The UK is the most competitive retail market in the world, and one that stands out for the level of innovation, Andy Murray, chief customer officer at Asda, said this week.
“The UK is the most competitive retail market in the world, and it’s not even close,” he said. “It’s probably five to 10 years ahead of the US in terms of technology and [with] double the amount of home shopping.” Murray, who came to Asda from its parent company Walmart in the US, where he was senior vice president of creative and customer experience, was speaking at Retail Expo in London, in answer to a question asking him to compare the US and UK markets. Murray said he was attracted to the UK supermarket for its reputation for innovation and as a place where things were happening, “and so I wanted to come and see for myself. Because of the government regulation, because of how competitive it is… you can throw a rock and hit a competitor that looks exactly like yours. That does not exist in the US market.” He said the market “really should be the playground” because it is “extraordinary for innovations”.
As chief customer officer, sitting on the Asda board, Murray’s job is to work out, against the backdrop of that highly competitive market, how the UK’s third largest grocery retailer can improve the experience that shoppers have when they buy from it online, in-store, via mobile, or across channels. That presents a number of difficult challenges, he said, including how to use big data, and how to measure customer experience through metrics such as customer lifetime value, which are easier to understand online than in store. “A lot of what I’m trying to work through is how to make customer service improvements in a world of scale and legacy,” he said, adding: “Customer-centric culture takes a lot of work. It’s easy to lose focus on the customer.”
Steps towards improving the customer experience
In its strategy to understand and improve the customer journey, the retailer analysed which touchpoints were both most used and most important to the customer. Many of those were around the store, and were summed up with “availability, easy, fast, friendly,” said Murray. “Simple things, but very important.” In order to improve the customer experience, the retailer designed metrics around these areas, brought back mystery shopping and looked at what needed to happen for the customer to be happy. “The best thing for us has been to look at dissatisfiers,” he added. Customer research produced two key areas for improvement: the “really cool stuff” that shoppers would like to see introduced and “the things that really hack the customer off”. Murray said: “We found it was far better to work on dissatisfiers, economically and commercially.”
The retailer has introduced technologies such as Scan and Go to help the customer shop quickly using their own smartphone to scan and pay for goods, now one of its fastest growing technologies. In the click and collect process, mobile check-in, using geofencing, enables shoppers to tell Asda staff that they are on their way and cutswaiting times from seven to four minutes. Asda has also updated its in-store radio to improve the ambience.
Concluding the presentation, Murray said: “It’s so easy to get distracted by shiny objects or a newfangled way to serve the customer when actually we know the things they care about are the dissatisfiers.” He said that it was important to “turn the journey into a compelling quest” that involves staff and customers along the way and that improving customer experience was a “total company effort” and not something that can be carried out just by one department. “It’s influence vs control – command and control will not get you there,” he said.
Murray was speaking at on Wednesday, in the week after Asda’s merger with supermarket Sainsbury’s was blocked by the Competition & Markets Authority. Earlier in the day, Justin King, former chief executive of Sainsbury’s, had told the conference that retailers were not seeing the ‘retailapocalypse’ that many headlines suggested. “I think it’s possible to point to many times, even in my career if not longer, where retail has been undergoing fundamental change. he said. “A bit like that old line that nostalgia is not what it used to be, I think we always think the moment we’re in is changing but what makes this industry so fantastic is that it always has been and always will be a fast-changing industry.”
Image courtesy of Asda