Post Summary: Part 3 of the High Street 2.0 discussion, outlining ideas that retailers could consider if they want to create the next generation high street shopping experience where their consumers can enjoy the benefits of online shopping instore, and which will allow them to compete against online bargains and specialist pure-plays.
In my previous post (The High Street 2.0 - Part 2), I raised the point that online and offline channels have complementary but currently exclusive benefits. On the internet, consumers can access related products, accessories, comparative price options, product information, communities, social interaction, reviews, simplified purchase, and delivery, while also being able to feedback to others about the experience. Consumers are therefore becoming used to a richer, faster, and more socially interactive shopping experience. What they cannot do is try out products for fit, look, feel, appropriateness and ease of use before buying, or even benefit from the immediacy of collecting the item at time of purchase, which are the core benefits of buying in-store.
In-store benefits unfortunately cannot practically be transferred to the online environment, or at least not until virtual reality goes a whole lot further than secondlife.com! However, there is no reason why online benefits cannot be brought in-store. And that in a nutshell, is what I'm talking about in terms of a vision of the High Street 2.0. To stay competitive against online competition i.e. the pure plays, retailers must start developing a new generation of information and experience rich high street stores.
Like Web 2.0 web-sites, the next generation high street store must demonstrate a better appreciation of the target consumer as a person rather than a product buyer. In other words it must make the shopping experience person-centric by providing space, comfort, information, social engagement, easy points to call for help, and valid reasons to come in and enjoy the in-store experience for browsers; whilst providing efficient entry and exit routes for shoppers who know what they want. Retailers must conversely also appreciate the elements of the shopping experience that make store customers uncomfortable and look for avenues to cut them out, for e.g. not enough browsing space, product overcrowding, help not unavailable at the right time and place, and lengthy purchase queues.
So what could the High Street 2.0 physically look like? Well, one route might be where large stores evolve into experience-focused social spaces with products as a backdrop, while small stores leverage user computing and web technology to shift towards becoming product information hubs where consumers use touch screens to choose what they want to see, try and buy.
Anyway, regardless of the avenue of evolution, the following are some high level ideas that retailers could start exploring in the battle for effective channel-independent competitive advantage.
Shop design and layout
- Support the social experience. Create shops as places to relax and engage while browsing. Widen out browsing space by reducing products on display but allowing consumers to view more items via screens and have these brought to them on request.
- How about providing comfy sofa seats for customers to relax with built-in pull out touch screens to browse product listings, or read reviews, or order and pay for items etc. in shop? Or free lavatory facilities with interactive product information to capture interest?
- Why not provide changing room tickets so customers don't have to stand around with their items at busy times?
- Provide non-product specific reasons for consumers to enter and walk around. Collaborate with social networking enablers like coffee shops or bars, and design the space around this, rather than shoe-horning a coffee point into some corner of a shop as we see with Costa.
- For multi-brand retailers, mix brands together by product category rather than cordon off areas by brand as is the current norm.
- Place directly related product families together e.g. A Canon camera plus it's case, plus leads, lenses, memory card and batteries displayed as a group next to each other, or via a touch screen or at least a printed card next to each major product item displaying accessories available in-store and where to find them.
Self service information points / screens / kiosks
- Provide customisation capability – select size, colour etc, with order and payment capability for immediate collection or delivery, or even simply to find which store has the required version and the option to place it on hold
- Provide review capability – for consumers to browse store and product ratings and reviews
- Provide browsing capability for customers to interactively scan through products available, related to an interactive map to find the item in-store
- Allow customers to use these screens to select and request items to try, with in-store sales assistants tasked to put the selection together at changing rooms or tryout points
- Allow customers to create visualisations of outfits, with workflow that suggests others options, and then be able to select to get the whole ensemble provided by a sales assistant for them to try on directly at the changing rooms
- If really brave and/or price competitive, be open and allow direct in-store price comparison against competitors. Frankly this could even be a business idea in itself to set up stop off points on the high street where shoppers can pop in and run quick price comparisons or read product reviews of things they're about to buy in a nearby shop. Maybe this could be combined with a bar or sandwich space, with this service as a free value-add and supported with revenue through the advertising opportunities it would create.
Simpler purchasing options
- Provide self checkout terminals
- Allow customers to create ‘one-click' style accounts in-store using self-type pin or password verification – synchronise these with online services and vice-versa, i.e. recognise one-click accounts created online.
- Incentivise buyers to go online and register one-click accounts and credit cards like Amazon. Provide offers or free credit that are only validated once this is complete, but which are redeemable across any channel
- Use these accounts to create and maintain purchase histories that can be accessed in-store and leveraged to create value for the consumer.
- Ensure one consistent view of each registered customer with seamless multi-channel integration across both billing account and product history
- Use buyer history to recommend other items worth looking at, or suggest items other people bought – maybe even provide as a printout when handing over purchased items?
- Recommend complementary products when making a sale – again this could automatically be printed out on item scan and handed to the buyer
- As above, suggest related accessories for product being purchased. Complementary and accessory products could alternatively be highlighted at point of display through item grouping, touch screens, flip-cards etc.
- Allow online vouchers to be used in-store and vice-versa. Avoid promotions that result in one channel cannibalising sales from another i.e. single channel discounts
- Ensure that online and offline prices are consistent for the same type of purchase, for e.g. if ordering for home delivery in store, the consumer should be able to pay online prices on assumption that the item will be delivered from a warehouse somewhere with cheaper overheads allocated to it.
- Allow customers to specify delivery while paying for items in-store
- Provide try and return policies with free return postage or easy access PUDOs (pick up and drop off points)
Leverage the web and email
- Capture email address at point of purchase and use it to auto create user accounts on the store website. Email log-in details straight to the user, along with purchase, receipt and product guarantee details. Auto link product details in the email to review capability.
- Design the website to support the in-store experience, rather to compete as a separate and unique online entity
- Collaborate/tie-up with online social networking sites and bring elements of these in-store – e.g. say Zara advertising on My Space online, while creating a range of My Space branded clothing for sale in-store
- Create and develop free but branded popular culture spaces to embed brand and create new target audiences – e.g. Gap creating a free and open clothing review and discussion site that is only minimally branded to Gap but effectively creates a new audience.
To summarise then, I see the High Street 2.0 comprising information and experience rich stores, where consumers can enjoy the benefits of both web and in-store shopping; developed by retailers with a single channel-unified approach to pricing, marketing and consumer relationship management, and supported by seamlessly integrated information about target audiences across both online and offline channels.