It’s not about “The Fish”; it’s about “The Outing”!

Over the years there have been endless  discussions and points of view regarding ‘Price vs. Brand’ and ‘The Shopping Experience”. I have just returned from a fly fishing trip in the Lesotho Mountains with a bunch of likeminded chaps from different walks of life all with one thing in common – the love of the hunt for wild Rainbow Trout! – Rather similar to consumers, all looking for the same bargain – or are they?

Of the eight of us, two were absolutely committed to catch ‘big’ fish, while the majority were content to just ‘catch’, but all of us were in agreement about the venue which was stunning. Why drive six hundred kilometers to catch trout when there are plenty of trout an hour away? I believe, like shopping, it’s not only about the fish, but it’s about the outing; the Experience!

As retailers compete in a highly competitive environment and basically sell what their opponents are selling, at a similar price I must add, what else can you do to ‘woo’ me into your store? Surely you have to provide me with ‘The Experience’!

Research conducted in Canada and USA found that 35% of shoppers have had an extraordinary , or wow, retail experience in the past six months. But in order to hit that mark, retailers must deliver on as many as 10 different elements of the shopping experience simultaneously. Retailers are rewarded when shoppers tell others about their experience. Customer expectations are pretty high. It’s easy to fall short of those expectations, and hard to eclipse bad experiences. Unfortunately, people in general prefer to moan than to praise! 

So, as a retailer, what must you do in order to create an exceptional shopping experience for your customers?

Firstly, I believe, you need to get back to good old fashioned ‘manners’; being polite, genuinely caring and interested in helping, acknowledging and listening to your customer, after all, they know what they want!

Then, you have to provide Service Excellence, including patiently explaining and advising, checking stock, helping your customers to find products, having product knowledge and providing unexpected product quality.

Next, you must provide a Brand Experience. This includes exciting store design and atmosphere, consistently great product quality, making customers feel they’re special and that they always get a deal – not necessarily the cheaper price!

Consumers today are very busy and retailers must take note of this. Being sensitive to customers’ time on long check-out lines, being proactive in helping speed the shopping process is a critical component of creating the ‘Experience’.

Another important element to the ‘Experience Factor’ is Problem Recovery. You need to help resolve and compensate for problems; make refunds and returns extremely easy and painless. I shudder with consumer emotion when a manager argues over a R30 refund when his average sale is R400! What are your customers worth to you?

In the current recessionary climate, price is important to consumers, but only one factor in the overall wow shopping experience. The researchers found that of those experiencing a wow shopping trip, 43% said having consistently excellent products was a factor in their recent great retail experiences. That was the top response in regard to brand experience, followed by “getting a deal,” which was cited by 31% of respondents. 

Today’s economic situation is leading consumers to focus more on value than price. People are being more scrupulous about where they buy and what they buy. More educated consumers are looking for a better value in everything , even in a challenging economic environment, retailers are able to deliver a wow experience if they plan to provide the basic elements of a great shopping experience. 

We can also learn from the world’s best retailers. Over the last 10-years, Apple has risen to retail dominance and, in the process, became the most valuable company on the Forbes 2000 with a market value exceeding $500 billion.  Instrumental to this financial rise has been Apple’s cultivation of one of the most successful retail environments in history.  As a recent in-depth New York Times series puts it, “the Apple Store is the undisputed king, a retail phenomenon renowned for impeccable design, deft service and spectacular revenues.”  Apple has built this truly unique retail empire through the vertical integration of the product, retail, and customer experiences within the Apple Store. Apple is one the best retailers in the world at creating an engaging customer experience whose retail environment provides an excellent framework for growing retailers to emulate.  By analysing and applying the critical success factors of the Apple retail model in combination with new, innovative tools, growing retailers can readily create an ‘Apple-like’ retail experience in their stores. I believe that Apple’s biggest ‘retail win’ is their sales team. They have a team of cool looking nerds in blue shirts who are pure Apple Specialists and are also Apple Fans who want their customers to fall in love with Apple! Another winning aspect is that these Specialists are not financially incentivised to push one product over another – a subtle message that helps reassure the customer and open the channel for dialogue.

One common thread shared by the leadership of companies like Apple, Google, Amazon, and Disney,  is an appreciation for the customer experience. Great brands are built and sustained on great customer service. Especially in a time when consumers have more buying choices than ever, great customer service adds value and differentiates brands from their competition; and service is delivered by people!

So, to be the best you need to employ and keep the best. You must be constantly training and communicating with your team members. Information sharing is also paramount to your success. Team members need to know ‘the numbers’ and your company’s strategy, after all, they are going to take you there! Finally, you and your team have to have fun; what is the point if you do not enjoy what you are doing?  Do I enjoy fly-fishing? Sure I do, especially when I catch fish!

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