The retail experience is evolving. Whereas brick-and-mortar stores had very little to do with online retailing, customers now effortlessly go from in-store to digital experience as they go about their shopping. Sometimes, the two take place in tandem via mobile devices or because stores supplement the in-store experience with visually engaging digital catalogs [see 3 Ways Content and Commerce Are Colliding In Online Retail for catalog examples] available throughout the store.
To me, this evolution means that the in-store retail experience must be integrated with the digital one. It must also be held to a consistent high standard. Would you agree?
How would you translate that to your retail experience?
Which retailers have you noticed already doing so, and doing so successfully?
Here's one scenario based on last week's blog article interview with Manny Llerena who offered advice for retailers wanting to reinvent their retail experience and make it more appealing to women customers.
1. If you look at your retail website, how have you communicated what your business is about to your ideal customer segment? Manny mentioned "... truly defining what you want your business to be and the customer segment you want to focus on." This is just [if not more] relevant to the online retail experience.
2. How well organized is your website and how well does this reflect the value your business offers customers? Is the site clean? Does it convey the same impression your store does? Manny said "The more it feels like the inside of her home, the better you will be." You need to do this on your website. Customers need to feel comfortable spending time on your website, just as they do in your store.
3. How well do you listen to customers? If you "service [them] as if you were selling to your best friend", you will know what matters to them, and what they want to accomplish. That requires that you listen to customers. Are you prepared to respond with options and suggestions based on what you hear and observe? What resources and tools can you offer? How can you make them feel at ease? How can you convey that you and your retail experience are trustworthy?
As Manny says, "these three pieces working together in harmony will deliver a memorable retail experience to create not only immediate sales, but Customers For Life."
How do you see the retail experience evolving? What have you observed in your business as well as your personal experience? What works, what doesn't? How are you combining online and in-store to deliver a remarkable retail experience?
Let me know in the comments.
How important are the retail experience and marketing to women to your business? They should matter to you. In this blog interview, Manny Llerena sets the record straight about marketing to women, the retail experience and flooring! Manny, by the way, is a fellow Paco Underhill fan [see my previous blog articles about retail anthropologist Paco Underhill]. Through him, I met Sonna Calandrino, the ultimate woman in flooring.
Manny has an impressive background in the flooring industry. Over the past 30 years, he has been both retail sales associate and store manager. He has managed a 50 store operation with $50,000,000 in annual sales. As a VP of National Accounts, he was responsible for all of Mohawk Industries' sales and marketing with key accounts like Home Depot, Lowes and Carpet One. He started a new soft surface flooring division, installing carpet departments in a 500 store chain, and grew revenues from zero to $100m annually. He managed overall operations of the Mohawk Aligned Dealer network, with 2000 independent aligned retailers across the U.S. and Canada and annual revenues of close to 1/2 Billion Dollars.
What comes through when you speak with Manny is his passion for the retail experience and his commitment to marketing to women in flooring. I think you'll enjoy what he has to share on the subject.
CB: Manny, you've been very involved in the flooring retail marketplace. How has it changed over the years?
ML: The flooring industry has primarily changed in who is selling product to the end consumer:
Thirty Years Ago - Home Depot and Lowes didn't exist. Independent dealers were mostly large volume operators, and the bulk of the sales were being made through department stores like Sears and Macy's. Hard Surface was being serviced by the "bucket and trowel" contractors and by Color Tile which had over 500 stores nationwide focusing primarily on the very profitable DIY hard surface business.
Twenty Years Ago - The department stores had lost most of their steam to independent flooring retailers. The need for complete services including affordable professional installation led that charge. Also, the selection of carpet products began to expand from basic saxonies and cut & loops to a variety of textures and berbers. Branded Fibers like StainMaster took the stage and the power shifted to the fiber companies Dupont, Monsanto, Anso and BASF. And a company no one thought would make it... Home Depot entered the arena.
Ten Years Ago - The department stores are completely out of the picture. Home Centers now own 10% share of all residential floor covering sales. And buying groups like Carpet One, Flooring America and Abbey are flexing their muscles as they provide much needed professionalism to the floor covering independent retail owner. Flooring stores are shifting from soft surface-only retailers to offering both soft and hard surface assortments.
Today - The Big Box stores (Home Depot and Lowes) own over a 25% market share of all residential flooring. The Buying Groups (CCA Global, Abbey etc.) probably own another 25% and the Independent Retailer continues to shrink in share as well as in number of dealers. Fiber companies have practically disappeared as the Big Three carpet mills (Mohawk, Shaw and Beaulieu) have become totally integrated. All retail outlets offer a complete assortment of both soft and hard surface flooring, with the majority offering complete installation for all products.
CB: I love your background in Anthropology. How has that benefited you in the retail marketplace?
ML: Anthropology is the study of cultures and people. It teaches us to look at how people interact, their habits, their beliefs and practices. If there is one thing that I have learned about the flooring retail marketplace, it is that the decision maker is without a doubt the Female Consumer. My anthropological background has allowed me to really study this segment of shoppers and develop product offerings, displays, store merchandising, marketing, advertising and promotions that are geared around the female shoppers wants, needs and desires - how she shops and how she wants to buy.
In our flooring industry, which is so male dominated both at manufacturing and at retailing, we need more focus on the needs of our key target customer. My anthropological background has allowed me to do just that and have great success from it.
CB: You've spent a lot of time focusing on women in the flooring retail experience. What do women look for in a retail store?
ML: There is an adage that I remind myself of often. It states:
A man buys a hammer...
A woman buys a picture on the wall...
I believe that the female consumer has a pretty good idea in her mind of what the finished project she wants will look like in her home. She can visualize the look, the color scheme - how the new floor or wall will work with the other pieces in the room. She also has an ambiance she wants to achieve. And of course she wants to make a smart decision when it comes to value, care and durability.
The retail store must then provide her with ease of shopping, and answers to her questions in a language she can understand and relate to. It must provide her with visual suggestions and ideas so that she can get a feel if the product or products being suggested match her ideas. And, just as important, it needs to give her a clean, stimulating environment that will allow her to feel as if she is in her home, finding solutions to her home project.
Flooring retailers need to look at their stores and really ask themselves: is my store and are my sales associates providing these things? Many have a lot of work to do to get there!
CB: How does that vary across product categories?
ML: I do not believe that it varies much between product categories. Some products, like ceramic tile for example, are a little more complicated with so many decos, accents, trims etc. It will require more room scenes, grouted boards and a work station where the female shopper and the retail sales associate can lay things out, mix and match (almost like Legos) to visualize. But all the basics are the same.
CB: How can (flooring) retailers create and deliver the kind of experience that women will respond to by buying in the kind of tough and complex environment we're in?
ML: The keys to women deciding to buying from you now, during these tough economic environment, is truly in you and your store's ability to meet her needs and provide the Basics in the Science of Retailing.
- Do you have a professional sales staff (versus order takers) who are capable of truly finding that female consumers wants, needs and desires?
- Do you have a sales team that can recommend the right products to meet the vision of the flooring that she wants for the room in her home? Then able to offer a lower priced alternative if the original choices are beyond her budget?
- Do you have a retail selling environment that is visually stimulating? That offers graphics, room scenes that will allow her to visualize the products in her home versus a store full of racks?
- Does the messaging answer her questions in terms of decor, color, ambiance versus technical specs or manufacturing lingo that she cannot relate to?
- Do you offer a credit plan that will allow her to spread out her payments over 12, 18 or even 24 months?
- Do you run a business that truly cares about developing satisfied customers for life and not just getting all that you can from that one transaction?
Theses are the value drivers that convince female consumers to purchase now, and to purchase from you!
CB: Manny, which retailers - in flooring or outside the industry - do the best job with their retail experience? Why?
ML: My favorite flooring store is Avalon Carpet and Tile. Normally when I talk about Avalon’s success some retailers suggest "You shouldn’t compare us to them! They do over $70 million a year in business." It's true they are very successful, however they did not always do $70MM in sales - that took 50 years. And, the things that stand out, you can do, too!
- Their stores are not cluttered with every manufacturers displays
- They put up room scenes on their walls so the female shopper can visualize flooring in a room setting
- They display a lot of different styles on their own floors so, again, the consumer can see what it will look like
- They build small vignettes with product and decorate with matching fabric, a chair, even bathroom vanity and sink
- Everything is clearly priced with professional, typed Avalon price tags
- The lighting was purchased not only for energy efficiency, but also to simulate sunlight as closely as possible
- There are signs that remind customers of the warranties and service levels that they will receive by buying at Avalon
- Their staff are expertly trained to find the customer's needs, provide the perfect flooring for those needs; and what is a more affordable "back – up choice" if the original choice falls out of the customer's price tolerance
A wonderful shopping / buying experience indeed!
CB: What advice would you offer retailers who truly want to reinvent their retail experience and make it more appealing to women customers?
ML: I would offer three areas to focus on:
1) Begin by truly defining what you want your business to be and the customer segment you want to focus on. The idea that you can be all things to all people rarely works, and then you resort to price to try to compete. So are you going to be a roll / pallet stocking dealer focusing on lowest prices? Or a full service / all products provider focusing on service and decorating assistance?
Next, learn everything that your competition offers and be able to clearly define what separates you from your competition.
Once you know the answers to the items above, you can hire the right people to carry out your mission. Train them to the expectations you want your business to stand for. Make sure their pay is based on meeting the needs of the business, not just their personal financial needs. And finally, let the consumer know what they will get from you that they may not get anywhere else.
2) Develop a "Female - Centric Selling System" as we discussed earlier, not just a store full of racks. When she walks into your store, she should be impressed with what she sees on the inside, much more than the outside environment she just came in from. Make sure it is clean, organized. Buy plants, fabrics, chairs and pillows. The more it feels like the inside of her home, the better you will be.
3) Service each customer as if you were selling to your best friend. Find out what they truly want; what they want the project or room to end up looking like. Provide them with what they need to accomplish that look and feel. If the cost is beyond what they can spend, have lower priced alternatives that can still fulfill their needs.
These three pieces working together in harmony will deliver a memorable retail experience to create not only immediate sales, but Customers For Life.
CB: Manny, thanks so much for sharing perspective on the retail experience and how to be successful marketing and selling to women.
Readers, what has been your experience creating an unforgettable and engaging retail experience that appeals to women customers? What has worked best? Have you implemented ideas similar to those Manny suggests?
Let me know in the comments!
This article titled "Customers want solutions
" appeared in the October 4/11, 2010 issue of Floor Covering Weekly, about the retail experience.
Customers Want Flooring Solutions, Not Products
By Christine B. Whittemore
Customers, especially women consumers, buy solutions, not products. This is particularly true in complex categories and where the investment is significant -- such as flooring.
The challenge in flooring, though, is that we tend to think product, not solution. How then to come up with solutions for customers instead of products?
Solutions require thinking about the world our customers live in and understanding the issues they face. Solutions mean stepping away from our day-to-day worries and product concerns and into their world.
Consider these recent stats relating to housing:
- From the Census Bureau: “After increasing continually for nearly three decades, the average size of single-family homes completed in the United States peaked at 2,521 square feet in 2007. It was essentially flat in 2008 then dropped in 2009, so that new single-family homes were almost 100 square feet smaller in 2009 than in 2007.” The same trend applies to condominium buildings.
- According to the American Institute of Economists, “the prolonged economic downturn in the housing market, coupled with the growing concerns about rising utility costs, has resulted in greater interest in smaller homes and lot sizes.”
From a consumer perspective, there’s more talk about urban living and diminished reliance on cars. Were you aware that since 1978 fewer young people have been obtaining driver’s licenses? 92% of 19 year olds had licenses in 1978; in 2008, the number decreased to 77%. That’s according to the Department of Transportation. Internet communication tools have only precipitated this decline and increased the interest in public transportation to maximize one’s available digital and communication time.
No wonder consumers have adopted a new definition of value that encompasses not just price and brand, but also convenience!
Our consumer is shifting to smaller living spaces, looking for increased energy efficiency, not driving as much and shifting to urban environments -- lots of change and adapting to new realities.
That means opportunities for providing solutions if you are actively and consistently listening to your customers and developing relationships with them. It’s the only way to understand what’s relevant to them. Mind you, these aren’t just young potential customers. These are also the well-established ones.
Perhaps your solutions consist of flooring products that keep a room warm while minimizing heating costs. Perhaps it’s an easy maintenance solution that doesn’t require caustic cleaning solutions… Perhaps waste represents a major turnoff to customers: have you explained how your reclaimed carpet supports GeoHay? Have you heard of zero-waste apparel design? Although a global movement, it’s just recently been launched in North America. Might you rethink your home measuring and subsequent installation process so zero waste ensues?
As you consider solutions for your customers, ask yourself how convenient you are to do business with.
Convenience includes the notion of physical accessibility. If you aren’t accessible from public transportation today, can you be 5 or 10 years down the line? Are there solutions you can offer in the interim – perhaps a van on peak travel days? Are you hosting events that appeal to those just getting established in new apartments and condos?
Consumers, especially women customers, want solutions that truly meet their expectations; they want a convenient retail experience that offers total peace of mind. They want to be able to trust that they will be respected and not abused. How do you assure your customers that are true to your word? How do you bring transparency to your transactions? Time-pressed, resource-constrained, skeptical consumers won’t tolerate inconsistent experiences – in-store as well as online - that don’t respect them and inconvenience them.
Customers may be considering differently configured living spaces and concerning themselves with energy efficiency and practicalities as never before. However, they still seek to make their home the most beautiful and relaxing place it can be.
That’s where solutions come in!
By the way, have you seen this Fast Company Magazine article titled What Your Home Will Look Like In 2015?
What's your reaction to solutions vs. products in the retail experience?
I bet you are yearning for Retail Experience in the News links and resources! I'm delighted to share with you on this Veteran's Day the 11/11/11 edition.
Retail Experience Ideas
Integrating Online/Offline Retail Experiences
Customer Service and the Retail Experience
Which of these stories do find most intriguing? Are you seeing similar signs in your markets? Let me know in the comments.
Thanks for reading!
P.S.: For previous issues of Retail Experience In The News, see Retail Experience News.
Image credit: Wordle.net
One of my very favorite moments in Star Trek: The Next Generation has Worf stating "Good Tea, Nice House" in appreciation for hospitality. The episode is The Survivors. Even though the episode has nothing to do with the retail experience, the overall setting and Worf's response [see below] always remind me of the importance of hospitality in building trust - online and offline - and creating an environment that someone would willingly return to [think retail store or website].
I first referred to this moment it in a blog article titled Good Tea, Nice House, written in July 2006, which discussed customer loyalty and the retail experience. More specifically, I refer to Fred Reichheld, customer loyalty expert known for asking the ultimate question How likely would you be to recommend us to a friend? and developing the Net Promoter Score.
As important as the Net Promoter Score is, it can't happen unless a prospect feels that s/he can trust us enough to do business with. There are plenty of ways for not building trust [see Online Marketing Advice: How Not To Build Trust], many of them simply due to not thinking or even considering how a customer might react.
Expressing trustworthiness and developing trust takes careful consideration and preparation - as hospitality does.
Think how hospitality expresses itself in a retail environment. It means turning the lights on, making sure displays are neatened and dusted, that fresh tea or coffee has been prepared, that the music is just right and that bathrooms are clean. In a hospitable environment, representatives are dressed professionally and look enthusiastic about interacting with visitors; they know how to put someone at ease and how to listen respectfully. They come up with solutions that are so relevant that they lead to sales...
How do you express hospitality and trustworthiness in your retail experience? Let me know in the comments.
[Subscribers, to view Good Tea, Nice House directly on YouTube, click on this link.]
If you are serious about the retail experience, you are surely paying attention to Zappos which embodies an intensely-consumer focused approach to the customer retail experience.
You might also dive into Dr. Joseph Michelli's latest book titled The Zappos Experience: 5 Principles to Inspire, Engage, and WOW.
[And, then, take Zappos up on its offer to tour its offices outside of Las Vegas and experience firsthand the Zappos magic.]
In case you're still figuring retail experience details out, let me share with you words of wisdom from Joseph Michelli, which are guaranteed to set you on the right path. He discusses what great customer experiences have in common.
Online, Phone, Email, Brick and Mortar – What all Great Customer Experiences have in Common
By Dr. Joseph Michelli
Did the service provider get it right? Were their staff knowledgeable? Was the product or service delivered with an appropriate level of swiftness? Did the provider care about you as a person or just care about the money you were bringing to the transaction?
Whether you are providing products or services at www.thehottestcompany.com or are serving from a strip mall in Poughkeepsie, customers are evaluating each service experience based on the preceding questions. They want your deliverables provided accurately, knowledgeably, swiftly, and in an environment of caring.
Your customers are also forming opinions based on the look and feel of each contact point and the consistencies or inconsistencies they encounter from pre-purchase, purchase, post-purchase, and re-engagement phases of their journey with you.
Zappos, the focus of my just released book The Zappos Experience: 5 Priniciples to Inspire, Engage, and WOW!, understands the importance of each of these core components of an optimal customer experience. Let's take a look at just a few of the approaches Zappos leaders take to hit customer experience objectives:
- Get It Right – In The Zappos Experience, I spend a considerable amount of time looking at the multiplicity of processes Zappos puts into place to assure that the pictorial representations of products on their website are calibrated for color accuracy and how painstakingly staff work to verify content descriptions of online products. Similarly, if you want to see processes involving checking, double checking, triple checking and more, all you need do is examine the lengths Zappos staff go through to "pick" items at the Zappos warehouses to secure delivery of a Zappos box with the right items inside.
- Knowledgeable Staff – Not only does Zappos select for staff that possess a characteristic reflected in the company's core value "pursue growth and learning," but leaders have also provided staff a comprehensive curriculum on service excellence and product specific knowledge that so closely resembles a college curriculum that I refer to it throughout my book as "Zappos University."
- Swiftness – Whether it is the speed with which their website loads (one of the fastest of all online stores), the urgency with which customer calls are answered, the rapidity that tweets to @zappos_service are addressed, or the often unexpected and expedited shipping of customer products, Zappos understands the importance of service velocity in today's "I want it yesterday" world.
- Caring – Zappos leaders understand it's one thing to "care for" the customer by delivering an effortless experience and it's quite another thing to "care about " a customer by forging a personal relationship with them. In the language of Zappos, every customer interaction (be that through twitter, website design, a telephone call, or in-person contact) is in opportunity to form a PEC (personal emotional connection) and deliver "wow through service." It's not enough to satisfy customers, at Zappos you have to personally deliver happiness and wow!
Imagine translating that to your organization!
As Joseph asks, "how does your customer experience compare to The Zappos Experience; particularly, when you audit for accuracy, knowledge, speed, and caring across all channels? Companies like Zappos should serve as an impetus to redouble our efforts and execute on the dimensions that truly move the experience needle for customers!"
Thank you, Joseph!
Here are a few more references and resources as you consider how to wow your customers and deliver an inspired retail experience:
Articles that my visit to Zappos HQ inspired:
Other blog articles about Joseph Michelli and the Zappos Experience: My Q & A with THE Joseph Michelli – author of the Zappos Experience
I'm looking forward to diving into Joseph's book about The Zappos Experience. Plus, he quotes me on page 213 (so cool!). Furthermore, he is spot on in his advice to inspire, engage and Wow!
What's your reaction?
Let me know in the comments.