Despite the much-discussed decline of the high street and commerce moving online, a surprising number of predominantly online retailers such as bonprix are opening new physical locations.
According to Markus Fuchshofen, head of ecommerce, sales Germany and brand at bonprix, the company began internal discussions to open a new kind of a physical store around three years ago.
Unlike many of its competitors, bonprix has little heritage in physical outlets. Originally a mail order business with a 32-page catalogue and 10 employees, the company entered the online market in 1997. Forced to adapt to the new reality and abandon the business it had started out in, the experience gave it some understanding of the disruptive and destructive powers of the internet.
Now, Fuchshofen tells InternetRetailing, he sees the physical retailers of today making the same mistakes – “acting like we were 20 years ago”.
With its fashion connect concept, the company is hoping to “take [its] expertise in the online world and use it to create a new highly integrated touchpoint”.
The concept emerged from qualitative data: bonprix created a new user experience department which conducted over 100 customer interviews about the retail experience and what could be improved. This revealed customer frustrations around often crowded showrooms and the dressing room.
The company then set about designing a new customer journey which it has realised in its pilot store in Hamburg, with the design guided by the customer feedback. But as Fuchshofen adds, “this was only the customers telling us what they would like, it was not the retail solution.”
The hard work was putting together these “puzzle pieces” of customer demands and making these into a complete picture.
“Some others in this field are missing this. You cannot say there is a digital mirror in the corner and now we have a new experience. We really got the idea that you really have to address the whole journey not minor pieces.”
The customer then simply has to leave the fitting room with their desired clothes and their virtual “shopping bag” will be automatically updated via RFID technology. They can then pay via PayPal on the app or pay at the check-out via card or cash.
One break with tradition was the decision to separate the showroom from the storage room, with customers only seeing one item. But this required a “magic wand” to allow customers to select what they wanted to see.
This is the bonprix app. Customers check in when they arrive and can then scan products with their smartphone’s camera, specifying their desired size.
As Fuchshofen says: “The smartphone has become the remote control to the world.”
These products are then picked by staff and placed in a fitting room for the customer to try on. If they need a different size they can order it from the room with the app.
“In old-fashioned stores, staff are often focusing on products not customers. Here they really have time for the customer and can really interact.”
The pilot store claims to offer an “omnichannel experience”. Asked to define omnichannel, Fuchshofen says that things like click and collect are only part of it.
“Omnichannel for me is connecting all the data points you have of the customer to make sure the customer feels you know them well, then you can serve them properly,” he explains.
“You have all the assets such as buying history and bring these to the customer to create new services.”
Part of the omnichannel experience is a lesser emphasis on immediate sales, replaced by the idea that this is one touchpoint for the customer but the transaction might be completed elsewhere. This is reflected in staff compensation – there is no traditional commission structure, as this would potentially optimise one channel at the expense of others.
There are no plans for future stores at the moment, says Fuchshofen. The Hamburg store is the first version, focusing on “listening, learning and iterating”. He describes it as a “minimum viable product”.
The qualitative research as well as the continuous feedback from the customers generated other ideas that might be rolled out in the future, including an “endless aisle” idea where people can shop both for products in the store and online.
In 12 months, he says, bonprix hopes to have more information how to go on.