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BHETA Viewpoint – Creating compelling retail experiences

Viewpoint from Will Jones. Following the bira conference.

The recent bira conference was an uplifting event appealing to all independent retailers and providing lots of positive advice. Inevitably one of the biggest topics was the impact of the digital age. For many bricks and mortar cookshops, digital communications have meant the need for a complete rethink – not just how best to use it alongside conventional instore activity, but also how to reinvent what goes on instore to ensure that the shop itself is still a desirable place to spend money.

So-called ‘experiential marketing’ has been around in an exhibition context for years – and there was a very informative presentation on the subject at BHETA’s Exclusively briefing meeting on how to do it well – but the experiential side of retailing in a bricks and mortar cookshop has never been more important either. As the bira conference outlined, creating a destination cookshop where customers can discover great products, have fun and socialise with other likeminded customers is the future of our industry as far as the High Street is concerned.

According to industry statistics, footfall has dropped 22.2% since 2007. The challenge is to get people off their computers and out of their homes. And suppliers need to recognise this as much as retailers and provide the necessary help, wherever a demonstrable opportunity exists. In terms of demonstrable opportunity, independents are uniquely positioned to respond consumer expectations. They have a traditional role in offering services like knife sharpening, personal shopping, product demonstration and interiors advice. There’s also been a surge in multipurpose spaces in which facilities such as cafés and treatment rooms sit within or adjacent to the retail space.

Broadening the remit and offering this range of services, retailers can become a community hub and ensure greater longevity of their business. More artisan products and carefully curated product selections are increasingly important with discerning consumers preferring products whose origins can be easily traced. They encourage a dialogue about the story and origins, personalising the retail experience, building brand loyalty and increasing the likelihood of repeat visits. Independent cookshops can also become integrated within their local communities, creating engaging occasions that can be quickly and easily adapted to changing local needs and opportunities, giving them an advantage over bigger retailers.

So, what are these ‘experiences’ that can charm the shopper back into store? Consumers want to receive something compelling and rewarding, but they also want to feel they have some influence over those experiences, the frequency, the duration, the tone and style. In short, they want to feel a degree of control. They want to feel invited – rather than have an experience thrust upon them. They also want to be rewarded for their engagement – there must be mutual value in the exchange – in the form of trial, or ‘exclusive’ benefit, a chance to win, or secure great deal.

Customer participation of this kind needs to be distinctive, fun and valuable – a treat. That can mean interesting, informative, fun, artistic, shareable, curious, maybe even humorous. It also needs to be part of a continuous relationship – not just a one-off promotional gambit. Not only does this build trust, loyalty and advocacy, it will also ensure a genuine permission-based database of customers, contactable legitimately in this age of GDPR based on both legitimate interest and very probably consent as well. Equally, independent cookshops can be seen to be reactive ‘to the moment’, responding to public events, news stories, weather, making the content even more relevant and compelling for the customer.

With a programme of well researched and innovative experience marketing, appropriate to the store, brand(s) or both, then heavyweight advertising or promotion may well not be necessary, or even desirable. If the ‘experiences’ are valuable to the customer base, then just by making sure customers are aware and ‘invited’ is sufficient to engage. Local media, tailored, permission based direct invitations, on pack and POS, newsletters, instore notifications, word of mouth are all relevant and potentially rewarding.

The whole point of this approach is to show that coming into store ‘for the experience, ambience and enjoyment’ is immediately valuable to customers. It is not about one-off extravaganzas, but about creating genuine empathy and trust; a two-way conversation – continuous, distinctive and yielding emotional connection. With a few guaranteed rewards inbuilt to cement the relationship!

The changes in our retail landscape may appear threatening, but they can equally be turned to advantage. Experiences can tempt new customers and repeat visits. They create loyalty, trial and advocacy. Used wisely, they will also build brand, trust and perceived value. They offer an emotional engagement, which cannot be achieved with online alone. Done well, they ensure the retailer can use online in the best possible way. As a convenience adjunct to brand values created instore.

For more information, contact BHETA member services on 0121 237 1130

Source: BHETA / bira May 2018
May 2018


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