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Monday, July 13, 2009

Change and the Retail Experience

Safeway Supermarket, 1960's originally uploaded by RoadSidePictures
Safeway Supermarket, 1960sHave you been shopping lately? Have you noticed changes? I have. Some have to do with me and my changed expectations of the retail experience. Some have to do with the decisions stores have made to deal with the current economic environment.

Some stores have cut back on the number of people they have available to help. In those stores, getting in and out quickly has become impossible. And, when I've interacted with associates, they've been surly.

Other stores have modified their check out process. Both my Mom's Safeway in DC and my TJ Maxx in Pompton Plains, NJ, for example, have created a Border's like common checkout line. The solution has greatly improved the speed and ease of checkout and the visual appeal of the space.

Safeway has also added a Starbucks counter inside the store, which isn't large, but with the checkout change and the addition of the Starbucks it seems more spacious and certainly more welcoming.

I don't shop as much as I used to. I know I'm not alone. When I do go shopping - as I did when my parents visited a few weeks ago and my mother insisted that we go to a mall - I find that my tolerance is more limited than ever before. Fighting for a parking spot fills me with dread. Pushing against crowds makes me want to bolt directly to the Internet. And, having to process the onslaught of mostly unappealing and undifferentiated merchandise reduces me to a puddle of hostile passivity. It's not good.

It needs to change. Retail needs to recapture the magic that comes from bringing people and products together in an unforgettable in-store experience that truly engages shoppers, turning them into loyal buyers and enthusiastic fans.

Don't you think? Otherwise, why bother venturing beyond a home computer to purchase anything?

Two articles captured my attention: Economizing the store by Jessie Bove from the February 2009 issue of DDI Magazine and 10 Principles For Bad Times That Work in Good Times, Too by Philip H. Geier, Jr. from the 4/6/2009 issue of AdAge. Both agree that now is the time to make change and be poised to benefit from the better times ahead.

The first article refers to the need to Prioritize and Simplify to accomplish more with less and make it easy for customers to "say 'yes' to shopping." Figure out how to improve the in-store customer experience. Help customers find what they need, check out faster and generally reduce any of those time-wasting activities that generate negative feelings.

Next, Focus on the Brand Message. What is your brand? What do you stand for? How are you different from the other choices your customers have? Build relationships with your customers. That means that you learn about them, keep in contact with them, offer them opportunities to find solutions to the issues they face. "'Needs' are more important than 'wants' in today's climate, and any retailer equipped to convey this to the consumer will do better." Not only must you truly offer value, but you must also be perceived to do so. "The in-store message needs to project value and quality without clutter and confusion - reiterating the theme of simplicity and efficiency."

The second article also urges a focus on the brand as well as the need to prioritize efforts [including the need to integrate marketing strategy]. However, it brings in people:

+ Motivate your work force. "Make sure employees hear and understand the strategy."
+ Communicate. "Make sure your key constituencies - customers, employees, business partners and investors - understand what you are changing and why."
+ Inspire customers. "Along with innovation, optimism has been a key ingredient in inspiring consumer and building great brands through the last 10 recessions."

And, it reminds us to adapt business strategy to marketplace changes, innovate like crazy ["if you are not thinking about revolutionizing your business, someone else will."], and seize new opportunities, while retaining credibility.

What would you add to this list?

And, how are you going about changing the retail experience?

What do you see having the greatest benefit on your business?

[For the record, I did find a lovely outfit from Coldwater Creek that my parents generously purchased for me. Thanks, Mom & Dad!]

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