There is no denying the fact that customers acknowledge and remember the service an organisation provides for a much longer time than the price. Such evergreen formulas applied by retailers to satisfy their shoppers and make headway to beat fluctuating market sentiments has not only helped them build loyalty but also boost profit. Today, when we speak of digitization, irresistible scrolling through the phone across various platforms by the millennials has been considered a shot in the arm by these market players in a bid to allure them via fancy advertising, but at the same time, some of the retailers find it difficult to engage in such an exercise.
While comparing online and offline stores, customers still believe in going all the way to a particular store, explore and feel the look of a product, check out various other options available, compare the merchandise and their prices with other channels and share the same via social media with their peers or family members which helps them take the right decision about whether to buy the product or not. Hence, this is one of the reasons why retailers are putting in all kinds of efforts to not only satisfy customers but also keep a tab on them by providing both online and offline services to make sure that they visit the store again.
Against the backdrop of this emerging trend, Retail Leadership Summit 2020 hosted a session titled ‘The future of In-Store Experience’ with panellists Vishal Kapoor, Chief Design Officer, Future Group; Akash Kumar, VM Head, Landmark International Lifestyle; Shradha Kurup, General Manager, Raymonds; Amit Shanklya, Chief Visual Merchandiser, Globus; and Soju Alex, Category Head, Sephora India. The panel was moderated by senior consultant in retail experience, Surender Gnanaolivu.
Purpose of In-Store Experience
Lifestyle is one such brand that claims to bridge the gap between internal brand positioning versus what is perceived by its customers. However, after it felt that the youthful quotient wasn’t up to the mark, the brand worked hard to review customer sentiments, focus on group discussions, and keep a check on dynamism and innovations clubbed with evaluating its value in the mind of consumers before strategising a roadmap towards a more consumer-centric approach, informed Akash Kumar. He further added that the brand tried to merge both online and offline services but wasn’t successful because of the changing digital scenario, which led them to focus on in-store facilities as it witnessed 98% sales as against online sales.
Vishal Kapoor and Soju Alex agreed that merging both online and offline culture is a challenge. Kapoor explained that merging both the cultures would be appropriate for a start-up company with just 20-30 employees but it’s the other way round for a firm with over 30,000-50,000 employees. “When we started Big Bazaar, we learnt that we can’t replicate the European and American culture. In fact, we need to break this barrier by digging deep into the Indian culture and psyche know its syndromes, as for example, what is keeping them away from entering this big store as it happened in 2002 or 2003,” he said.
He further went on to explain that retailers need to change the transactional behaviour pattern with the consumer. He cited that when a family enters a mall to spend leisure time, they will first go to a retail shop to buy a shirt, for instance, and then visit the food court for some light snacks. “In this case, I feel that retailers need to stop this transactional culture because what we do is that we provide them our services to buy a shirt and after paying they leave without any value-addition. Twisting the scenario around, retailers need to understand that buying a shirt is a long-term investment and should be more memorable than snacking at a food court,” he said.
Alex chipped in and shared that Sephora India places emphasis on training its employees so that better service could be provided to its customers. He added that it’s another way to make sure that customers who have visited the Sephora store come back again via an app that filters its shoppers’ profile, builds a database as to which products were shown to them at the store and after they go home, the app recommends the same set of products in their recommendation list as a reminder to come and visit the store once again.
Meanwhile, Shradha Kurup of Raymonds expressed concern about the gradual decrease of traffic from the millennials at her store. She made her point saying that a great chunk of investment was being made by Raymonds to give a pretty and elegant look to each store’s interior but somewhere she felt that while decorating the look and feel of the store, they missed out on consumers. “When we designed the store, we realised that the older way of selling fabric was that it would be with the salesman at the front who filtered everything and the customer would decide only on the basis of what was shown to him. So we decided to get rid of this barrier. Instead, we let the customers touch the fabric. But while taking all these initiatives, we still aren’t able to understand that how we should address millennials and attract them to our stores,” she said.
Changes in Culture and Capabilities
According to Amit Shanklya of Globus, cultural change has been a challenge as it is difficult to bring everybody on the same page. Adding to this issue, Kumar had a different point to share. According to him, sustainability is good to have but it’s difficult to communicate. He was of the opinion that it is not something that Lifestyle has on its priority list. “If that’s the case then the brand would repurpose without damaging it, save money in a big way, and then reutilise that money in funding the big stores’ displays because for Lifestyle, engagement of consumers is must,” he said. In case of cultural changes, actions are been taken in quick response to the changes in market demand, he added.
“If there is a change in market demand, make an announcement across the department and ask for product promise—whether or not we are able to make changes in our store before others do? And those engagements are measured so that the return on investment is defined,” he stated. Furthermore, as it’s rightly said that happy employees lead to happy customers which ultimately leads to garner more profit. Kapoor drove home a similar point. According to him, consumers are in the best position to decide about cultural changes. “The stress that we are going through is about how to usher in creative leadership. The feedback given by consumers changes our culture,” he said. Continuing with this discussion, Alex explained that in terms of cultural changes, up to 80% of the employees left the organisation because of a difference of cultures, then and now. Hence, now with a new team, Sephora India is trying to focus on a global culture for in-store experience with customisation required for India.
Innovations Going Ahead
Lifestyle is increasingly moving towards digital platforms that involves educating customers about ‘lift and learn’ technology and educate them about what choices one could make, Kumar said. He then revealed that more innovations are on the cards where software could navigate the current location and bring customers to the brands of their choice. “A better way to attract all technology-savvy shoppers is to just click on a particular mannequin so that she can obtain data of what all she is wearing,” he said.
Kurup added that Raymonds’ aim is to help shoppers make more informed decisions. “If he wants to buy a checked shirt, he doesn’t know how it will look like and so with the help of this digital mirror, he will be able to know that how this would look on him. This particular concept is already being tried and is in the pilot stage across 50 stores. Additionally, we are now looking at side advisories in a personalised way. We used to have a lot of catalogues but now we have digitized everything,” she concluded.