sales associates to give a helping hand is out of your control. Therefore, it’s important to ensure that shoppers can help themselves if need be. In-store kiosks are idea, as it presents shoppers with an alternative information source when a staff member isn’t free.

Competing with the fast-growing world of ecommerce is no easy job for stores, certainly if they don’t have the right toolkit to support them. And, of course, implementing the above suggestions will help get 2016 off to a promising start – but without a reliable WiFi connection, your New Year’s resolution for a better store experience will soon be broken.

For more information about successful in-store communication, read our report – ‘Why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network.’