Having had some time to reflect on the the themes of various events I have attended in the first quarter of this year I thought I would like to focus on why I feel that physical retail is here to stay.

It comes as no surprise that the main messages that are being blasted through the expo halls and in various keynotes focus on the future of retail. Topics such as the era of AI with an emphasis on IoT, automation and innovation are followed hotly by numerous forums for “reinventing retail” and the prevailing need for retailers to digitally transform their customer experiences.

These are all thought provoking themes but the underlying message that continues to resonate with me is that this does not mean the end of the physical retail. It just means that our customers shop differently and therefore there is a need for retailers to adapt and evolve the purpose of the store and the overall store experience. And this is definitely not new news!

I am passionate about the role of the modern retail store and it’s place as the heart and soul of the brand – whether you are buying a coffee or a car, retail is essentially a service industry. It was 30 years ago when I started my career on the shop floor and my very first manager taught me the principles of great customer service (thank you Carol Hubbard!). The majority of those principles have not changed despite the deluge of digital disruption.

What has changed is the customer’s expectations and their path to purchase. Today’s customer has greater choice and convenience and has access to more information than ever before about the products he or she wishes to purchase – often more information than our store teams. In my day the sales associate was the font of all knowledge, or at least the good ones were, but today unless the sales associate is equipped with great in-store tech they are often left to use their own devices to find out information on behalf of the customer and that is not always a great experience.

In today’s Amazon age the store has to be the place for the customer to go and experience the brand, to feel part of a community and to connect emotionally. A great store experience has a blend of what our customer success teams call the aspirational “A*s” – ambience, assortment and associates.

A* Ambience is about the store as a destination, the store providing an experience beyond just browsing and touching, the store as a fulfilment centre, a place where you can test, explore, be inspired and also as a leisure destination delivering an ambience of fun, differentiation and a memorable experience.

A* Assortment is of course essential as retail is all about having amazing products but in today’s world it is less about having the product in the right place as long as you can somehow exceed customer expectations and get the product to them quickly and conveniently.

A* Associates – friendly, knowledgeable associates that have information at their fingertips, are passionate about the products they sell and can humanise and inspire their customers – consistently delivering the “I in AI”.

Brick and mortar retailers have an opportunity to excel at what they do best – to create a great customer experience and build lifelong relationships. They have an innate advantage when it comes to making an emotional connection with their customers and let’s face it most non-commodity purchases we make as consumers involve an emotion and so today’s retail world definitely demands high EQ.

So we are now at a stage where these messages can no longer just be “thought provoking” and “interesting” – we cannot afford to be complacent – we have to take action – a little action is better than no action at all and so I would advocate trying three things:

1. Create that connection from the very first time a customer purchases with your brand and ensure that every interaction with your customer is focused on building that lifelong relationship.

2. Connect with your customers and don’t communicate at your customers; get to know them, what he or she likes and wow them with simple “messages and personalised follow ups.

3. Measure, analyse and continually adapt your customer journeys. Make customer success stories the most important agenda topic every Monday morning. Celebrate and reward examples of great customer service.

Regardless of how small or big your retail business is why not execute at least one of the above suggestions after the Easter break and measure the impact. Empower your store teams to make this happen and let us know how it works out for you!

Have a great, fun Easter! Let’s hope the sun shines and the tills keep ringing!