Nowadays, almost every book, shampoo, gadget and most of the other products are available on multiple platforms with competing sources. This makes the success of a retailer difficult. Everything in his store is available somewhere else. The prices are driven down by competition and the margins are very slim. The retailers are doing everything that they can and hence you will find our streets and mail boxes filled with marketing communications luring us into one store or another.
But this is not enough. The modern retail experience is about more than just buying products. It's about the feeling the customer gets from being in your store, the way it makes them feel, and how it addresses the person they want to be. This doesn't happen by accident. World-class store designs can positively impact the customer experience, but that has to be done with great care. The retailers have to make themselves more relevant in today’s age of information overflow.
For example a book store becomes a community place where kids come together to learn new science projects. Or a differentiated service offering could be in the form of an option to pick-up books at odd hours, home delivery of books or an on-line service component that connects various readers reading the same book could enhance the customer experience. There can be many such ideas that extend the service and the experience offered. In each of the above examples, the book retailer transcends the traditional role and establishes relationship with customers by providing a value-added service. The on-line reading companion / book club example is especially relevant today, where the book store is creating a social networking by connecting people. The community of readers that are connected via a book store will never dream of buying that book from anywhere else. Because they may get the same book, but they will not get the valuable service and experience associated with the store.
The age of peer recommendation means that the number of customers will grow manifold. This service can become addictive and it grows the more you use it. Soon the book store will recommend books that customers will whole-heartedly participate in. The book store will become a trend setter and wield tremendous power in the publishing business. This is an assured way of growth.
Case in point is the popular English movie of 1990’s titled ‘You Got Mail’ starring Tom Hanks as a proprietor of a large book store chain ‘Fox books’ pitted against Meg Ryan who is the owner of the typical family owned corner-book store, is a classic example to quote. In the movie the big store wins. The customers love the choice of books and the large spacious ambience. If the story were to play itself in real life today, the small bookstore will thrive. The key ingredient that the Meg Ryan’s store delivers is ‘customised personalised customer experience’. She knows her customers; her books, organises reading sessions, curates and keeps only select books in her small store. The Fox bookstore has millions of books, staff that are equivalent to your typical call centre experience, no clear owner, no clear love for the books. Back then it was the abundance that attracted the average customer. Today, in the age of information overload, the small petite store with a beautiful owner would attract customers. The independent local bookstore exemplifies the person-to-person service setting with empowered frontline service employees, because such stores only survive if they provide highly personalised and empathetic service.
Thus, even though retailers today are trying to differentiate their offering by getting customer footfalls through offers and discounts, advertisements, or by providing a better store ambience. But what would set them apart in the coming years is the customer experience vis-a-vis providing a differentiated service offering.