Walk down any High Street these days and what do we find? Pretty much the usual mix of banks, estate agents, charity shops, bars, restaurants and of course the national chains we come to expect to be there. But every once in a while we might stumble across something different, something which we may never have experienced before. Something which makes us stop and take notice; become curious. Just such a thing happened to me recently when I was enjoying a break in Majorca and spent a few hours exploring Palma. Amongst the shops and bars and restaurants in the centre of town I came across this……..
Nothing especially noteworthy about Imaginarium until you notice the doors; yes there’s one set of doors for the grown ups and another for the little ones. Pure retail genius. Why? Well, first of all I imagine it would be difficult perhaps well nigh impossible for parents with young children to prevent them from wanting to use ‘their’ entrance and second, once inside, the magic of entering through their own child size entrance would be sure to lead to high conversion rates. Mum and Dad would be sitting ducks! Clearly Imaginarium have given thought to the importance of the customer experience and come up with an inspired solution befitting their name. It would be fascinating to experiment with one normal adult size entrance to see what this did to sales; I bet I know the answer.
So why is customer experience so important? Surely price, product and availability are the most important metrics to get right for any retail business? Well, yes and no. In his very entertaining autobiography, ‘Best Served Cold’ Malcolm Walker describes the 5 key ratios of any retail business as being:
- Gross margin
- Cost to sell
And whilst I certainly wouldn’t argue with that, I would suggest that these days, the ability to measure levels of customer experience when consumers are engaging and interacting with your brand is a vital underlying indicator as to the health of the business.
Why? Because these days there is no such thing as consumer loyalty – at least not in the conventional sense. Stop for a moment and consider your own shopping behaviour as it applies to grocery shopping. I would venture that it is rare that we do all our grocery shopping with one or even two brands. We are promiscuous, we shop when and where it is convenient to us. Yes, price is a factor but maybe only when it comes to certain items such as household cleaning where quality isn’t so important and we are not prepared to pay more than absolutely necessary. On the other hand we might be prepared to pay more for fresh and meat produce in order to obtain the desired quality. So against this promiscuous backdrop of consumer behaviour, of course retailers can invest in price but as Philip Clarke declared when announcing Tesco’s latest set of results, the discounters such as Aldi and Lidl ‘are impossible to win’ against (on price). So it should be no surprise what strategy Tesco should adopt in order to compete.
As consumers, we are ever more demanding. More demanding of price, convenience, quality and above all of the experience we have on the High Street. We seek difference, personalisation, artisan retailers, tailored offerings, eco-friendly conservation led retail. In fact what we seek increasingly is an experience which enriches us, adds to our lifestyle, something which in some way improves the quality of our lives. Unlocking this and consistently delivering it across all channels and touchpoints is, I would suggest, the key today to retail success.