Guest Slot -Analysis Insider – Sarah Wilson

Employees in stores have historically been focused almost entirely on sealing the deal because the retail model has been based around how much can be sold via the physical outlet.
Far too much of this in-store.
But this is not the future. For shops to be successful tomorrow there needs to be a radical change of mindset in how they operate and how the people working in them interact with customers.
They should no longer be solely concerned with gaining a sale for themselves and their store but should instead focus on the ‘brand’ getting the sale – whether that be online or across any other channel. In-store employees have to sell the retail brand irrespective of channel.
This is a big shift in thinking and undoubtedly represents a major challenge for established retailers. When Egremont worked with N. Brown to help it open its first high street shops – operating under the Simply Be and Jacamo brands – there was some early concern that the stores were not delivering a break-even level of sales.
But it was soon found that within the catchment areas of these stores there was a rise in the level of online sales for those brands. The new units had created a ‘halo effect’ and this clearly supported the argument for delivering a brand experience in-store rather than simply driving the sale in that unit.
N. Brown is not alone among online-only merchants to look to opening physical stores. The likes of eBay, Moo.com and Google Chrome are among many experimenting with units on the high street.
Despite numerous merchants having fallen by the wayside there are still many reasons to go to the high street – from touching and tasting goods, to the immediacy and exploration involved, as well as the social aspects.
Let’s not forget the fact that the conversion rate in-store can be as high as 50% whereas online we are talking about the miserly level of nearer 3%. This is not to say both these numbers won’t change over time.
This all points to the fact that although digital is now a way of life there remains a place for high street stores in the retail mix. But for them to be effective they have to deliver a sufficiently powerful customer experience, creating the WOW factor, not just the melee of racks, rails and stacks, but an experience which says everything about the brand.
Simply Be: the new face of stores.
In fact it is fair to say that unless retailers address the issue of online customers presently getting a much ‘richer picture’ of their products than those in-store then the store conversion rates will deteriorate.
In the early days of the internet the argument went that the one advantage the store had over online was its richer experience. This is not so today because tablet penetration is exploding, rich online media is flourishing, and product reviews are now commonplace.
The store has to now compete with this by giving shoppers just as much visibility of products and services. This involves creating a greater connection between online and stores, and driving sales across the various channels, which requires multi-channel integration.
But the risk here is that it brings greater complexity and so the aim has to be to keep it simple. Undoubtedly, today’s digital-savvy customer wants simplicity so driving out operational complexity should be an imperative for all retailers.
To help this process, operating models need to be revised. Retailers have traditionally been reasonably proficient with short-term tactical cost reductions, but this is increasingly impinging negatively on the stores’ ability to deliver the necessary brand experience.
Unless retailers become channel agnostic and have genuine customer champions at the board level then the risk is that they will fail to meet the seismic opportunities that digital now presents.
Sponsored column by Sarah Wilson, retail specialist at consultancy Egremont Group

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