Get Closer to your Customer to see Retail Success

The best way to be innovative is to be your own customer. Experience what your customer experiences and then solve how to make the most painful points in that purchase path simpler. Irrespective of your sales model, everyone needs to be thinking about creating a seamless customer experience across every point of the engagement.

In part one of this two-part article, we took a look at the bigger challenges and trends facing retailers. Now, we provide what we see are the answers to future-proofing retail success.

We think that the simplest answer lies in a deeper understanding of customers. This means understanding their needs, satisfactions and evolving expectations.

Hard to do when customers are already entering a shop having conducted their own product research, throwing the role of the sales rep into question as less one-to-one interaction time takes place. And yet, dwindling in-store exchanges are replaced by more quantifiable data, of thousands of customers asking the same questions, doing the sales-part of the process for you – there is a new world of data to be mined, and key personalities to be understood. It goes beyond basic demographics into detailed personas.

The best way to be innovative is to be your own customer.  Experience what your customer experiences and then solve how to make the most painful points in that purchase path simpler.  Irrespective of your sales model, everyone needs to be thinking about creating a seamless customer experience across every point of the engagement.

Price and promotion have become such a battleground that many people now expect a discount as a minimum, which makes one of the few differentiators in a tough economy your people.  We’re seeing that instead creating more control and bureaucracy, the most successful businesses are creating a collaborative environment and new levels of simplicity. This requires a high degree of trust and devolved decision-making across the organisation; trust that each person and team will do their bit.  Those closest to the customer often play a pivotal role.

One forward-thinking retailer is Spanish firm Inditex, the world’s largest clothes retailer, which owns fashion chain Zara.  They implemented an agile and customer-centric model by giving local leaders a high degree of decision-making autonomy, enabling them to respond to customer needs more effectively.  Their logistics and distribution have been set up to deliver products to stores and customers quickly. There is a culture of collaboration.

From a management perspective, the challenge is to avoid conflicts and promote a spirit of tolerance, teamwork and collaboration. Many problems can be addressed by recruiting the right people and building a rapport with employees. When you interview people, ask specific questions that relate to the type of work they will be doing. Informal social outings and games at work could help build a sense of team and motivation.  

Plans to assimilate temporary workers during seasonal periods should also be developed. A store meeting at the start of the busy season is a good way to help temporary workers learn the system and get to know the regular staff. Include diversity discussions in store meetings and encourage employees to discuss their differences. These techniques can go a long way toward building a more cohesive team.

It’s worth remembering that managers in retail businesses generally have a greater commitment and tend to stay for longer periods of time than the front-line shop assistants and temporary workers.   Encourage employees to grow with the company by considering the addition of profit-sharing, regular performance reviews and employee awards programs.  John Lewis has been operating a successful employee partnership model in this fashion since 1929.

Improve collaboration, work across teams and focus on the customer experience and you should have a great starting point.

WorkGaps has been designed to simplify and improve staff management in the retail sector by addressing many of the issues raised in this article.