Time to brush up on your floor play?
Retailers could be throwing money away on their brand communications because a third of customers are turned off by the in-store experience, according to exclusive research. And this is being exacerbated by online channels raising shoppers’ expectations. By Lucy Handley
Today’s retailers are under exceptional strain. Rising commodity prices, a post-recession environment and competing with widespread discounting means shops are now under more pressure than ever to get people clicking online and visiting their physical stores. And increasingly, good service forms the basis to achieving that goal.
Research among 3,000 consumers exclusive to Marketing Week reveals that it is crucial consumers’ actual shopping experience matches what a brand has promised in its communications. Half of those polled by agency Live & Breathe say they look forward to visiting a high street store because of the image they have of a brand, only to be disappointed by poor product availability when they arrive.
For Owen Catto, managing partner at Live & Breathe, retailers must match the investment they make in brand communications with what they put into enhancing a store environment.
“Don’t spend all your money on external communications and then let the retail space not work hard enough,” he warns. “The value that the brand extols in its communications is what people buy into. But when they get to the store, they find a disconnection between those values and the retail reality.”
Women have more of an issue with this than men, with 50% saying that the quality of goods is disappointing, compared to 38% of men who have the same concern.
Service is also a big issue for people: 38% say that shop staff don’t live up to a store’s image.
Brand perceptions that are negative to start with can also hinder in-store footfall. As many as 35% of people say they avoid going into a particular store because they don’t want to be seen as one of its
customers. This is fairly evenly split between men and women with just over a fifth saying they avoid certain shops occasionally and 4% of women and 6% of men claiming they do it frequently.
But Catto suggests that retail brands can develop their store environment to help change such perceptions. For example, retailers could better manage the flow of customers through a shop to minimise queues. Nearly 90% of those polled say they have given up buying something because of a long queue, and 45% say they like shopping online because there are no crowds.
“I like the idea that online retail is making bricks and mortar stores up their game, and that should lead to better shopping experiences,” says Catto. He adds that new store layouts are already reflecting this. Arcadia Group, for example, has been rolling out a new store format since it integrated fully with department store Bhs in 2009. Revamped stores feature a variety of Arcadia’s other brands, as part of a ’house of brands’ push by the retailer.
An area where clothing brands have an opportunity to make their service stand out is in giving fashion advice. Many people (37%) will ask those they are shopping with for an opinion on how something looks, but 12% say they ask a sales assistant.
Catto dubs this “the John Lewis effect”. “If you can make yourself known for having really good customer service and staff, it is a reason for people to come to you first; and they will buy from you because you engender trust,” he says.
Retailers should also be aware that shoppers could be abusing retailers’ goodwill by returning items they have already worn. As many as 18% of people admit having done this. This is more prevalent among men, with 23% saying they occasionally or frequently get refunds for used goods, versus 13% of women.
“People are becoming more clever and will take more and more from the retail experience without actually purchasing,” says Catto. Retailers can help prevent this behaviour by building a better relationship with customers, he suggests: “It is a quid pro quo relationship. If you can demonstrate that you give reasonable value, good service and a nice retail environment, customers will be less likely to try to get one over on the retailer.”
While investing in staff is one way to back up marketing claims, many retailers are experimenting with technology to enhance the shopping experience, says Catto. New Look in Birmingham, for instance, has cameras connected to mirrors in its changing rooms so people can view outfits from several angles.
But in spite of people’s familiarity with technology and the rise of social media, they are less than keen to text a picture of themselves in an outfit to a friend – only 3% say they do so at the moment. If shoppers do this, the most likely platform is Facebook, with 34% uploading their pictures versus 24% who send texts.
Shoppers are, however, willing to use their handheld technology in other ways. A quarter of survey respondents say they use mobile internet to see if they can find the item cheaper elsewhere and 22% will trawl other shops for the same reason. Men are more likely to do this than women, with 28% comparing prices online versus 22% of women.
This has prompted retailers such as Best Buy to launch apps to help secure shoppers’ loyalty. Best Buy is trialling an app called Shopkick, which gives smartphone users ’kickbucks’ when they enter a store which they can cash in as discounts.
Working out how to respond to shoppers using their mobiles for price comparison is a key challenge for retailers, claims Catto. He suggests that they could embrace the changes in the retail space by presenting a store as a ’showroom’ to cement online purchases.
Many brands have introduced a click-and-collect service online; a method that has proved popular with customers. The survey shows that 30% of people don’t like waiting at home for deliveries when they have bought something online. But click and collect gets people into stores.