How to Save the High Street

Image of Shops: How to Save the High Street

Can the relentless downward trend in retail footfall be slowed or even stopped, as shoppers choose to shop online instead?

Probably not: but individual retailers can still beat the trend.

Here’s how: by providing a quality of customer experience that offers a level of personal service and expertise in-store that you just can’t get online.

The internet will undeniably continue to do what it does well – to deliver a wide and searchable range of products at competitive prices. If you choose to find the products you want unaided, then you’re better off doing this online.

But even the online retail colossus Amazon recognises the need for bricks and mortar, albeit in a format we have never seen before, with Amazon Go designed around cashier-less retailing. Recently Amazon opened its fourth physical shop in the USA; now the American company has started to search for shopfronts in prime London locations. And what’s even more interesting is that as they’ve fine-tuned the model, they’ve put more support staff back in store.

Bricks and mortar retailers must compete differently from online. You have to offer expertise – and even education too – that’s only available by visiting your store. This involves selling probably a narrow range of excellent products, with good prices and exceptional service. Timpson and Richer Sounds are renowned for offering this type of specialisation.

Most of us want some help with larger or less unfamiliar purchases. Recommendations are always useful.

As we know, the review sections on Amazon are much read and strongly influence the decision to buy. And who doesn’t use Tripadvisor when they are booking a holiday or planning a night out, to find a nice bar or restaurant?

“This is because people want guidance in their ‘buyer’s journey’. It’s said that people buy for only two reasons: either to solve a problem or feel better (sometimes both at once). We all want the reassurance that our proposed purchase will tick that box, meet that need,” Jill Spencer.

So, the help of friendly and informed sales assistant is invaluable. It makes the visit memorable too. In fact, any helpful in-store information helps to shape and improve the customer experience, whether it’s a product demo or a free sample.

Some thoughts to consider further in your planning:-

  1. How can you add value to the instore experience? You must differentiate the bricks and mortar from the online experience, to make if more informative, helpful and enjoyable
  2. What extra training do your staff need? How knowledgeable (and helpful) are they about the products and services you sell? Staff can be either your Achilles heel or the champions of your business. Which one, depends on the quality of your training and HR in action.
  3. What ‘props’ do you need: Consider on-site demonstrations and film. Perhaps product comparison charts, or leaflets to take away. Combining both a searchable online database with a good in-store experience should be in your plan.
  4. Measure, measure, measure: The only way to find out whether and where you’re succeeding in all this is with a mystery shopper CX programme. Mystery shoppers give you the feedback you need to understand whether the experience that you planned is the one your customers really get. Because it is the ‘match with reality’ where the best plan can unravel.

The starting point is to measure today’s customer experience, so you can benchmark it – and also identify the areas, with guidance, where you can make immediate improvements; perhaps to provide extra training or change store layouts and displays, for example.

To find out more about mystery shopping CX programmes, how they can work for you, and other retailers’ experiences in developing their offer, please message me.