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Shoppers still love shops, so why is the experience so bad?

Shoppers still love shops, so why is the experience so bad?

Author: Melissa Singer 

Source: America Retail 

Over the weekend, I had a pretty poor retail experience at a major chain store. I visited the large “flagship” on one of Melbourne’s most high-profile strips, found what I wanted, paid and left. Seems pretty OK to me, I hear you think.

Well, as a straight transaction, I guess it was OK. And the item I wanted was marked down to $10.

Yet, what I left out of the story was that I had to find what I wanted, without any greeting or help from the sales staff. The store was so large and soulless that there was no atmosphere and, the further back you ventured, the more it looked like the visual merchandising team just gave up. When I went to pay, there was a line of four people in front of a five-register counter that was being manned by just one harried staff member.

So, yeah: it was pretty underwhelming and didn’t make me feel positive about the brand. For my $10, the company probably only increased its value from that transaction by a few cents.

This is what Canadian retail expert and futurist Doug Stephens, who was in Australia this week for Melbourne Fashion Week, has described as the “negative impression” effect from consumers’ unpleasant interactions with retailers.

“Some brands can see one million customers a year and piss everyone off,” Stephens, AKA the Retail Prophet, told the Business of Fashion podcast last week.

In short, when a customer visits a physical store, if they have a negative experience – even if they ultimately buy what they wanted – the net result can be a loss to the business.

Bricks and mortar, he argues, is critical if retail businesses want to ride the retail wave, including a likely recession in the US in the next 12-18 months. But, in many cases, businesses are still treating their physical stores as mere points of transaction when, really, they need to do so much more.

Speaking at the Melbourne Fashion Week Fashion Forum on Monday, Stephens said brands need to re-engineer their physical spaces as «media channels», where experience comes before product. Fewer stores, more stories.

According to The Real Retail Story report by Blis research, 63 per cent of Australians prefer the bricks-and-mortar experience across most categories, with 43 per cent visiting a physical store to “showroom” before they purchase online. Meanwhile, 59 per cent “webroom”, meaning they do the opposite: researching online before visiting a physical store.

So, if shoppers still love shops, why is the experience so often so bad?

According to Stephens, it’s because they are not meeting five key parameters for success, being: “surprise”, “uniqueness”, “personalisation”, “engagement” and, the clincher, “repeatability”. And yes, the five together produces the nifty acronym SUPER.

Consumers, he argues, are armed with more information than ever, so it’s not just about better service or better products but an alchemy of all the elements. He names Sonos and Apple as two companies that have it right.

“It’s not the end of product, it’s just the end of bullshit,” he told BoF.

So, where does that leave some of Australia’s biggest retailers?

Last week, Myer announced it was trialling a new approach to late-night shopping, including free drinks and special offers. Surprising? Yes. Unique? Hardly. Still, it’s something. And the wisdom in Australian retail is companies have to do something to win back customers; status quo is no longer an option.

This week, David Jones will officially unveil the $200-million redevelopment of its Sydney flagship, a project jointly paid for by the business and some of its tenants, including several luxury brands such as Dior.

At this high end of the market, physical stores still account for a disproportionate number of sales, such is the “trophy shopping” factor of walking through the streets with a bag from Gucci or Prada.

So what are mid-range stores, including Myer and David Jones, doing to really address Stephens’ five criteria for success? According to him, the companies that have decoupled from outdated ideas of the role of the physical store and embraced change have seen instant results. Surely it’s time we saw more of it in our shopping centres and high streets.

As Steve Martin’s boss, Dave, said to him in the 1989 classic film Parenthood, “Dazzle me.” It’s time our retailers took Dave’s words to heart.


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