Given that many department store chains around the globe are celebrating 100-plus year anniversaries, I suppose my 25 years of retail industry experience makes me a Monday morning quarterback. In spite of that, designing retail environments has shown that while many retailers are trying to push the “cool factor” by implementing new technologies, linking with bloggers and plugging into social networks to reach new target audiences, they’re still looking at their new store construction costs on a dollar per sq. ft. basis. I think it’s time we push that outdated thinking aside, and figure out what better meets the expectations of today’s consumers.
The store environment should reflect the brand identity of the retailer. Whether its discount or luxury, know who you are and be it. As Chevy Chase’s character so eloquently put it in the movie, Caddyshack: “Be the ball.” Luxury and discount environments should be fabulous in their own way, in a style befitting of their brand culture, because what garners and maintains customer loyalty is predictability and brand consistency.
For example: I recently went into a fitting room in Marshalls, and I was delighted to discover they have a sense of humor. The tags, the mirror and the hooks were augmented with the simple addition of friendly commentary. I saw this similarly in Kohl’s revamped fitting rooms. I say bravo to both of them.
In general, technology seems to be the great panacea of our time for improving the guest experience. And while these experiential elements may fill a void for a short space of time, I fear that once they’ve been used once or twice, they become white noise over time unless they add real value. What provides real value? Easy: it’s the addition of time back into the lives of the customer. People are pressed for time—they’re stressed out, they’re multitasking every minute,and they’re tired. Technology can help shoppers make those purchasing decisions faster and easier: match items in their own closets, find the same blouse in another color without leaving the fitting room, suggesting a pair of jeans that fits their body type better than the one they selected. Then it should either have it packaged, paid for and waiting at a desk for pick up, or being shipped direct to the customer’s house.
Merchants beware though—the better and higher use for this kind of power is truly democratic and will benefit the consumer more than an individual brand. Wholesalers in a multibrand retail environment need to be prepared for the win-some/lose-some proposition that m-commerce has brought to bear. The smart retailers will embrace this and work it to their advantage. Just like the woman who pledged to do all her shopping at Macy’s in A Miracle on 34th Street, customers will appreciate the referral, before they work their mobile device, because it shows the retailer puts the customer’s needs above their own. I’d even bet 10-to-1 that they’d end up buying it there, because they felt good spending their money in that kind of culture.
What this use of technology should do is free up space in the store for other experiences. What services or amenities could be provided in-store as a convenience to your customer? Printemps in Paris added a macaroon counter in the middle of the contemporary floor. The merchant thought it was a colossal waste of precious square footage. Ironically, the counter kills in sales and is every bit as productive as its apparel neighbors. Who wouldn’t want a quick sugar fix after trying on clothes? That’s how retailers need to think. It’s the little things. And what Printemps gains with each macaroon sale is a lot more than just the couple of Euros the customer paid for it. They’re creating a culture (there’s that word again). And therein lies creation of a community—the Holy Grail. Remember, be the ball.
—Kathleen Jordan, Guest Blogger (and a principal in Gensler’s New York office)