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

How can retailers drive store sales in this climate of uncertainty?

The retail industry is not keeping pace with the growth of the rest of the economy, as consumers prioritise entertainment and leisure spending. Exacerbating this, the BRC’s recent Retail 2020 report forecasts the combined cost of the Living Wage, apprenticeships and rising business rates will as £14 billion in costs over the next 4 years – approximately 20% of industry profits.

It is clear the industry faces many challenges ahead, and that’s not even taking into account the repercussions of the UK leaving the European Union, the full impact of which we are yet to discover.

However, while the forecast may seem gloomy, we’re seeing a quiet revolution which is repositioning the physical store at the heart of the retail experience. As Helen Dickinson, BRC CEO, describes, ‘what customers are looking for is experience, excitement and theatre, and often the physical environment is a better place to do that’.

So how can retailers optimise the in-store experience to drive sales in this current climate of uncertainty? Here are three strategies being used to great effect on the UK High Street right now:

Create social experiences

James Daunt, MD at Waterstones, has refocused the once troubled bookstore’s efforts on creating a more social retail experience. The retailer’s new Tottenham Court Road flagship store features a bar and a popup cinema in the basements, and many of its shops feature cafés. Daunt calls it an ‘old-fashioned approach to customer interactions’. However, other initiatives such as book clubs and a reservation app show that Waterstones is clearly reinventing the bookstore for the modern age.

With Amazon launching 400 bricks-and-mortar venues in the US, it seems that the store is still central to the future of the bookshop, and Waterstones are taking the physical buying of books to new levels.

Rethink the role of the store

O2’s latest flagships in Manchester and London offer complimentary coffee and working spaces, similar to a model Apple developed for its larger format stores, which included WiFi and seating.

Both O2 and Apple encourage shoppers to spend time in their stores, irrelevant of whether they make purchases. Bridget Lea, head of stores O2, claims that the technology company has ‘ripped up the rule book of a traditional mobile phone shop and set out to create inspiring and creative spaces where people can experience and learn about the possibilities of technology’. O2 want people to spend time in these stores and come back regularly, whatever network they are on.

For technology and telecoms retailers, fostering a community and creating brand awareness is a significant part of the sales strategy.

Tackle the limits of physical space

There has been a lot of noise around bringing technology in-store, and sport retailer Adidas provides a brilliant example of how cutting edge tech can provide an outstanding customer experience and solve the very real retailer problem of limited stock room space.

Adidas’ shops have large digital displays, which add endless aisle capabilities, allowing them brand to display every shoe it offers, beyond what is available in that specific location. By using this technology, Adidas has found it can combine the online and in-store experience for the shopper, answering a real demand from customers to try on the products while having the choice from the full range of stock.

Speak to Vodat’s experts to find out how to increase revenue through technology-enabled customer experiences.

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

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.’

5 ecommerce websites to watch on Black Friday

Retailers with a transactional website are about to face their biggest test of the year: Black Friday, which takes place on November 27th. Spending is predicted to reach £1.9 billion – a 17% increase on last year – in the UK, with a third of sales taking place online, according to Visa Europe.

Already we’ve seen one casualty of a surge in online trading, as Argos’ website tripped over when it launched its ’12 days of Black Friday’ promotion. However, the good news for the brand is that it has a few days to learn lessons and put contingency plans in place before ecommerce activity peaks.

For other businesses, though, the litmus test is yet to come – so what should we expect from the digital retail community on the big day?

It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on Amazon, ASOS, Debenhams, Marks & Spencer and Next this Black Friday. A recent study by Aimia crowned these retailers the best five UK ecommerce sites for customer experience.

The survey identified personalisation as pivotal to the online journey, as although these sites are rising to the challenge, more than half of consumers feel they are still being targeted with irrelevant product suggestions.

However, tailoring promotions based on previous buying behaviour is the tip of the ecommerce iceberg – some retailers are still struggling to get their basic offering right, particularly under pressure.

During peak trading events like Black Friday, the number one priority is being present and capable of delivering on customer expectations, and the resources needed to achieve this should not be underestimated. As Schuh’s head of ecommerce, Sean McKee, remarked in a recent Black Friday video interview, “be available for the customer, because the customer is absolutely wanting to buy products from you”.

Too many retailers experienced issues with their website last Black Friday, resulting in slow loading times, long waits and costly periods of downtime. In order to avoid this in 2015, concerned businesses need to ask themselves the following questions:

  • Is your hosting environment flexible enough to accommodate surges in demand?
  • Do you need to increase your server capacity to cope with Black Friday traffic?
  • Does your hosting company know it is Black Friday, and what the impact could be on digital activity?
  • Have you got the infrastructure in place to monitor Black Friday traffic in real-time, and respond to emerging issues?

At the end of the day, come Black Friday, price trumps everything else. So while personalisation might be the long game, on 27th November ecommerce retailers need to focus on availability and efficiency to maximise market share.

Argos’ Fast Track delivery is a real traffic driver – if it works in-store

An eyebrow or two was likely raised in the retail industry this week, when Argos announced its new Fast Track delivery service – same-day service any day of the week, provided the order is placed before 10pm.

While it might seem like a reaction to the UK launch of Amazon Prime Now to some, it makes a lot of sense. We’re about to hit the busiest trading period of the year, so taking its delivery services in-house gives Argos the opportunity to scale up workforce and logistics to cope with spikes in activity, such as Black Friday.

And as a multichannel retailer, naturally Argos is also rolling out the service into stores, offering free delivery to the customer’s local outlet – as opposed to the £3.95 charge for home delivery. Again, this is logical, as the cost to fulfil into store is going to be lower than home delivery (if the product isn’t sitting there already), and it takes some of the pressure off fulfilment networks.

Argos’ big money promise for store collectors is that they can collect the item within 60-seconds of being served, as the retailer’s stock management is able show estate-wide location and availability of products.

60 seconds is a big gauntlet to throw down – especially when you consider we’re about to career into the Christmas trading period. Its investment may give Argos greater control over fulfilment of Black Friday orders, but we can see the ‘quick click-and-collect’ promise really catching on as we move through December, and this could cause serious headaches.

Although Argos is taking on 1,000 extra staff for the Christmas period, those personnel are going to need to get up to speed quickly to cope with a potentially even bigger than usual late rush.

Its retail park locations and extended opening hours are a natural magnet for consumers fitting their festive shopping around a busy schedule, especially if they can secure speedy service at no extra charge.

But what seems to the customer like a simple act of picking something up, is reliant on a well-oiled machine at the back end. Argos has the inventory visibility, but it needs to perfect the chain of events between order and collection to deliver on time – and to expectation – in the store environment.

Argos will also need to upskill these temporary staff very quickly on how to work the technology required to complete transactions – and of course they will need a robust network to cope with the increase in order volumes. Customers are going to be twice as grumpy if they have to wait due to technical problems AND they are in a hurry.

As we mentioned in a blog post earlier this year, Argos is doing some really savvy things around technology, which reinforces its credentials as a cutting-edge, customer focused retailer. During this highly pressured trading period, let’s hope its new scheme is optimised for the tidal wave of store pick-ups as well as home deliveries.

Everything is connected

How many times have you wanted to plug in a new device at home and had to go searching for a spare plug point, forcing you to search for an adaptor or an extension lead? By the time you find one, you just want to get connected – concerns about cheap extension leads or incorrect fuse ratings leading to current spikes, go out of the window.

While most domestic networks can cope with device after device being bolted on, the store network has to deal with a host of device, signal, security and availability issues, as retailers add more and more innovations in a bid to improve the customer experience.

The problem is, the network is often the last thing to be considered, on the assumption that it can cope.

It can’t.

In a recent survey we conducted for Vodat International’s report – why retailers and customers are becoming disconnected by the store network – and how to fix it – 1 in 10 customers complained about both the lack of WiFi connection, and the number of sales associates not equipped with the right technology to answer their questions on the shop floor.

In addition, clearly, not all WiFi is the same, as some networks simply do not perform to the same standards as consumers take for granted in their own homes. And for the store, when the network is unavailable, trading can grind to a halt with money lost until it is restored; on a recent visit to a well-known health foods chain store, one of the tills had been down for more than 24 hours – apparently due to a simple network issue.

Smart retailers will create networks on a sliding scale: flagships get the most robust and layered network, while smaller, satellite stores will get a more basic service.

However, more and more retailers are now upgrading all their networks simply to reflect the fact that they are adding mobile payment devices, doing more online business in the store, and trying to give both customers and staff a better digital experience.

These are taking the form of either dual ADSL or 3G/4G for customers who want more bandwidth.  Those wanting business class connections with SLAs are moving to EFM and Ethernet connections.

Ultimately – particularly in an omnichannel world, where the store is the gateway not just to itself, but the retailer’s entire inventory – the network is the store, and as such deserves broad, capable and reliable connectivity.

Welcome to the store that never sleeps

Switching off is not a concept that most consumers are familiar with. We’re trying to fit more activities, across more channels, into every single day. In fact, some would go as far as saying we’re ‘always-on’.

The Always-On Consumer was a term coined by Vivaldi Partners last year to describe the 48% of shoppers who go online multiple times each day, using an average of 3 devices and logging on from at least 3 locations, invariably engaging with retailers and brands along the way.

There are 5 types of Always-On Consumer:

Social bumblebee – extrovert, spontaneous, avid social media user

Mindful explorer – early tech adopter, minimalist, very loyal to favourite brands

Deal hunter – discount driven, listens to social media for tips

Focused problem solver – sticks to tried and tested brands, prefers store shopping

Ad blocker – ignores online ad content, mostly shops online for household staples

One thing they have in common, though, is the relentless pace with which they interact and digest information, not to mention the expectation that their needs will be met right there and then.

Because of this, it’s not just consumers that are always-on – retail stores must be too. The high technology dependence and low tolerance levels of today’s shoppers mean any interference in their offline encounters could result in defection to another, potentially more reliable brand. The store can’t ever afford to sleep on the job.

This so-called ‘interference’ could consist of a lack of goods availability, or a long queue at the checkout. Some retailers may claim these are inevitable experiences in the bricks-and-mortar environment, though, in-store technology enables store associates to smooth over such shortcomings; I’m thinking specifically of using mobile POS for queue busting and mobile clienteling.

However, these devices – and fixed POS terminals too – are all reliant on the store network, which underpins every element of the customer experience. Connecting devices is crucial to delivering seamless customer service. The disruption of store networks can cost retailers thousands in lost sales, while the damage caused to consumer relationships can be far greater, and longer lasting.

With this in mind, organisations cannot afford to rely on outmoded networks that are not optimised to cope with the multi-channel, multi-device demands that modern retail places on the store. They need a business-class network that can cope with high traffic, high pressure trading – across multiple sites in many cases.

Remember: the Always-On Consumer is an unforgiving being. Get caught napping even once, and these high spenders are likely to take their business elsewhere.