The importance of the store environment.
N.Rickert (Motorola’s European Director) recently claimed “the shopping experience has become the most important differentiating factor for retail companies…creating a unique shopping environment is crucial.” I’m inclined to agree with him.
WHY IS THE IN-STORE ENVIRONMENT SO IMPORTANT?
The retail world has drastically changed in recent years, with consumers increasingly varying their route to purchase between in-store, online and through mobile devices. Therefore it’s vital for retailers to offer an experience to someone going into their store that they couldn’t receive via another channel.
Despite the increasing variety of ways in which we can purchase items, the in-store experience is still the first thing that springs to mind for the majority of people when thinking about a retailer; so whether it be through great customer service, a pleasant shopping atmosphere, cutting edge in-store technology or an enjoyable checkout experience, retailers are looking to create an in-store environment which will offer something different to their competitors and making a trip into their store more inviting than simply shopping online.
SO WHAT ARE RETAILERS DOING TO IMPROVE THEIR IN-STORE ENVIRONMENT?
There have been a large variety of ways in which retailers are altering their environment to improve customer experience, but this article is going to focus on two of the most prevalent areas of recent investment: Staff and Technology.
The price and range of products sold in some stores may not drastically vary, therefore, providing excellent customer service could be the one thing that gives a store an advantage over its competitors. As a result of this, the days of staff simply standing behind a till to scan and bag items is becoming a thing of the past in many stores. There is the growing expectation that staff should be able to contribute to the in-store environment by taking a much more proactive role in a customer’s experience. In recent years, we have seen the launch multiple staff-orientated initiatives, varying from an increase in the number of staff to place greater emphasis on customer service, to staff assisting at supermarket checkouts and even carrying customer’s shopping to their cars.
With the majority of people now shopping online as well as in-store, retailers are realising that the two experiences should not be mutually exclusive and technology should be complementing and assisting our in-store shopping experiences, rather than being treated as an alternative.
One way in which technology has been introduced into stores is through digital advertising. Due to the abundance of in-store advertising, it is becoming increasingly difficult for in-store communications to be noticed, let alone remembered, by customers. This has seen an increase in in-store technology and digital displays. Not only do these displays allow retailers to show moving adverts to catch the eye of shoppers, but it also provides an opportunity to show displays in real-time. They can be changed within a couple of seconds depending on the demographic of the shoppers in store at that time, the day of the week, even based on the weather; all of which can give stores an advantage over the traditional in-store signage and displays.
However, technology is not just simply being used to promote items and special offers, but also provide an opportunity for customers to interact and feel more engaged with the retailer. In recent years, interactive touchscreens have been springing up in a wide range of stores, which can serve a variety of purposes, ranging from showing product ranges and prices, to recipe ideas and even products reviews, all of which with the intention of creating something they may not have seen before and creating a more engaging environment for customers.
RESEARCH IN THE IN-STORE ENVIRONMENT
Whether a retailer is looking to gauge feedback on an in-store trial, identify areas for further improvement or better understand how it fares against its competitors, market research is able to provide the insight to further develop their business. Marketing Sciences have a wealth of knowledge in the world of retail and have experience in conducting a wide range of research methodologies, three of which are outlined below…
IN THE MOMENT
Face to face questionnaires and mini-depth interviews with customers on location allows us to capture feedback ‘in the moment’ when their experiences are fresh in their mind. Usually conducted at the exit of a store, this methodology provides the opportunity for customers to reflect on their thoughts and experiences and provide instant feedback, opposed to completing a survey at a later date, when their answers are more likely to be based on general views of a retailer, rather than thinking specifically about a particular visit to the store. This is particularly important when investigating the effect of changes made in-store or assessing the impact of a trial; as the changes can often be subtle, it’s vital to speak to customers who have just experienced this first hand when they’re most likely to remember it before memories blend in with other experiences of previous visits.
ACCOMPANIED SHOPPING TRIPS
Another popular methodology for investigating customer’s in-store experiences is to conduct accompanied shopping trips (AST’s), which allow customers to talk us through their shopping experiences and feedback, again, directly in the moment. Respondents are invited to walk around a store as if they’re conducting a normal shopping trip whilst we accompany them, collecting their thoughts and experiences throughout. The advantage of this approach is that it allows us to see first-hand how the customer shops and interacts with the environment whilst establishing what they think of the store, the products and the staff. This can be particularly useful when bringing to light aspects of behaviour that the respondent may not be aware of, or would struggle to recall if conducting an interview after the shopping trip rather than during it.
We also conduct eye-tracking to capture what shoppers are looking at during a visit to a store. We are bombarded with so much visual stimulus, it’s impossible to take it all in or ask customers to recall everything they’ve seen. However, by asking customers to wear eye tracking glasses, we are able to identify what they are looking at and how long they are looking at something for, but also just as importantly, it allows us to see what customers are not looking at too. Through eye tracking we are able to tell whether a certain display, advertisement or piece of signage is actually being seen by customers or whether it needs to be more visually striking or possibly moved to a different location.
The store environment has seen some dramatic changes in recent years and we will continue to see new innovations and modification to the in-store experience in the future too. Marketing Sciences will be able to provide clear, actionable insight on your store environment and how you can make your environment work harder for you.
Please feel free to get in touch with one of the retail team at Marketing Sciences to find out more!
Matt Drodge is a Research Manager at Marketing Sciences Unlimited in the Retail Team. He works closely with retailers, specialising in helping retailers to ensure their in-store environment is engaging and profitable.