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How to create a great retail experience

Improving the retail experience is the talk of the town amongst brands and retailers alike. Spooked by the impact of online and the specter of showrooming, brand managers and retail leaders have worked out that to win at retail, more is required than gathering products together in one convenient place at a killer price. But creating a great retail experience is more than merely ‘bringing the brand to life’ at retail. So what must brands and retailers do to ensure that their retail investments don’t go to waste, and that they deliver a great retail experience?

Remember the shopper isn’t always the consumer!

I know I bang this drum a lot, but it’s one that is worth banging. The shopper isn’t always the consumer, and so the ‘brand story’ which works for a consumer isn’t necessarily the same story that works for the shopper. I was once told long ago that all selling is about telling stories: and the shopper needs their own story. Consider gifting: the shopper is buying to meet the need of the gift recipient, for sure; but they need their own story too. The shopper who chooses to buy a more obscure malt whisky rather than the more obvious Glenmorangie buys it not because they know that the consumer will love it (they would have arguably loved any malt), but because of the story they can tell themselves (and the recipient) about the effort and discernment they put into the gift purchase. Apple’s service maxim works because their staff can relate just as easily to the teenage geek as to the mom who is buying a birthday gift for the teenage geek.

Retail needs to honor the brand

Marketers guard most of their brand impressions fiercely, yet when it comes to retail things sometimes go awry. Yet in many cases it is the retail environment which garners far more impressions than the rest of the communication experience. Premium brands stacked high and discounted in superstores? We’ve all seen premium retail outlets with tired fascias, out of stocks, bored looking staff, or untidy spaces. On a recent client project we surveyed a number of top end retail environments, it was amazing to see the clutter and mess, the lack of attention to detail, little things that destroy expensively built brand value.

The store has to work for shoppers

But retail isn’t all about brand experience. Great retail environments such as the Apple Store are feted because they create a marvelous ‘brand world’. But their power is in that they also work as retail environments. Apple stores are a triumph because they understand the biggest problem with buying a PC in another store – complexity. Their staff help remove that: the ‘touch and feel’ attitude to making their product accessible, and the Spartan ranging all make purchasing easy. How many choices of desktop do you have? Four? Compare that with a typical IT store and you’ll see what I mean. Apple understood the key barriers to purchase, and focused the retail experience on that, while still staying true to the brand. Kiehl’s – another of my favorites unpicks browsing barriers by creating entertainment zones for kids. Whilst not totally on brand, their kids play zone is executed classroom style, which fits in with the slightly academic and science elements of the Kiehl’s brand.

Focus on what is preventing shoppers from buying

As with any marketing, you can’t afford to invest in everything; so choose to address the biggest barriers to a sale. Apple looked at complexity. When we worked with Sony in China a few years ago they saved a fortune by reducing their investment in attracting people to their stores (not a problem) and focusing on delivering a simple proposition once the individual’s were in the store. Kiehl’s use samples both to drive traffic (they promise free samples in a sign at the door) but also to encourage broader usage of the range and a repeat visit. By understanding the biggest pinchpoints on the path to purchase, investments can work much harder.

It's more than ‘taking the brand to the store’

Bringing brands to life at retail is a great goal – it is a way of differentiating our brand, and giving shoppers a purpose to come and visit stores. A great brand experience at retail is essential if we are not to see all shoppers drift towards mere replenishment through price comparison and online sites. But a great retail experience is more than ‘taking the brand to the store’. Unless we fully understand shoppers, as distinct from consumers: understand the key barriers and their key needs: then there is a grave danger that all that is created is another brand impression, but no sales.

This article was originally published online on www.mikeanthony.me

26-02-2014