High Street retailers have long known that they need to offer ‘experiences’ in-store and that to take on the internet they need to offer a web-like experience in store. Taken together, this web-onisation of shopping has every chance of helping to stem to flow of once-proud retailers going out of business.
And some key retailers are starting to put it into practice. While we have reported previously on changes at John Lewis to make their retailer floorspace more experiential and with beleaguered Debenhams looking to do the same and JD Sports upping the ante in-store too, the message is getting through.
But these Top500 retailers are not the only ones investing in experience – many luxury brands have started to look too at how they can make themselves more desirable. Ted Baker and Mulberry have become the latest brands to use technology to woo their customers – the former looking to AI to power chatbots and Mulberry to add the joy of the web to its flagship store in London, including mobile PoS and access to an infinite aisle.
In Italy, ‘affordable luxury’ chain Rinascente is extending its mobile ‘concierge’ service that it has successfully run on WhatsApp to WeChat to service more Chinese consumers.
This thrust by luxury brands into using tech to bridge the on and offline worlds is hardly surprising: they have the money to make it happen and, with tech-savvy, moneyed clienteles, they need to make it happen. It is hardly surprising that they are at the cutting edge of making this reality.
The fact that Top500 retailers are also in on the act marks out just how vital this is. Usually, the likes of Mulberry or Ted Baker would be at the cutting edge. Now everyone has to get in on the act. Heck, even Argos has added voice commerce to its click and collect service.
What is interesting is that retailers seem to be going down the route of customer service as the pivotal element that technology can help them with in-stores. For years customer service was the axle around which the wheel of retail flew; then, thanks to the web, it stopped being so crucial.
Speed was of the essence and, while Amazon may have worked wonders for ecommerce design and efficiency, it has done nothing for customer service. But this is now changing. Stores were built around face-to-face interactions with knowledgeable, helpful, caring staff well versed in their store’s history and products.
This seems to be making a welcome return as the means by which the High Street can be saved. But service alone cannot save the stores. The problem hasn’t just been that Amazon is eating their lunch, but that the store experience on the basic level – the actual buying of things – sucks.
Adding experts, lectures, coffee, cakes, concierges and more is great – but unless you also make sure you have access to all the stock in the world and that no one has to queue up to pay, then it will still fail.
Just as taxing ecommerce isn’t the answer to saving the High Street, neither is customer service culture changes alone: it needs technology, it needs the web and it needs the two to be applied in new ways to change the old ways of doing the basics.
And this is what Mulberry and Ted Baker and Rinascente get. They understand that it is about bringing the store online and online into the store and revamping not only the fripperies of customer service, but also the basics of how to pay and how to get your hands on the goods no matter what.
Adding voice to click and collect may garner some headlines. Giving the store an ‘experiences desk’ may placate shareholders. Changing your logo to a ‘more friendly’ bespoke font may do neither (Debenhams, we are looking at you!). But rethinking the very basics to make it more like the best of the web meets the best of the store is the way to go… and so far only the luxury sector seems to be on the right page.