Customer Experience

Strengthen Branding or get left behind

How quickly is the retail landscape changing? It seems that everyone is telling us that change has never been quicker. I am not sure how true this, but the one indisputable fact is that change is upon us. This change comes in the form of international business crossing boarders both on-line, and now in our shopping strips and malls. So with this cycle of powerful retailers hitting our Aussie shores, what is the number one defence that local retails can initiate?

To answer this question, I took inspiration from a recent trip to LA – the home of extremes. There are big gas guzzling monster trucks driving alongside eco-warrior electric cars. There is the extreme luxury and wealth of the Hollywood and Beverley Hills Celebs living next to droves of homeless in the adjacent streets. But, amongst all of this I noticed one clear distinction. The culture of service among the successful retailers wherever my wife and I dined and shopped.

From a customer point of view, it starts with the overall end-to-end branding experience that you receive. A strong identity that connects the product to the people, to the location, and the entire experience. An example of this was when we visited a super-healthy café near Venice Beach. LA is the birth place of the Superfood phenomenon, and I was blown away by their execution. Calm and rejuvenation were a part of the dialogue, but they went deeper than this. Their purpose was to engage the consumer with the art of connection. They used some creative ways to instill this branding like the naming of items of the menu – but they took it further. The WIFI connection password was iamconnected. To add to this our server took our order and left us with an exchange I will never forget:

Waiter: “Thank you for your order. Would you like to know today’s question?”

Me: “Yere, sure, why not…”

Waiter: “What is your mission?”

Before we could react, he was on his way to file our order and get on with serving the other customers. We looked at each other. Thought. Looked at each other again. Smiled. And then, something great happened. We started talking about the question. What he meant by it. What our mission was. What our mission for the day was. What our overall mission was.

Our actual mission is irrelevant so I won’t bore you with the discussion that ensued. The genius is that this café was all about health, and connecting with yourself and others. In asking this question, we were immediately engaged in a thought provoking and fun way. From a branding point of view, I was left extremely excited. Brilliant! Simply brilliant!!! The overall experience was aligned and faultless. The delivery was spot-on. The effect was memorable.

Now, this sort of thing can sound gimmicky, but when all aspects of your customer experience are aligned, you move from gimmicks to something else – strength. Having brand alignment in the customer experience across all aspects of your business adds up to a very strong brand presence. You become memorable, and your customers become advocates. This results in real business growth.

It is on this trip that it struck me! All of the strong brands in Australia (small and big), and all of the internationals coming to our shores all have strength in end-to-end branding. A strong Brand Image. A Brand Experience. As business leaders, we need to be ultra-critical of every aspect of our customer-touch points. Are they aligned? Do our staff understand them? Do our staff know how to deliver them? Are there any weaknesses along our customer service chain? Does our on-line match our off-line? Do we stand out? Are we using the best language?

In driving this brand strength, it is vitally important to also make sure we deliver on our brand and product promise. Another key question to ask is: are we style over substance? There is nothing worse than having a beautifully presented space and brand, but then the end result is a poor-quality product or poor perceived value (by the way, we experienced this many times in LA also – I question if these businesses will still be around by the time we return). In an age of Insta and photo filtering and infographics, the aesthetic of our branding is so important, but copy-and-paste the latest trend at your peril. If it does not match the overall goal or mission of your business and your people, then it may do more harm than good to your business.

I feel that in the coming years we are going to see large international monster companies come to our shores and successfully navigate the tough Australian market (unlike those that failed previously, i.e. Hollister, Starbucks, and more recently Topshop). The local business that takes their end-to-end branding to a memorable and sophisticated level will be the ones that stand up and push forward in the new Australian business environment, no matter how quickly change is occurring in the landscape.

5 Tips to Pull Customers in with Visual Merchandising

The common perception is that visual merchandising (VM) is about making your products and your store look nice, but I assure you that there is a lot more to it than this. It is healthy to view your VM as a hub that links directly to all of your other main business departments. These usually include Stock Control, Marketing, Customer Service, Human Resources & Professional Development, Housekeeping, and of course Sales. Understanding that VM directly links with other functions within your business starts to open up new levels of creativity for you while making it easier to justify further resources on your VM and in-store animation.

VM is also a key way to pull customers over the threshold into your store and assist you to deliver a high customer service level with resulting sales increases. Here are my top five tips to bring this to fruition:

1. Promotional Displays

Visualise your store as you walk in the main entrance, and ask yourself what the first thing is that your eyes are drawn to? In retail, we want the first attention grabber in our store to be the promotional product or range of the week/month/season. It is critical that we have an engaging promotional display front-and-centre as a shopper enter our space. This not only creates interest for a shopper to stop walking and turn into your store, but it also excites the shopper – no matter if they are new to the store or a returning customer. The golden rules are to use a New Product, a Seasonal Product, a Topical Product, or a Hero Product from your range. To ensure freshness change this display regularly. This promotional display should also link to the display in your window.

2. Prime Shelf Real Estate

There are Hot and Cold Zones in our stores, with a Hot Zone representing an area of high foot traffic. You may know why people gravitate to this area, or it may be a mystery. Either way, be sure to recognise your Hot Zone, and the shelving units within this zone. This zone is generally the first-place shoppers will look and want to browse after they have enjoyed your promotional display at the entrance of your store. You may designate a shelf at eye level, or an entire bay as your Prime Shelf Real Estate. Whatever amount of space that you choose, be sure to fill it with product that matches your promotional display mentioned above. The key to this is to make it is clear that people can shop from this area. I say this as a promotional display can often be left by shoppers as they do not feel that they are allowed to shop from this area. By using the sequence of your window display, that matches your promotional display, that matches your Shelf Prime Real Estate, we have now built a slick easy to use path-to-purchase.

3. Pricing

The way that we communicate individualised pricing is a critical part of VM. Pricing needs to visually be aligned with our branding, be sized appropriately to the products, and be easy and clear to understand. Depending on your type of retail you may use hanging tags, pricing stickers, branded labels, or shelf talkers. Whatever the pricing display is that you use be sure to take a good deal of care with careful attention to detail. Make sure pricing labels are consistent throughout the store, and to make pricing easy to read and easy to find. Let’s face it, the first question most consumers have is “how much is it?”

Premium Retail will usually not display prices, and certain retail will have pricing on lists or in menus, but no matter what pricing is relevant for your business be sure that it is brand aligned and that it is correct! There is nothing worse than getting pricing wrong and costing your business money, credibility, and resulting in a negative customer experience.

4. Negative Space

In large discount retailers and super markets, you will see products jammed in and stacked as high as possible. This signals to the consumer that the products are of a low value. In a majority of retail environments, we want to increase the value proposition of our products using VM. One of the most effective ways to do this is to use Negative Space. Negative Space is the use of gaps, or space between products. This is a clever technique that draws a shopper’s eyes to the individual products allowing the shopper to browse without working so hard while creating more interest in the shopper’s mind. Negative Space also signals to the consumer that the products are important enough to command such a generous use of space. This is where the perceived value of a product is enhanced. This technique in your layout will enhance your overall branding, and will be noticeable from the exterior of the store as consumers look in through the entrance. It can also be used in window displays.

5. Clean All Day, Every Day

This is my favourite as it is so so important. No matter how much a consumer is paying for an individual product, if it is not clean then it is not attractive to buy. The retail environment out there is ultra-competitive, so if a store is not clean and tidy, then the consumer will simply go somewhere else. Cleanliness underpins all of your VM. You may have the latest technology, the biggest screens, the flashiest lights, or the most on trend animation, but if your window and shelves are dusty, sticky, grimy, or dirty in anyway then your whole VM is undermined. My golden rules are that we clean at the beginning and end of every day, and then throughout the day constantly. Other than education and product knowledge, re-stocking the shelves and cleaning is the number one task that we all need to commit to when we have down time in-store. It is critical that everyone in the store team is contributing to this too, and that there are no exemptions. It is a team game with sales to be lost if someone is excusing themselves from cleaning. Keeping your store and products clean can be made harder if your store has an Open-Door Policy (ie. Your front doors are left wide open during trading hours). This is always a great best practice as it invites customers into your space (take that as an extra free tip!) but it will encourage dust to accumulate quicker so be aware of this in regard to directing your team to clean.

Observations of a Frustration

In the world of industrial design the process of forming an idea for a possible new product always starts at the same place – The problem. Every new product (defined as the “solution”) must have a well-defined problem to solve, and the solution must be a unique one. In designing the new solution a designer must go through a process, and one of the key elements of the process is to observe the failings of current solutions available to the user.  It is amazing how much can be gained through the power of observation. Observing the user through a re-occurring irritation or frustration can tell us a lot about how to find the right solution.

In a customer service environment, we need the experience of our customers to be unique, memorable, and enjoyable. We spend considerable resources on analytical tools, our CRM systems, and survey mechanisms. They all have their place with many insights being given. However, I have recently been spending time with a design business and watching their process has been fascinating. They do not get straight onto their CAD System (design software), or go straight to the workshop. They get in front of the user, but they don’t start pounding them with questions. They take a comfortable seat out of the way and they observe. Then they get involved themselves – they get into the shoes of the user. Once they have done this, they once again take a seat out of sight and observe once more. They do this for as long as it takes. It could be an hour, a day, a week, a few weeks. Whatever the time, they are looking for that key area of the experience that causes the user frustration. For the retailer, this relates to the points of frustration for the customer within the customer journey – on or off-line.

Focusing on the customer, is more than asking your staff to drop tasks to approach someone when entering the store. It is to strategically take the time out to understand where your customer experience has friction. Where are the pain points in regard to servicing customers? In terms of layout, we may observe bottle necks. In terms of e-commerce, it may be the extra click that is not necessary. Whatever your form of retail, it is critical to track the customer experience visually in real time, and to experience it yourself.

Observing customer frustration can be done for busy times of the day, week, or year. It can be done for the slower times when skeleton staff are on. You could observe customer frustration at the changeroom, POS, or even within the shopping centre your business resides – the customer’s frustration may be that they are not able to find your store! There are multiple areas to observe, and there are multiple experiences to understand. Once there is a clear understanding of the problem to be solved, it is only then that we are in a position to work on a solution. Like a good designer be sure to start by being present and seeing things for yourself, and understand the customer frustration before hitting the workshop! When I was the manager of a large flagship, I would often set my team up during busy periods and float through the store. On occasion, I would take a seat next to the plant boxes out of the way. I became invisible for ten minutes, and would watch the whole process as customers entered all the way through to checking out. It was some of the best time I ever spent as it gave me insight into customer frustrations, as well as frustrations my team were suffering from, and where our internal processes may be falling down. In our world of retail, utilising such time wisely will save huge sums of resource. The retail industry is moving at such a high speed, so spending critical time on the wrong solution can be catastrophic.

Invest in being present and observing customer frustrations with your own eyes. By feeling it yourself the motivation for improvements will be stronger and the results for your customers will be ultra-focused and effective.