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INTERVIEW Siobhan Fitzpatrick of Maplin on designing from the store out

Siobhan Fitzpatrick, marketing and multi-channel director, Maplin [IRDX RMAP], spoke to Emma Herrod about the retailer’s new store concept and why it’s developing the digital business from the store out.

For all that the industry says omnichannel starts with the customer, it’s usually the digital channels that form the cornerstone of transformation plans with store colleagues fitting in with enhanced services led from the ‘back end’, such as click and collect and stock replenishment and customer-facing clienteling apps. Maplin, however, has instead started with its stores and is transforming customer interactions from this part of its business back through the digital channels and omnichannel services.

The electronics retailer has refitted three stores – in Cambridge, Chesterfield and Oxford – and a further four are due to reopen in Aylesbury, Staines, Crewe and Sittingbourne. These remodelled stores are lighter and brighter with products displayed in a way that invites shoppers to touch, feel and play with them.

Touch screens next to brand and product displays explain the newly focused central area of the stores, which highlights the Smart Life concept of connected devices to operate home, security and fitness devices.

The growing importance of the Smart Home concept has been a key driver for Maplin’s change programme. While brands have been very good at showing consumers their own products, they weren’t showing them how to connect devices and set up a complete system, according to Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Marketing & Multi-Channel Director, Maplin. Consequently, this is something which the Maplin stores have set out to do with content, products and staff showing consumers what is possible. This has led to an omnichannel strategy which Fitzpatrick says is “store out rather than digital in”.

Redefining customer segmentation

Changes in customer profiles have also prompted the decision to rework stores. Maplin had been working to customer segmentations of technology purchasers that were created in 2013. Fitzpatrick explains that these are now “too generic” and no longer applicable to why people engage with technology.

The company carried out its own research and segmented shoppers into 5 groups, from Novice through to Tech Pro. This last group includes people who are Enthusiasts (the hobbyists of the previous segmentation) and those who work in a technology sector, who know and understand technology so are therefore unlikely to be early adopters. In the longer term, these Tech Pros will cut out retailers and go directly to manufacturers to buy exactly what they know they need, explains Fitzpatrick.

The core group for the retailer is the Appreciators. These people aren’t techies but like technology because it provides solutions to make their life simpler or they love it simply for being fun. They are also first in the queue to buy new products, and are the people who want advice and who Maplin wants to attract into store.

The company also investigated how this core group of customers interacts with Maplin and its products. Store staff were found to be key as they are a font of knowledge about technology and products and have the ability to interact with and engage customers.

The next step was to look at the brand positioning, which showed that shoppers trust Maplin to give advice about the right solution rather than simply sell them the most expensive item. It also looked at customer reference points such as Apple and mobile phone providers. These stores encourage shoppers to touch and play with product and have hero brands or items which stand out. An investigation of retailers in the US, such as Best Buy and Target, was undertaken, too, since the country is ahead of the UK in terms of in-store customer experience. The retailer examined how these stores connect journeys for customers in store and encourage them to play with products so they see how easy they are to operate.

“We also thought about phases of the journey,” says Fitzpatrick, “and how people see Smart Life.” She explains how they came up with the Smart Life concept, which encompasses more than just a smart or connected home with smart watches, mobile phones and apps and includes cctv cameras, doorbells, thermostats, lighting and the hubs through which everything is connected. This hub could be run by Nest, Google Home, Amazon Echo or British Gas Hive. It’s technology which many people need advice about and some hands-on time to fully understand before making a purchasing decision.

Working with strategic design consultancy 20:20, the full concept was developed in just 8 weeks.

Putting the concept into practice
In store, the first step to getting people interested in the Smart Life experience, and the beginning of the journey, is a large digital screen showing shoppers a short video that explains the concept and how it relates to the themes of Your Home, Your Family, Your Pet, Saving Money, Taking Time Out or Health & Wellbeing.

From here, the play experience begins, with play tables, product and tablets set up to help shoppers see how things work. Each brand area gives the same experience with a touch screen showing product information, and tabs linking to more information, videos, ratings and reviews, and items which the product will work with. This same content is available online as well.

The journey then moves to the connected area, where shoppers can investigate which products work together, play with them – such as asking Alexa to dim or brighten lights – or interact with apps connecting other devices such as testing a smoke alarm. Alexa also runs the store lighting and music so shoppers can see what else is possible.

Interestingly, Fitzpatrick says Maplin had to really push the fact to shoppers that they are allowed to touch and play with the different devices, adding ‘Try Me’ signage to reinforce this in every area. “Since the Cambridge store was relaunched in November, there have been over 20,000 digital interactions with the kit,” she says.

As well as supporting sales, the concept also provides valuable insight into how shoppers are interacting with the equipment in the store, what is being used, where people are going and where they are getting stuck, she explains.

While it’s still “early curve” for Smart Home, and it’s still only a small part of the Maplin business, it’s significant enough that the company wanted to take an interest in it. Fitzpatrick explains that purchasing behaviour being recorded shows that once someone has bought into Smart Life they will buy their second connected item within 6 weeks. It also links to other products areas which actively support the Smart Life proposition, such as cables and Wi-Fi.

Maplin has also launched services that support Smart Life, such as a home survey, installation and finance proposition.

While the concept takes up a large part of the centre of the remodelled stores, the number of skus they hold hasn’t been reduced, with 8,000 just displayed in new ways. Pods around the walls segment product into areas or ‘worlds’ such as cables, entertainment, home office and gaming, so a customer who knows what they want can still go into store and ‘grab and run’.

In fact, Cables, Tech Pro and Home Office still make up the company’s core sales and are seen as its ‘bread and butter’.

Digital is further used in store in the form of touch screens in each product area showing a curated aspect of the entire 40,000 skus applicable to that area of the store. Staff also carry iPads so they can help customers at any location and continue their conversation without having to move to a service desk. As well as back of house information, staff can access the full product range, see when products will be back in stock, capture customer details so they can be informed when an item is in store, order products for delivery to store or home, and show customers full web content. Payment currently has to be made at a till but Maplin plans to add this functionality to the iPads.

The company transformation
This store-of-the-future concept is just one strand of Maplin’s strategic transformation plan. Another is its “accelerate digital” programme.

“The store-of-the-future journey is about understanding that the role of the digital channels is about getting a customer into a store, since we know that customers want advice and support and they still want to have face-to-face engagement with a colleague and with a product,” says Fitzpatrick.

She explains that Maplin built the journey in a way that works for customers and colleagues in store. As part of the design process, it had to look at which elements needed to be taken back out to the digital world to make sure that when a customer starts their journey in a digital channel Maplin has the right things in place to enable the customer to transition through the journey and into the store.

Fitzpatrick says the company also has digital channels which are channels in their own right and customers have missions that don’t require them to go into store. The accelerate digital programme has been looking at the customer experience in those channels. This has led to a “big programme of work around improving our search engine optimisation and relevancy”.

Another programme is being undertaken around data and its management with content and digital asset management systems being introduced. Initially, these are powering the in-store information for customers and staff.

The different programmes are coming together, explains Fitzpatrick. “With the digital piece, we’ve had to look at which elements of that we have to lift and drop into the store channel and what elements from stores we should lift and bring into the digital channels.”

She says that what makes Maplin different from other retailers is how this focus on customers concluding complex journeys in stores has led to it thinking store backwards for mobile devices rather than mobile first. “It made us investigate how customers use mobile devices to shop,” she adds. It has found that small, handheld devices lend themselves to ‘find and get’ journeys, while larger devices, such as tablets and desktop devices, are used for a longer, more immersive experience and ‘discover and dwell’ journeys.

“It’s made us think about complex journeys and how we simplify them,” she adds.

Just 20% of Maplin’s sales are web enabled and include reserve and collect as well as the find and get journeys on small devices and home delivery. Digital is about transactions and is important for the company, but Fitzpatrick believes that it won’t change the importance of the stores. “Digital is a key support for the stores rather than being a lead for us,” she says. “It’s still very much about the stores and is always going to be the way with our business as we sell quite complex products. It’s our job to make those products very simple and easy to understand. It’s about the art of the possible.”

Over the financial year to March 2018, Maplin’s roadmap includes the new search and navigation, product, content and digital asset management solutions and a single view of customers. The last goal is being achieved through a database build by more2, which will combine data captured in store such as purchase details and emails with online customer information. It has also trialled e-receipts but any implementation requires the database first. In addition, Maplin is testing click to chat technology which enables online customers to have a video call with staff. This trial has been running for a couple of months, enabled by the staff iPads in five stores. The mobile aspect means that they can ‘take’ the customer to any area of the store to see a product.

The retailer also has a three-year roadmap which is owned by the executive management board and being implemented by cross-functional working groups. It focuses on the expertise of its store staff and the newness of Smart Life and connected devices to drive footfall into stores. For all the video, bright lights and try-me signage, the company hasn’t forgotten its core customers who want a quick run and grab trip for cables and home office supplies – it just makes them walk to the back of the store. Connected devices will increasingly have an effect on how consumers shop, especially when they are on a find-and-get mission. Shopping will come down to immediacy or the customer’s preferred fulfilment option – Alexa is only the beginning.

There will be times, though, when shoppers still want to engage in store, or with someone from a retail organisation. For Maplin, these high engagement, high investment shopping trips are where it’s focusing its future.

Lessons learnt
Shoppers are on one of two missions when they visit a Maplin store: ‘find and get’ when they know exactly what product they need and they go into store, buy it and leave, and ‘discover and dwell’, which is much higher up the funnel. “More than two thirds of visits were find and get before the refit,” says Siobhan Fitzpatrick, Marketing & Multi-Channel Director, Maplin, and these were predominantly conducted by a man on his own.

Since the refit, the Cambridge store has seen dwell time in store double as shoppers spend more time interacting with the Smart Life technology and getting advice from store staff. One of the key learnings for Fitzpatrick is in how the fact that shoppers are allowed to play, touch, feel and try the technology has had to be driven home by signage.

“The number of questions has increased online, too,” she says, with customers and colleagues providing answers. “We’re starting to build a community,” she adds, and it’s something that is on the roadmap for launch later this year to allow it to test propositions, communications and products.

“It has also been a lesson in keeping up with content,” says Fitzpatrick, as well as merchandising and adjacencies in store.

Going forward, the role of different aspects in store is being analysed and tested. Fitzpatrick gives the example of the role of high-level navigation and whether putting digital at the front of store changes the level of engagement.

Analysis to date shows that the split of journeys is now equal between find and get and discover and dwell; more families visit the store; and there’s a 50:50 split between male and female shoppers. “96% of people think the store has significantly improved,” says Fitzpatrick. “They think the product range has improved, which it hasn’t. It’s just better shown off.”

Significantly, Maplin has seen double-digit sales growth and triple-digital growth in Smart Life products.

This interview first appeared in the latest issue of InternetRetailing Magazine. To explore the rest of the magazine click here.

Mentioned in this piece…

Maplin Electronics

Maplin Electronics

IRDX: RMAP

Maplin Electronics is a retailer of electronic goods in the UK and Ireland. (more…)