What draws customers to physical spaces in today’s digital age? How can retailers make the best use of store spaces, increase their per square feet sales, understand the untapped potential of real estate — and reimagine the stores in a way that allows them to address the online onslaught? Read on!
With more than 90 per cent of retail sales still taking place in bricks-and-mortar stores, offline will continue to be relevant to business and retail strategy. But as the new-age customers want more of a brand experience, retailers must reconsider the role and experience of their environment to be successful in future.
Digitally empowered customers today thrive on experience – not only through their devices but also within physical walls. When customers go to a store, it’s for more than a transaction. It’s for the ambience, the vibe and the opportunity to feel the energy as well as the products. In short, they go there for the in-store experience. This evolution has created many challenges for retailers offering inadequate experiences, and many brands continue to struggle today.
Reimagining the store with purpose
What is customer experience all about? It’s about engaging customers and providing him/her a seamless experience across touchpoints. Retailers have to grab the customer’s attention for that short period of time when they are in the store and get them engaged with the products.
Sharing his thoughts, Dhruv Bogra, Country Manager, Forever New India, ME & SEA, says, “We have a very active loyalty programme. We are heavily moving into personalisation of communication where we will understand every customer’s need, what they are planning to wear, which occasions are coming up in their lives, and we will have a style curator to help them with their needs. We are setting up an army of style curators in every store – a layer above fashion consultants – who will actually be trained on how to address the customers’ needs and how to accessorise them.” A lot of brands have been trying this for many years but none of them have succeeded that well because they are unable to sustain these specialists. “The trick to success is to get passionate people on board and build powerful training programmes for them,” believes Dhruv, further adding, “If you have happy employees and if you are going to take care of their needs, they are going to put in a lot of pride into their work and for the customer. People are the enabling factor in every customer experience that occurs on the floor. Building business on communities is another secret to success.”
Echoing similar views, Osman Arar, Board Member, Orka Holding and General Coordinator, D’S Damat, states, “Employees have to be trained properly to deliver this experience.” Sharing the example of their stores to enhance in-store experience, he says, “We serve coffee, tea and some appetisers at our stores as people would like to enjoy while buying something. We prioritise giving them the best enjoyable moments.”
Karan Berry, Creative & Marketing Head, Being Human, shares, “We have LED screens in all our stores pan-India and we run campaign videos, brand videos, foundation videos and we display what Being Human is all about. We use them to a really good extent because a lot of customers want to view things besides those concerned with regular statistics. They get to know more about the brand and the brand ethos.”
Even currently, in some of the key stores, the brand has a ‘Shop Sense’ which is a touchscreen system where customers can see all the clothes that are there in the store. They can select the products from there and can ask the staff to pick it up for them rather than themselves going to pick up the stuff. “We are trying to upgrade and get a better technology which is what we are working on currently. Then the same would be implemented in the other stores too,” he says.
“On an average, these would cost us anything between Rs. 40,000 and Rs. 50,000 for the equipment. Creating content and video involve a separate cost which keeps varying,” Karan adds.
Also, ethnicwear brand Soch is spending huge sum on in-store experience. “We were pioneers to implement a display technology solution in our stores that comprises of video walls and tablets which displays content of stock currently in store. It also promotes offers live in stores, helps conversion at the point of sale (POS) by helping customers appreciate product details better like flow, look, ensemble etc. The display is linked by a central content management system to the current store inventory that runs the content across the chain in real-time.
For example, high street stores run large video walls on the external façade where it is the most impactful in drawing footfalls, while mall stores run portals to give mall consumers a glimpse of what’s available in store. In high traffic areas like airports, we run imagery content for the brand,” says Vinay Chatlani, Co-founder & CEO, Soch.
The brand has invested close to Rs. 7.5 crore over the last 4 years in technology implementation. “The investment was made with a view to get both tangible benefits and brand imagery and salience – hence, the payoff period for ROI was 18 months,” he confirms.
The omni experience
Besides, Raymond’s mini store format called Mini TRS also has an integrated digital omni-channel capability, through which the customers can access a curated range of products from the brand’s online web store ‘Raymond Next’. “All the stores are connected through an interactive kiosk located in the store. In case a customer wants a product that is not available at the store, he/she can access our web store and select the product from this curated range. He/she then may choose to get the product delivered either at the store or at his/her desired address,” says Mohit Dhanjal, Director-Retail, Raymond.
Being Human features ‘Shop Sense’ at some of its key stores, which is a touchscreen system where customers can see all the clothes that are there in the store. They can select the products from there and can ask the staff to deliver it for them rather than picking them up by themselves.
Apart from this, the brand has undertaken various digital initiatives to improve customer and store experience. An example of this is the ‘StyleMe’ augmented reality experience, which is a tech-enabled tool that helps customers visualise how the fabric will look on them in different styles and options by draping the fabric onto their reflection using augmented reality. This helps address the barrier of visualisation that new fabric consumers face. According to Mohit, “We have already introduced this ‘StyleMe’ at 18 locations around the country and plan to scale it up across our Raymond stores.”
Also, in order to help retailers – multibrand outlets and Raymond Shops – with the availability of the right merchandise at the right time and place, the brand has introduced an app-based stock ordering system called MIDAS, wherein a retailer can place an order for stock across over 2,000 SKUs (across suiting and shirting products) and the same is delivered to the store in a quick turnaround time. This helps the retailer in reducing the loss of sale as well as in having an access to a large range of products without the fear of building up of inventory or blockage of capital.
While talking about the use of technology, Dhruv cites an example of his previous organisation, and shareds, “In one of the organisations that I have worked in, listening to the consumer was a big job. We had a room called social media command centre with 20 screens in it. And there were a bunch of 20 employees inside that room who used to watch social media day in and day out. They used to pick up customer reviews, listen to customers, what the customers said on various forums and used to create a social media report daily to be sent to all the sales staff. They also used Google business reviews to see what customers are saying about other established brands. This is how retailers can use technology.”
Besides, there are a lot of benefits of having in-house technology system. For instance, Zara has in-house ERP and POS system and Fabindia’s transaction system is also in-house. “So there’s a lot of leverage you get out of that because you are in control of things,” they believe.
Many times retailers talk about implementing big technologies but their basics are not right. It’s necessary to be in control of the basics to have a great result. “Retailers talk a lot about AI, AR, VR and chatbots but the basic stuff seems to be missing in all retail. They are all following a silo approach. Retailers do have a training app or tool given in the hands of the store staff but that data is sitting somewhere else. But is it matching with the transaction data? Retailers need to keep a check on this,” suggests Dhruv.