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Taking Stock #5: Have you ever been experienced?

by Sean Fleming

If, 10 years ago, I had told you that the next time I visit your store I expect you to provide me with a glass of prosecco, some food, somewhere comfortable to sit, and a personal shopper, what would you have done?

You’d probably have laughed and told me not to bother coming back.

How times have changed.

Adjusting to the ecommerce explosion means retailers in 2017 have to balance many more needs today than they did 10 years ago. It also means they are having to be more creative when it comes to getting shoppers into their stores, then work harder than ever to get them to part with their money while they’re there.

Research recently carried out by Barclaycard looked into the phenomenon of the retail experience. One of the things the research found was that investing in experience evenings can be a solid business move.

More than one third (36% to be exact) of UK retailers currently host in-store events - from demonstrations to courses, or maybe exclusive sales preview events. Added to that, 19% plan to follow suit at some point over the next three years. Of course, the Holy Grail for the retail marketers organising these events is to get more people in-store and get them spending. To that end a staggering 113% increase in experience investment is planned over the next two years, according to Barclaycard.

OK, so we’ve established it’s a trend. But what about that ‘solid business’ I mentioned, you may be wondering. Well, according to Barclaycard’s research, UK retailers have seen annual turnover increase by an average of 14% as a result of running in-store events and experiences. That’s not bad, especially at a time when many retailers are struggling.

But where there are winners there are always losers - it is the way of the world. In this case, all the money being diverted into cases of champagne-alternatives, canapes, and personal appearances from B-list celebrities has to come from somewhere. That’s why those same retailers told Barclaycard they are going to be investing less in improving store layouts and revitalising their stock.

It’s no surprise there are going to be cutbacks in some areas. After all, you can only spend each Dollar, Pound or Euro once. But remember, the same shoppers you treat like minor aristocrats when they come to your booze and browse evenings are also visiting your website and placing online orders, then waiting for the courier. They are the same people whether they are in the store or staring at a screen - they expect you to behave like the same organisation too.

If your in-store experience evenings are like one of Prince Charming’s balls but your delivery service has more in common with the Ugly Sisters’ feet, your customers are going to feel let down and unloved. They may feel that you’re only being nice to them because you want their money; everyone knows that’s true, but no one wants to be reminded of it.

I’m not suggesting you arrange to have prosecco and muffins handed out by your couriers’ delivery drivers. But if you’re going to start thinking about improving the customer experience - and you are going to at some point, trust me - you also need to look closely for any weakness in your service and fix them. End-to-end excellence might not be a realistic goal, but it ought to be an abiding ambition.

You can get something right 100 times and wrong only once. It’s that one time it went wrong you’ll be remembered for. The same goes for glad-handing people in-store but palming them off with third-rate service on the doorstep.

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