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Comment: It's time the High Street told customers something they don’t know

Comment: It's time the High Street told customers something they don’t know
Wednesday March 26 2014

In the ecommerce world, retailers have become obsessed with content and obsessed with going beyond the act of just offering great products at great prices and acknowledge you need more than that. By Glenn Shoosmith

And, even better, it's an opportunity to increase loyalty, time spent on site and ultimately, how much customers spend.

This opportunity to better inform customers, to guide them through a more advanced buying decision, is massive today. But it almost always stops at the doors of physical retail space. This is both strategically incoherent and misses a perhaps bigger opportunity - turning education into a genuine service, worth paying for or with other advantages to the buying process.

More and more, this is manifesting as value-add services, expertise and education within stores. Many customers still crave a face-to-face with a helpful, experienced member of staff -- and many people who end up in retail are a wealth of knowledge, attracted to their role by the idea of spending all their time around a subject they love. You don't have to run the genius bar to see the effect that sitting down with a well-informed and helpful representative of the company can have.
 
But such expertise is expensive to have on hand 24/7 with no idea when customers will come in, when they will expect to use it or how much of a difference it makes to bottom lines. It's not like an online content strategy where you can schedule value -- it's face to face. So how do you take the virtue of this expertise, and offer it efficiently and effectively?

The answer is focus. More and more companies are distilling the experience that they're already really showing off online into new, defined, marketable in-store services that customers perceive and value differently. This not just a superior standard store experience but offering something customer will go out of their way for. It also means assertively spreading the word -- both online and off -- creating a new reason to come back to the high street, beyond just showrooming.

Pets at Home provides a good example of this with its pet nutrition consultations. These free sessions invite customers to schedule an appointment where they can provide important details beforehand, bring their pet along for examination and received a 100% tailored analysis of how to give the very best care to their furry family member. As a result, they become a happier, better educated, more loyal customer and their average spend increases. Everybody wins.

It's not the only example: Hobbycraft recently announced its plans to get as many people crafting in the local communities around their stores as possible; Jessops has started to offer lessons on camera-skills for its enthusiastic audience; Waitrose tempts customers in with a cooking school. In each case, the companies have created new revenue streams and opportunities to educate and upsell while focusing on improving service. And customers vote with their feet.

Because these sessions are defined, marketed and booked in advance, it allows the retailers to plan around and resource them properly, rather than having to deal with uneven patterns of customer footfall. They can learn from the most successful sessions or cross-sell other experiences, services or products that may be of interest. They can run a more efficient business focussed around the last remaining inimitable characteristic of their high street shops.

It's almost like they can turn them into controllable, discrete experience for consumption, just as they are able to online.

It's not to say it's easy. But by concentrating on providing added value that simply can't be delivered online, our high streets may stand a chance to become more enlightening to their customers rather than just wallet-lightening.

Glenn Shoosmith is CEO and founder of Bookingbug
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