On 18th May, we joined forces with Member Hammerson Plc for the second in a series of panel discussions — this time looking at how smart organisations are crafting sharper and slicker retail experiences for today's consumers.
Traditionally, time has been a key driver of convenience retail, which is often focussed on short interactions and speedy transactions. As shoppers become accustomed to the streamlined experiences that e-commerce can offer, they're also growing more expectant of increased efficiency in their real-world shopping journeys too — but not at the expense of quality, service and experience.
When it comes to convenience, today's retailers find themselves having to offer their customers much more than speed and efficiency — whether that's greater choice and flexibility in the way they shop, or personalised experiences that involve anticipating consumers' needs before they know they have them.
On the evening of 18th May, we hosted the second in a series of retail-focussed events with Hammerson — YCN Company Member and creators of retail destinations including Brent Cross and the Bullring — this time exploring the changing landscape of convenience retail.
In the smart surrounds of Hammerson's King's Cross offices, we brought together an experienced panel of speakers for a discussion moderated by YCN Director Nick Defty — and got to grips with what convenience means for today’s shopper, and the creative ways in which organisations are meeting their new needs.
Joining us to share their experiences were Mike Richmond, Strategic Development Director at Doddle — which is bringing new levels of convenience to retailers and shoppers alike with its swift delivery system — and Simon Parkes, Design Director at retail design agency Dalziel & Pow, which has developed innovative new store formats marrying convenience and brand experience for the likes of Argos, John Lewis and O2.
Kathryn Malloch, Group Product Innovation Manager at Hammerson, also gave us a landlord’s perspective, talking us through how the company is responding to shoppers' evolving expectations and behaviours through improved facilities and services at its shopping centres.
Here’s what we learnt.
Convenience and experience
The desire for instant gratification is making way for convenience, Kathryn explained. Retailers and landlords understand the need for services and experiences that are more closely tailored to consumers’ complex individual preferences and requirements, which increasingly go beyond a simple need for speed.
These services can be largely practical — with Hammerson providing wi-fi and seating areas equipped with charging points at all of its locations. The landlord has also begun implementing concierge services, that help support shoppers in their journey through Hammerson locations, letting them access transport information, or book a restaurant for later that day.
Hammerson is also innovating its service offering based on a greater understanding of shopper behaviour. For example, based on the insight that customers often leave retail centres because they’ve become overladen with bags, Hammerson is trialling “hands-free shopping” solutions that could see purchases made available to collect from a single location, or delivered straight to homes or car boots.
As we heard from Mike, convenience lies at the crux of Doddle’s offering. His ultimate ambition is that Doddle’s users can buy anything from anywhere and collect it in one place — irrespective of carrier or retailer. The click and collect services currently on offer are largely tied to specific retailers or specific couriers, meaning shoppers have to have multiple dealings with different providers, without the option to consolidate the way they collect and return their online purchases. “The ubiquity of the service model is key,” he explained.
Doddle’s physical locations have also been chosen strategically, to maximise the service’s convenience for consumers. National Rail was an early investor, and many stores are located within train stations, allowing people to collect their parcels on their way home, rather than missing home delivery slots or lugging large items back from work.
A number of the service's stores also feature changing rooms — allowing customers to try on their online purchases, and return unwanted items there and then. And, while there is a growing frustration on the part of retailers for the rising trend for returns, Doddle is keen to cater its services to the way consumers like to shop.
Tech and tailored experiences
This understanding of consumer needs drove Dalziel & Pow’s design of Argos’ new digitally connected store formats, which are currently being rolled out across London.
When approaching the agency, Argos’ MD had a primarily functional brief, seeking to increase the efficiency with which people were able to make their purchases. Replacing the laminated catalogues which had become so synonymous with a visit to an Argos store, Dalziel & Pow installed browsing tablets and unmanned order kiosks to make the in-store service as seamless as possible.
Hammerson has developed an app that allows it to gather data on how people are behaving within its centres in an anonymous way. This data is used to shape the services it provides to better suit consumer needs. Of course the app also has to demonstrably add value to shoppers’ visits — whether that’s through acting as a useful wayfinding tool, giving curated store information based on pre-stated preferences, or adding an element of delight by surprising people with offers and freebies.
Marrying convenience and magic
As well as combating practical consumer bugbears such as queues, confusing in-store journeys or inexpert consumer service, Dalziel & Pow also understand that providing convenient experiences can go beyond considerations about efficiency — “sometimes convenience can be about slowing people down,” Simon said.
“People are looking for convenience and magic — all at the same time,” he continued, citing Dalziel & Pow’s design for O2’s Manchester store on Market Street as a marriage between the two. Opened earlier this year, the store has been designed to slow customers down and celebrate the services O2 provides — from the expert advice given by O2 Gurus, to the offers up for grabs with O2 Priority.
Offering free hot drinks, wireless charging and space to work, as well as technology tutorials, the design was inspired by functional yet inviting spaces such as the Ace Hotel and Forge & Co. Yet there is also an area set aside for monthly themed takeovers, with digital screens in the storefront adding an element of theatre to draw shoppers inside.
People will always lie at the heart of the in-store experience
The panel agreed that ultimately brands will always be reliant on staff to deliver the helpful service that makes their visit convenient. Rather than the commission-based, technically adept sales people who usually staff O2 stores, for the Manchester Market Street store the brand hired staff based on entirely different criteria — choosing people with backgrounds in fashion or the arts, for example, in line with the lifestyle outlook of the new store.
Unlike competitor services such as Collect+, that can’t control the customer service environment and so deliver an offering that is sometimes mixed, Doddle has an advantage. Its 47 locations across the UK are staffed with its own customer service representatives — giving shoppers a high quality level of service and retailers peace of mind.
As Mike explained, Doddle recruits from specific sectors, starting with charity shop staff and volunteers who are used to engaging with local communities. Recognising the importance of the service experience in-store, the brand incentivises staff to deliver a great experience by asking customers to Tweet positively about the service they’ve received.
Thanks to our speakers, our partners Hammerson, and to Sam Bush for the photos above.
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Start:18th May, 2016 at 6:30pm
End:18th May, 2016 at 8:30pm