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January 24, 2019

Retail clientele want to be engaged

This weekend I went into two shops that offered differing standards of customer experience. Both are brand new, and both are located in a recently opened mall. One is a gift shop selling non-essential items and therefore relying to a great extent on impulse purchase. The other is a supermarket, selling the essentials of life and relying on getting the mix of stock and price just right for repeat purchase.

Both shops' fronts were glass, for easy viewing of their displays. In the supermarket, the manager’s cubicle was glass too. So you could see him talking to staff and meeting suppliers. And he could see his customers.

In the gift shop, the service point was set up differently. Using a configuration we all recognise from shops that don’t take retail seriously. The kind of shops set up by very wealthy people to sell golf equipment to their friends. Or established by housewives who hope that sharing their taste in houseware will provide fulfillment.

The gift shop had a high counter hidden at the back. Dug-in behind that, and glued to the screen of her mobile device, was a young lady. (I assume it was a lady, I could only see the top of her braids.) From this position, she could not see or interact with me. This enabled me to perambulate the shop and leave without buying.

The supermarket manager left his glass cubicle frequently to converse with customers whose behaviour he had observed. He asked me if I had managed to find everything I needed. I told him yes, except in breakfast cereals. He shared the information that supplies of Kellogg’s products were currently interrupted. So he had demonstrated interest, confirmed a customer need, and provided me with relevant information.

We went on to discuss the need for an ATM in the mall. He offered the observation that when you are new, you can apply to a dozen banks and get no support, but when you are successful they fall over themselves. This being a universal insight, he succeeded in building an emotional bond with me.

Retail requires true customer engagement. So says Richard Umbers, the man reviving Australia’s largest department store Myer. It requires a wholesale restructuring of how the business operates.

“It's about getting the right kinds of people in the organisation, generating the right culture, having a really sound plan to execute." His initial changes created entirely new positions, including chief digital officer, data officer, and a chief transformation officer. Myer’s culture transformation programme is called "Self Help", and gives store managers and teams more autonomy. This has made them feel more responsible for retail performance.


Chris Harrison leads the Brand Inside.

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