BRAND + BUSINESS x Christine Moody*
Many years ago, in the ‘old days’, retailers were the masters of customer engagement—they had to be. Long before online stores, their sales relied on their product offering and their customer service levels. According to Linda Palanza, Chief Operating Officer, OneView Commerce in her The Future of Commerce article: “They built their success on understanding and meeting customer needs in the store, by mail, and by phone. They manually tracked customer preferences and had longstanding relationships with store associates”.
Then e-commerce disrupted this and now customers can buy, comment (good + bad), and demand things from your brand—even when your physical store is shut. Retail is now 24/7 and so is your brand. So there has been a shift and concentration on the digital space at the expense of the high-touch focus. Some believe that putting all information online and giving customers can access to the information will result in happy customers. This is not the case—they want high tech + high touch. In some cases—especially when it is a low-cost item—customers do not need to call and order online. But for higher ticket items—such as luxury goods—customers will research online and then go in store to talk to an assistant and ‘touch’ the product.
The most important thing is that both the online and offline experience is consistent. The customer needs a seamless experience across all channels not only online—for example, physical stores and social media et al. In fact some online brands—for example Zappos—encourages customers to call for assistance and ensures their telephone number is displayed at the top of the screen (unlike some retailers who hide it right down the bottom where you have to use the sitemap to find!). If you read the book by Zappo’s founder Tony Hsieh, Delivery Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose, you will find that the staff love it when their customers call. They know that this personal connection will develop a relationship that online alone cannot. Zappos ensures every touch point—from the customer’s call to the delivery of their order is consistent and a great customer experience.
People still want to talk to people and do business with people—thus the rise of farmers’ markets. There has also been a recent trend of online stores moving into bricks-and-mortar stores for example, Warby Parker. Warby Parker started online but realised their customers still wanted to come in and try their glasses on, and talk to ‘real people’. Some brands start small and trade at farmers’ markets such as Justin’s homemade organic nut butters. This brand commenced trading at farmers’ markets in Boulder, Colorado in 2014 and is now stocked at 15,000 stores including Whole Foods, Target, and Starbucks. As reported in the Inc.; “That represented three-year growth of 614 percent, enough to place Justin’s at No. 594 on the 2012 Inc.5000. “We’re a 10-year overnight success,” says Gold, who is now eyeing convenience and drug stores”. But as Justin’s has come to understand, no matter how successful a brand becomes, all brands need to retain a personal connection with their customers—like they did in the ‘old days’.
Physical stores—like the farmers’ markets—give the retailers an opportunity to observe customer behaviour and to market test and validate new product offerings. Some larger retailers dedicate floor space to new ideas to test new products prior to ordering. Like the range from The Goodnight Society who have created a ‘pop up’ within a Westfield store. It creates a new shopping experience for customers and allows the department stores to test the concept before they commit. It also allows the brands to receive
customers’ direct feedback and reaction to their products—something that online cannot do. According to Vladimir Gentleman, in his Forbes article, Keeping your clients close: How to stay grounded as your grow: The more your company grows, the more effort it will require to keep your hand on the pulse of your customers. Just remember to give yourself a reality check every now and then and stay tuned with the valued customers who have helped you ascend to success”.
What is most important point here is that your brand needs a strategy that includes both ‘high touch’ and high tech’. And what remains unchanged over the years is you must never lose sight of the most important ingredient in your success—your customer!
*Christine Moody is one of Australia’s leading brand strategists and the founder brand management consultancy, Brand Audits. With more than 30 years’ professional experience, Christine has helped a diverse client base of local and international brands, including Gold Coast City Council, Hilton Hotels, and Wrigleys USA, to develop, protect and achieve brand differentiation.
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