Click here
Click here
Retail Technology, Retail technology News
Click here

Good customer service can save bricks and mortar

Thursday September 6 2012

In the face of dwindling disposable income and increased competition from online shopping, UK retail IT expert Ed Brindley argues that only by improving customer service can retailers ensure their physical store networks can not only survive, but also prosper and thrive

In the face of dwindling disposable income and increased competition from online shopping, UK retail IT expert Ed Brindley argues that only by improving customer service can retailers ensure their physical store networks can not only survive, but also prosper and thrive

 

A recent report from Lloyds Banking Group has shown, on average, consumers had around £34 less to spend on non-essential items in May compared with the same time last year, adding to increasing pressure on the High Street.

 

At the same time, online shopping has grown year on year, forcing retailers to find new ways of attracting customers to their stores. While promotions and discounts go some way to competing with online offers, Ed Brindley, director of marketing and business development at German retail hardware, software and services provider Wincor Nixdorf, maintains that focusing on customer service still remains key.

 

Making a lasting impression

 

According to Wincor’s own research, 66% of those surveyed said poor instore service has led them to favour online shopping. Brindley said this shows that retailers need to be doing more to encourage customers to remain in store by making their journey in as pleasant, easy and as quick as possible.

 

“While the temptation is to achieve this by rushing customers through the store and limiting choice, this is at odds with delivering a positive customer experience,” he cautioned. “Retailers must give customers as much choice as possible, whether this is through the products they’re offered or the payment methods they use. Waitrose provides a good example to illustrate this, as around 70% of customers now use their cards to make purchases while 30% still use cash. The important point here is to still offer both options in order to cater for all customers and avoid alienating one group over another.”

 

As well as a range of payment methods, Brindley said customers must also be offered a choice when it comes to the service that they receive. “There will always remain a segment of customers who prefer face-to-face interaction and, despite the common perception, this is not necessarily linked to age,” he noted. ”Some customers might prefer face-to-face interaction with staff or the ease of paying for age-restricted purchases at the manned checkout, whereas some may prioritise speed and privacy above interacting with staff.

 

Delivering service with a smile

 

“Through offering both options, retailers are encouraging a broader range of customers into the store and avoiding putting people off purchases at the crucial point of sale, something retailers can ill afford at this current time,” he continued. “Having a variety of options in the store can also provide benefits that filter down to all customers. For example, adding extra self-service lanes can reduce overall queues, including the queue at the manned checkout. This can also help free up other members of staff to deal with customer queries or other processes instore.”

Offering multiple choices

 

Retail technology can speed up transactions, but it can also help with improving the broader customer experience. Brindley pointed out that the standards of kiosks and digital displays being used in stores has progressed at a rapid pace in recent years and now delivers a much richer and immersive experience to customers.

 

“A notable example is the use of self-service kiosks by Marks and Spencer that allow customers to select and pay for items they view in the store, as well as access thousands of other products online,” he said. “McDonald’s has also used self-service to better engage with families with young children. Mobile payments including contactless technology may soon have a role to play, but distrust remains among customers of the technology. While younger shoppers tend to be more comfortable with mobile payments, our research also found that 77% of respondents felt mobile payments put their money at risk.”

 

Considering all of the options

 

As mobile technology becomes more widely used, confidence may yet grow but the Wincor executive said retailers must also consider that self-service has been in place for many years and there are some who still prefer to pay with a cashier. “Mobile should be treated as another channel that, like all channels, should be offered rather than forced on the customer,” he added.

 

Brindley concluded: “Bricks and mortar stores are going through a hard time at the moment, but the High Street has the potential to turn things around yet. We are seeing the first phase of retail moving into the multichannel world, where the sum of the parts can be greater than the whole. A High Street presence can help retailers drive more online sales and vice versa, as we have seen with retailers like John Lewis. The key is for retailers to offer customers the right choice and allow them to shape their own retail experience, whether this is online or instore.”