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GUEST COMMENT Amazon is only looking at one side of the future of retail

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With supermarket sales reaching an all time high in the UK last Christmas, the grocery market is one everybody wants a piece of. By introducing pilot programmes like Amazon Go, the increasingly omnichannel operator has undeniably delivered an offline shopping experience beyond what most imagined possible.

Just as the iPhone was proclaimed to be five years ahead of the competition at launch, it makes previous leading examples like Waitrose Quick Check, seem quaint. The experience is about as frictionless and ‘optimised’ as buying groceries in person is likely to get.

Yes, it may be tempting to streamline the experience and attempt to optimise offline conversions by sheer quantity. But is this really the only path?

From my experience working with some of the biggest retailers in the world, we see another priority just as often – one which focuses on increasing quality of the experience just as much.

Speed or service?

It’s hard to argue with fast delivery, minimal queues and quick payment when it comes to picking up a pint of milk. But this is just one dimension of retail experience.

Sometimes though there are situations where we want to take time on a purchase. We may want advice or have questions, especially about items with much higher value and consequences.

We are seeing just as many brands focus on these customer types. Increasing their most important interactions with their highest value customers, to build loyalty and stand out from the crowd. They hope that developing a trustworthy relationship with your customer will count when it comes to serious purchasing decisions.

For other businesses, this model provides them with the opportunity to broaden the scope of their offering by building up a better understanding of their customers’ needs and wants.

A perfect fit

Take for example, department stores.

Ultimately, their ‘value-add’ is the expertise of their staff as much as it is the products they sell. Increasingly, they acknowledge this to help consumers make better decisions, offering bra-fitting services or personal shopping appointments.

Pet specialists Pets At Home offer in-store medical and dental consultations that push their relationships with customers far beyond “must pick up dog food’”.

At Jessops, customers can actually learn how to use their newly purchased camera through the Jessops Academy. By learning the tools of the trade, anyone can become a photographer thanks to a team of camera experts which all started out life on the Jessops sale floor.

These brands help customers associate them with an expertise that surpasses basic commodities. Pets At Home has identified that their more clued up customers spend the most in-store.

Streaming customers

An essential part of all this is to be able to help customers follow the path that matches their need.

Broadly put, your customers may be split between those who are trying to achieve a simple transactional goal, like buy pet food. And those who are perhaps hoping to spend more time with you, aren’t sure what they need or want, or are looking at a higher value purchase.

If you end up with either customer type matched to the wrong experience, it’s going to cause frustration.

Retailers need to think carefully about how their customer-facing websites, apps and staff help their customers enter the most appropriate customer journey for the best experience. When you combine online and offline worlds, this means customer data and CRM systems are often a core part of bridging those views and making sure it’s consistent.

This often results in the ‘triage’ approach, where banks greet incoming visitors and make sure they are either booked in for the right expert or even trained up to use their app for quick tasks.

Getting all of this right arguably takes as much effort, thought and care as engineering something like the “Just Walk Out” technology in Amazon Go. For many, it will make sense to let Amazon take the route of a culture of engineers, while retailers and banks focus on their history and culture of putting the customer first.

Going the distance

Yes, Amazon Go is a tantalisingly efficient way to buy simple goods without frustration. But you know what else is? Buying online. And people are more comfortable and happy than ever to do that instead.

Trying to make the offline shopping experience more like the online shopping experience is certainly one route that may be effective. But if anything, this will create an even greater contrast with stores that go beyond the expected experience with expertise and quality.

The only place you need to be careful not to end up, is somewhere in the middle.

Glenn Shoosmith is CEO of BookingBug

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