Asia-Pacific Centre for Franchising Excellence

Being aware of customers is a crucial part of the retail experience

By Centre Contributor

Being aware of customers is a crucial part of the retail experience

Despite the rise of internet shopping, customers continue to head instore in search of an ‘experience’ that they cannot get online.

A number of studies now suggests that traditional bricks and mortar retailing is not dying and remains a popular and highly sought-after experience from customers of all ages.

The latest research by AMP Capital surprisingly shows that even Gen Z shoppers, aged 18 to 22, favour shopping instore over online shopping. The AMP Capital survey, released this month, found that 87% of Gen Zs (described as Australia’s ‘future shoppers’) like or love shopping instore compared to 79% who like or love to shop online. 

This research report, the most recent in a number to demonstrate the continued appeal of instore shopping, highlights the importance of retailers’ integrating their online and offline offerings and most importantly delivering “fun, social instore experiences”.

The AMP Capital report concludes that shoppers are social creatures drawn to the face-to-face, touch-and-feel experience that in-store shopping provides and retailers must create personalised and engaging customer experiences to meet that need.

This is a message that is ringing out louder and more frequently for all retailers. It also usually comes with recommendations for continual innovation and evolution to adapt to new trends and ensure exciting customer connections and experiences.

All the talk about the retail ‘experience’ got us thinking about what this actually means and what constitutes a great instore experience? Based on our own experiences, the one crucial ingredient that is often lacking in this equation is – service.

A retailer of any kind, be it food, clothing, electronics, accessories or anything else, is more often than not judged by shoppers on its level of service, or lack thereof. A retail store can be different, fun and exciting but the lasting impression of the experience is most likely to rest on the quality of service received.

Here at the Centre, our own experiences suggest that good service is hard to come by. From disinterested, unmotivated and uncaring staff members to unclean, noisy and unwelcoming retail environments, it can be difficult and can take a lot of searching to find a retail setting in which you as a customer feel comfortable and appreciated.

For retailers, providing good service is a relentless and never-ending pursuit. It can just take one bad customer experience to damage a reputation, particularly in the era of social media when customer feedback can be instantly amplified to a massive audience.

Getting the basics right day-in day-out should be the number priority for retailers wanting to provide a great experience for their customers. Acknowledging customers in a polite and attentive way, making sure they feel comfortable in the retail environment and being perceptive and attentive to their needs are the foundation stones of success in this area.

Being aware of customers and attuned to their personal needs is essential. What makes one customer comfortable, could make another uncomfortable so pay attention to how they are enjoying their instore experience and be flexible to adapt to their individual needs.

This may mean further enquiring when a customer looks unsure or confused, or backing off when they have been acknowledging and want some time or space. Be flexible enough to turn the lights up or music down if asked. All the little things show that you care.

Other anecdotal examples of how small things can make a big difference in enhancing the customer service experience include tidy, welcoming and well-equipped fitting rooms. Make sure that clothes that have been tried on by customers are picked up off the floor or removed from hooks before the next customer enters.

We were told of a great fitting room experience in a spacious and beautifully appointed room where they even displayed the customer’s name on the door while they were in there. It wasn’t an upmarket retailer, but the customer was made to feel very special and it is this attention to detail and attentive service approach that can make all the difference.

Consistent, personalised and welcoming service is what will bring customers back and generate positive recommendations to their friends, family and social media networks.

Professional, motivated and attentive staff members are the front line in providing great customer service experiences. A franchise business should, in theory, have an advantage over corporate stores in this regard as the franchisee brings an owner’s eye to the operation of their own business.

Again, anecdotally, this is not always the case in reality as customer service levels can be found wanting across both franchised and company-owned retail businesses.

Franchisees must recognise and prioritise customer service as their business depends on it. With the support of their franchise group, they need to implement and constantly monitor their internal training and customer service systems to ensure they are ingrained across all team members in their franchise store.

There are franchise groups that do this well. Their consistency of service is such that you know exactly what the experience will be like no matter which one of their franchise outlets you visit. This is what brings satisfied customers back again and again.

It is the ‘experience’ that sets in-store retailing apart from its online competitors. There is much focus on continual innovation, experimentation and adaptation in pursuit of this goal, but the power of consistently providing the basics of great customer service should also never be underestimated.

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