10 things world-class retailers do different
What turns a good shopping experience into an awesome one? That is the golden question retailers the world over want the answer to. What makes the likes of Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Nordstrom and Coles shine amid high street upon high street of stores?
Retail isn’t just about selling a good product; it’s about selling your customers an experience. When consumers walk into an Apple store, they are not just buying a laptop but buying their place in a club. When people make the decision to go to Starbucks they aren’t just going to pick up a coffee, but buying into a way of life.
There is not one secret ingredient but a variety of elements that help retailers score highly. Customer service is one element, so too is the design of the stores. World-leading brands create an in-store culture, they create a familiar and comforting space within the retail jungle, their customers know what to expect and like what they find each and every time they visit. Consistency is King when it comes to building a brand, and that consistency needs to extend to every retail outlet.
We discover what it takes to create a world-class retail space.
When it comes to developing a highly successful retail space, in-store culture is extremely important. With the boom of online shopping, consumers don’t simply go shopping for products they need – it has become an experience, a day out. Consumers also like comfort and familiarity - walk into any of the world’s leading retail outlets and décor will be the same whether you are in London, Sydney or Bangkok – you will also experience the same level of customer service.
There is a consistent message and a consistent culture. At Starbucks, during the holiday season, there will be jazz music playing, there will be a holiday blend on sale, festive take-out cups and Christmas gifts aplenty. Walk into a Nike store and it too has its own identity. In store culture and atmosphere is extremely important when it comes to developing a recognizable brand.
Just as culture is a critical branding element, so too is design. The look and feel of a store is extremely important. Research indicates that consumers prefer stores with a large square footage and minimal fixtures and fittings. People like space and room to browse. If you enter a store where there is hardly room to move without fear of knocking over displays or bumping into other shoppers most people will swiftly head for the exit.
It is not always possible to purchase large stores in desirable shopping locations, but a few tricks of the trade such as light colour schemes, glass frontages and minimal products on the shop floor can help. Just with electronics, the user experience is vital here. Successful retailers ensure their products are on display, easy to see and touch and not swamped behind stacks of other goods. When it comes to design, a simple, classic, clean design is key. If you try to overcomplicate things you will end up turning customers off.
It may seem blindingly obvious, but world-class retailers also have world-class products. The long and short of it being that without a solid product as a starting point any retail strategy is not going to take off. The likes of Apple, Nike and Starbucks invest a lot of time and money in product development and customer trends. So not only are their products innovative and ahead of the curve, they are also what people want.
4. Customer service
“The soul of Apple is its people; how they are hired, trained, motivated and taught to communicate with customers to create magical experiences,” says Carmine Gallo, communications coach and author of The Apple Experience.
Nordstrom is another company that’s been recognized for its exemplary level of customer service; it’s been known to accept goods returned to their store from different retailers, help customers find lost jewelry in vacuum cleaners and return hubcaps from customers vehicles left in the car park. By truly going above and beyond, Nordstrom has earned the respect and trust of its customers, meaning they return time and time again.
As Jane Tepper, Owner of EcoSleep Australia says, “Customer service is something all businesses need to address. With the advent of online shopping, businesses need to work harder than ever to make sure their in-store experience is as good as the experience consumers can have online.”
5. Don’t sell
There is nothing worse than walking into a store and having a sales assistant try and convince you to buy something you don’t want or need. The world’s greatest retailers let their products do the talking – once a customer walks into a store the role of the sales assistant should be to help them find the product or solution they are looking for, to help them solve a problem. You don’t get bombarded with sales patter when you enter a Nike store, a Starbucks or a Coles, instead the sales associates help you find what you need.
6. Solve problems
Be more than just a store. It almost goes without saying but customer service is critical when it comes developing a world-class brand. Have you ever noticed that when you walk into an Apple store, they don’t ask, “What can I do for you today?” but rather, “What would you like to be able to do today?” The Apple customer service experience is all about helping people solve problems – if that problem happens to be solved by a Mac Pro or an iPad Air then great.
To use Apple as an example once again, solving problems is really at the heart of their retail mission. Taking problem solving to the next level, Apple offers its customers the opportunity to join free classes in store about a variety of different topics. Furthermore, its ‘Genius Bar’ is a place where customers can make an appointment with an Apple Genius to go over anything they are unclear about.
7. Keep it personal
Consumers have got used to personalization. Everything from emails, to personal devices, online services and tariffs – nothing is ‘off the shelf’ anymore, rather consumers can pick and choose what they want and need, often with the click of a button.
With this in mind it’s important that such a high level of personalization transcends the boundaries of retail stores as well. Take for example, the fact that Starbucks asks every single customer that orders a coffee or something to eat what his or her name is. Rather than being given a number, the customer’s name is called when their order is ready. This not only gives the service a personal touch, but also helps retail staff develop personal relationships with regular customers.
Another interesting way in which Starbucks personalized its stores was by installing a photo booth in the Times Square NY coffee shop. Any customers who took their photo had their picture displayed in the window. This attracted visitors of up to 25,000 per week for the duration of the campaign.
8. Less is more
We have already touched on the importance of a clutter free and minimalist space and that extends to the volume of products on show too. It is often enough to have just one or two examples of the shop floor. If customers like what they see they can ask sales assistants to find different sizes, colours and alternatives.
To take this one step further, a lot of the world’s leading retailers are introducing product finding and matching technology to make the retail experience even more hassle free for customers. As an example, Coles has recently launched an app, whereby customers can scan the barcode of the product they are interested in, search different color alternatives and similar products. This allows shoppers to search for different products to compliment their current choice, be it clothes to make an entire outfit, or cables to match the television you have just bought.
9. Point of sale
A lot of the world’s leading retailers today have recognized that endless queues and lines frustrate and ultimately, turn-off customers. As a result they have begun implementing MPOS (mobile point of sales) systems.
The move to mobile has real business benefits; bringing salespeople out from behind the register allows them the flexibility to offer an improved customer experience while streamlining processes behind-the-scenes. Many customers have become accustomed to the convenience of one-click online purchasing and integrating MPOS into the checkout process creates an in-store experience similar to the one they have in the comfort of their own homes. Apple is one company that has implemented a mobile check out system to great effect in its stores worldwide.
10. The devil is in the detail
The last (but certainly not the least) point to consider is detail. Many retailers are mistaken when they think that the small stuff doesn’t matter – it does. Receipts, shopping bags, changing rooms, cup holders… they all make a big difference when it comes to delivering a world-class retail experience.
Apple, Nordstrom, Coles, Starbucks and Nike – they all ensure that every last point is thought of. At Apple your receipt is emailed to you, at Nordstrom and Coles the shopping bags you take away are smart and sturdy with a strong brand image on the front, at Nike the changing rooms are made to feel like professional locker rooms and Starbucks makes sure its customers have cup holders, decorative take away bags and small stirrers that double up to keep your coffee warm if your not drinking its immediately. The devil is in the detail and if you fail to dot every ‘i’ and cross every ‘t’ then you will fall short of the world’s retail giants.
Q&A: Professor Loredana Padurean, Asia School of Business
As someone who is creating Asia Pacific’s business leaders of the future, what do you believe are the essential skills leaders require?
In many ways, we need leaders who are Renaissance women/men or polymaths, as opposed to specialists of an industry or a field. A polymath is a person with profound knowledge, proficiency and expertise in multiple fields and today’s leaders have to be able to combine various ideas, look at problems in novel and useful ways, and develop a broad and yet still deep set of skills, talents, and knowledge.
You’ve coined ‘smart’ and ‘sharp’ as skills of the future. What are these?
They are replacements for ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ skills, a concept coined by a US Army doctor in 1972 who observed that his pupils had different skills: dealing with machinery required ‘hard’ skills, while dealing with people and paper were ‘soft’ skills. This concept has served us well since, but I find it too binary, not to mention the semantic implications of the words themselves.
Soft implies gentle, delicate, mild, quiet, tender, weak. However, there is nothing soft in navigating competing perspectives and cultures, handling and delivering critical feedback or dealing with office politics. Instead, I prefer to call these skills ‘smart’. Hard implies rigid, difficult, heavy, static. But how can we think of engineering or software development as static or rigid? I believe ‘sharp’ is more apt as such skills need constant updating or sharpening.
I think it’s time to reflect on these classifications, because we can drastically change someone’s perspective by how we choose to talk about and frame something.
How important are smart skills in leadership today?
Smart skills are more important than ever because we live in a world of extreme diversity: generational, ethical, value-based, gender, etc. Gone are the days when giving an order was an effective act of leadership. I personally work with people from five different continents and across five different generations, therefore as leaders, we need to know how to adapt, motivate, inspire and connect. We need to increase our investment in learning about them in action, especially as smart skills are more difficult to develop.
I believe that a successful leader today has to be both smart and sharp. Take cognitive readiness, one of my top 10 smart skills. In order to be cognitive ready, one has to master system dynamics, one of my top 10 sharp skills. Also, did you know that one of the primary reasons why digital transformation fails is not the absence of digital literacy, a sharp skill, but the need for more validation and adaptability, both smart skills. So, instead of thinking of these skills as binary, I prefer to think of them as the yin and yang; co-existing and complementing each other.
So, you can teach leaders smart skills then?
Yes, you can, via a combination of the classroom experience, plus an action component supported by deeply embedded reflection. At ASB we call this Action Learning, and we teach it both in the MBA and in the executive programs. For example, in teaching a leader emotional maturity as a smart skill, first they need to learn what it is, and then act on it, before reflecting on what we did and how we did it. And then to repeat it, but this time with more expertise and awareness. It’s not easy, but that’s why my favourite mantra is ‘the job is easy, the people are not’.
Discover Professor Padurean's successful skills for a digital transformation here