The 2 Ways to Do Retail

Retail experience

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Really there are only two ways to do retail today—and no I do not mean the right way and the wrong way (although after reading this perhaps I do.) I spend many hours each month talking too and listening to retail customers. I want to know what they like, dislike, enjoy and hate about shopping in a store today. In all of these conversations spanning the last 30 years, I find there is a consistent theme. The world around us is changing and technology is exponentially affecting that change, but truly, when you ask a customer what they want from a store, they never mention technology - they talk about desiring an experience. 

It makes sense; customers have a list of things to do and places to go, so when they chose to visit your store versus shopping online, they are telling you they want more than the online experience can deliver. But sadly, most retail stores today deliver and experience that is no different than online retail leaving the customer a simple choice - stop by your store if its next to another errand or simply shop from home. 

Here are the two ways to do retail today. 

1. The Expected Way

What I find amazing in speaking with customers is the expectation they have of retail stores - an expectation that the store will underwhelm me. In fact, today's retail customer is so used to a poor experience, that they simply expect it. And when they get a poor experience, they are not shocked or dismayed. Why? Because it's what they expected! 

Stores are not neat and clean, signage is not helpful, employees are on their mobile devices with friends, merchandise is out of stock, no one will help me, items are not priced, the cashier does not know how to run the POS, the list goes on and on. 

Isn't it a sad state of affairs when we expect to be underwhelmed? No wonder so many people are shopping online. We are not giving them a better option! And for those of you who are lying to yourselves saying "people shop online because of price" you better wake up. You obviously are not talking with all of your customers, you are just making an assumption based on a few of your customers. 

I was in a store recently and the manager was telling me this lie. He went on and on about how people only shop online to get a better price. So, I asked him why he thought so. "Because I always have to match the online prices," he said. Okay, then tell me how many times this week you had to do that? "I had one yesterday," he said. Okay, but how many total for the week? "I don't know I guess two or three." Looking at your reports here, it appears you had about 468 transactions this week. So, your entire argument is based on less than 1% of your customers. Do you think you should talk to the other 99%? 

2. The Experience Way

I coined a term last year - Experience Engineering. It's the art and science of engineering experiences in your store that EXCEED the customers' expectations every time. Notice the word exceed in that last sentence. It is not enough today to meet expectations. Why? What did we just establish expectations of the customer are? Is that what you want to deliver?

To be an experience engineer, you have to begin with the end in mind. What is the experience you want for your customer and then work back from there. One of the core principles of my retail business was listening to customers. We went so far as to have a customer council. These were a select group of my best customers who would meet with me two times per year and tell me that they liked and did not like. Not what they liked about my stores, but what "experiences" they loved from other places they went like hotels, banks, restaurants, etc.

To follow this principle you must understand that if you are a service provider (the very heart of retail) then you are compared to other service providers and not just other retails stores who sell shoes like you do. Focus on the customer experience in your store. Talk to your customers and learn from them. 

The bottom line is that these are the two ways retail is playing out today? If you are ignoring the experience, then you are delivering the expected.