We all know the 2019 outlook for brick and mortar retail looks troubled and indeed it’s barely a month into the year and we’ve already seen Patisserie Valerie collapse into administration. Are we surprised? You only need to look at the makeup of the high street to see the extraordinary amount of competition facing a business like this coupled with the fact that the business hadn’t changed much since its launch. It needed to adapt and if brick and mortar retailers focus on aligning their strategies to current market conditions and take on board what customers say, a one size fits all decline isn’t inevitable.
We recently conducted a survey ‘Service, not Sci-Fi’ that looked at the reasons people were turning away from retailers but also how they might turn back. While cost cutting and staff consolidation might be the first response to disappointing figures, our survey showed this could have an immediate detrimental impact on sales. Our study found that 81% of UK shoppers felt that personal touch had disappeared from retail customer service in modern Britain. Almost a third (32%) blamed an over-reliance on technology for this decline. And half of those polled thought that companies in the UK use technology to save money, rather than improve customer experience.
Despite living in a world driven by technology, most people don’t want technology to sacrifice human opinion and experience. Only 30% said they would like to see ‘smart pricing’ initiatives adopted by retailers, where prices change in real time depending on demand, 22% would like to see smart mirrors that show a 360 view of themselves, 16% desire a VR changing room, while 14% want AR for visualise products at home and 9% seek a talking robotic assistant.
When asked what makes a great brick and mortar shopping experience, half of those polled said it was down to having good staff on the shop floor; staff that know the products (49%) and staff that go the extra mile (47%). Coupled with this, 61% of the nation would prefer to deal with someone face-to-face when complaining, while 59% liked a human interaction when enquiring or trying to find out more about a product and 73% wanted to see someone when being issued with a refund.
And back to the impact on the bottom line - a third of Brits say that the personal touch is more likely to encourage them make a repeat purchase, and more than a fifth (22%) claim they always spend more money in a shop if they are served by a good assistant, incrementally adding to sales. Over a third (34%) of shoppers stated that a poor experience has driven them to buy from another retailer.
The research also highlights the impact of the decline of local retailers, with a quarter of Brits saying they miss shopping somewhere where people recognise them and 16% confessing to preferring talking through a purchase with someone in-store, while a quarter reveal that online shopping is less fun than buying something in a real shop. The convenience of a store’s location is also important according to 43% of respondents which means that retailers should consolidate their estates. Many will notice immediate effects. This only emphasises the need to carefully consider the experience provided in-store and whether their staff can deliver the expected experience.
With traditional retail under more pressure than ever and an astonishing 81% of people feeling that the personal touch has disappeared from shopping, businesses need to focus on their customer experience strategies to keep people coming back for more.
Daniel Todaro is managing director at Gekko.