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Will experience-led ecommerce save the high street?

By Michelle McSweeney

With each passing day, we seem to be consuming more and more bleak news regarding the state of the high street. Data from the British Retail Consortium and Springboard shows that retail footfall dropped by 0.7% in January alone. An average of 400 retail jobs have been lost every day since Christmas Day.

It would certainly appear that the retail apocalypse is nigh. Meanwhile, there’s a new buzz term on the block: experience-led ecommerce.

And there’s no doubt about it - experience-led ecommerce is a model that businesses should be embracing immediately, if not sooner. But is it going to be the key to saving the high street? Well, no.

Bear with me...

It’s not because providing a great customer experience isn’t important. On the contrary. We all know how vital it is to create a memorable experience for shoppers. But when it comes the high street, you can’t fix something that’s meant to be broken.

We’re always asking the question ‘How can the high street be saved?’ In reality, the future of retail is really not about saving the high street, but actually about embracing change. Change that facilitates retailers to achieve success both online and offline.

High street

The high street is not going to look the same in 10 years. But that doesn’t mean that retailers should hang up their bricks and mortar boots. Sometimes the things we can’t change end up changing us, and there are many retailers who’ve responded to the shift in consumer behaviour and seized the opportunity to change the way they do business. Those retailers are winning right now.

That means re-examining your overall business strategy. Perhaps streamlining your bricks and mortar presence into flagship, experience-led stores, and investing in new sales opportunities online, be that wholesale through B2B, online marketplaces, and so on.

And therein lies the opportunity to weave the customer experience web both online and offline. In an increasingly digital world, people are craving meaningful interactions. There’s been an explosion of apps in the market designed to keep us off our phones. Digital detox programmes are now viable business opportunities. People are trying hard to limit their screen time, but the fact of the matter is that we’re all a little addicted to technology (ok, maybe a lot!).

So, if retailers can create an experience IRL (in real life) that augments digital in a unique way, they may well just break the bricks and mortar ‘curse’.

Shopping on tablet

Take Missguided, for example. The online giant went against the tide by opening up a physical store in Kent Bluewater shopping centre, under the tagline ‘Unicorns are real and so is Missguided in real life’.

The immersive store is fully-focussed on social interactions. User-generated content plays on massive screens in the store, with the brand’s most-used hashtags on display in every nook and cranny against millennial-pink backdrops, encouraging shoppers to become part of their story. It works a treat, because the store is essentially a seamless extension of the Missguided website that shoppers know and love.  

Another great example is Samsung, who flipped the script on retail completely by opening its ‘technology playground and cultural destination’ flagship 837 store nearly three years ago.

Except it’s not really a retail store at all. It’s not stacked floor to ceiling with inventory. Instead, it’s a technology mecca. Somewhere that people can go to explore the constantly-changing installations, try out one of the virtual reality rides, or watch TV on the biggest screen they’ve ever seen.

Samsung experience

It’s not about selling products. It’s about tapping into culture and community, giving consumers an experience that they won’t forget about in a hurry. And then, when the time comes around for those people to think about buying their next mobile phone, or smart-tv, what brand might spring to mind? Bingo.

Experience-led ecommerce doesn’t have to just be reserved for the big players, though. Of course, introducing AR and VR into your physical store is going to create hype amongst your customer base, but it’s not the be-all and end-all for creating a better customer experience.

Experience-led ecommerce is all about developing a strategy that supports the shopper end to end, regardless of how or where they shop - online, offline, on mobile, desktop, tablet, the list goes on. The key objective is, above everything else, customer satisfaction; how you make them feel.

Fountain in a shopping centre

Wunderman data shows that 54% of UK consumers feel more loyal to brands that show a deep understanding of their preferences and priorities. So, if you can inject delight into every touchpoint of the customer journey before, during, and after a purchase is made, you’re going to see results. And the formula for creating delight goes like this:

People + Technology = :)

That could mean enabling customers to order items that are out of stock when they are in a physical store, via a smartscreen, and have it delivered to their home the next day, rather than being told by a store assistant that they can order online and leaving them to their own devices (literally!).

It could mean having all customer service channels connected so that if a customer has several queries over a specific period of time, and they decide to ask one through email, another through Instagram, and another over the phone, they don’t have to explain themselves multiple times, because the customer service agent has access to everything they need.

It could mean receiving a personalised note with their order, or an invitation to an exclusive in-store event. Technology gives retailers the tools they need to create omnichannel experiences, but people are the ones who have the power to make the most impact on customer satisfaction.

So, the moral of the story is this - experience-led ecommerce has the power to make a huge impact on retail. But only if more businesses embrace the new wave of what retail means, by treating their physical stores more like websites. Then, with a stroke of luck, a new version of the high street will emerge. One that doesn’t need to be saved.

Michelle McSweeney, Content Marketing Specialist, Kooomo

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