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Customer experience: Let me entertain you

It’s  essential that retailers remember shopping time is also leisure time. Be it the weekly grocery round or an afternoon spending their bonus at a luxury boutique, if your customer doesn’t feel adequately entertained, there’s a very good chance they won’t be back. Jai Breitnauer invites you to step into our NZRetail store, and see how your customer experience can be improved.

Mark Gascoigne, from interior fitters Studio Gascoigne.


“Imagine you are at a mall like Sylvia Park,” says Mark Gascoigne, from interior fitters Studio Gascoigne. “You want to buy a jumper and there are 200 shops that sell a jumper. The maxiumum number you will visit will be four. How will you make the decision of which shop to go into? Well the store window plays a huge role in drawing people in.”

When it comes to marketing your brand and products, it should go without saying that your biggest ad space is your own frontage. Make it clearly signed, make it visually appealling and make it interesting – just putting a few mannequins in a white space wearing your favourite store items is not going to cut the mustard.

“Remember, the purpose of display is to enhance your shop’s identity and product,” says San Francisco-based freelance store designer Kate Pruitt in an interview with designsponge.com. “The window display will be the first thing a customer sees. You want it to draw the viewer in and deliver on whatever story your amazing display has promised.”

Creating a story is a key element of good window dressing. You want to intrigue your customers enough to tempt them through the looking glass. Think of a theme – if you are creating a mid-winter display, why not centre around a winter sport like rugby?

Choose a focal point, and make sure your customer sees it from the outside in the way you believe they see it when you are standing on the inside. Use bold colours and shapes but don’t crowd the scene – less is more, you don’t want people to think your shop is cluttered.

Attempt to appeal to the other senses too. Many people are drawn to skincare outlet Lush by the delectable smell which emanates from its stores, and shops like Amazon often project popular music around their shop front. A good ear worm will have people browsing at least until the end of the song. 

Josh Dickson, project manager for training provider RedSeed.

Once you’ve tempted your customer inside, what should be the first thing they see? A smiling, helpful-looking staff member.

“The importance of having someone there who looks happy and ready to help can’t be emphasised enough,” says Josh Dickson, project manager for training provider RedSeed. “It’s a common misconception that all stores are different with unique problems, but when it comes to customer service, the same is expected across the board whether you’re high-end or high street.”

Your customer wants to be flattered by the attention they receive. It shouldn’t be overbearing, but a lack of available staff, rude staff, or even the wrong body language could mean no sale and – even worse – no repeat visit.

This often becomes an issue with discount stores, or retailers that want to be seen as ‘value for money’.

“There is a disconnect between the ‘no frills’ concept and the need for good customer service,” says Dickson, noting that even if you cut staff to save money, the expectation on the service level from the customer remains the same. “It’s fine to have a low quantity of staff. More staff does not necessarily mean better service. But when you only have a few people on the shop floor, they need to be highly skilled and capable.” They are the face of the store and they have to manage that responsibility appropriately.

RedSeed offers training programmes that help staff understand correct body language, what questions to ask and how to spot when assistance is necessary. It provides programmes that cater to the individual learning style and needs of a variety of people because a one size fits all approach isn’t enough. But offering those programmes only goes so far.

“Training has to start with the executive team, it has to be top-down,” says Dickson.

He also notes it is essential that all staff are trained – even that lad who only comes in on a Saturday, or the gaggle of part-time students who don’t take their retail job seriously.

“Training is an investment, and every second you are not bringing staff up to speed you are putting your brand at risk,” says Dickson. “Begin at the induction. Explain what the brand represents, what the value proposition is, where you sit in the market and what your customer expects. You might think it’s too high level for some new recruits but it’s actually essential to get your staff engaged and in-line.”

Sensory journey

So, your customer has been pulled in by the exciting window display and greeted by a friendly staff member whose demeanor promises plenty of help and support. But what does the inside of your store look like? What job does it do?

“These days, customers are looking for an experience,” says Mark Gascoigne. “Studies show that Millennials in particular are more likely to buy an experience than a thing.”

Your store needs to be more than just a vehicle for selling product. You need to engage in a two-way dialogue that excites shoppers, and talks to them as an individual. Appeal to their senses, offer an environment that provides something more – a bit of theatre, somewhere calm, perhaps somewhere that stimulates their brain.

“If you can provide an interior that is memorable, it’s more likely to cut through than a basic store,” says Gascoigne. “After all, there are so many places people can buy from. Why would they get out of their PJs and stop buying cheap stuff from Asos online to battle traffic and parking in town to come to you? A good experience is key.”

The first step to creating the right ambience in store is lighting, and it’s the thing that so many retailers in New Zealand get wrong. Many stores have bright fluorescent lights. Gascoigne says this is wrong.

“Hollister by Abercrombie & Fitch in the US is a great example of good lighting,” says Gascoigne. “They don’t light the whole store. They have ambient low lighting and then they throw the ceiling lights, pooling where they want the customer to look. It’s exciting.”

Well-designed lighting is particularly important in the fitting rooms of clothing stores. If you ask many retailers where a sale happens, they will say at the counter – but actually, it mentally occurs in the changing rooms while the customer is trying clothing on.

“So many fitting rooms are terrible, tiny spaces, stuck out back with intense lighting,” says Gascoigne. “You need to flatter the customer. Make the fitting room an easy to access, comfortable space. Offer sympathetic lighting – soft and gentle. Remember your customer isn’t looking at the clothes, they’re looking at themselves. Make them look good.”

Gascoigne also says the shopping experience should be sensory and interactive. Your store fit-out should offer nice surfaces you can touch. An electronics store could regularly change out displays that give people a chance to engage with the equipment on offer, while food shops could offer tastings. Stores can even pipe certain smells into their space that reflect the products they want to sell, like leather or sandalwood, and just like good music attracts people into a store, it can keep them there as well.

Offering a fit-out that is flattering, comfortable, stimulating and, ultimately, an environment that reflects your brand story and therefore part of your customers’ personal identity is essential in this crowded retail environment.

Just the ticket

Your customer has been browsing happily in the comfort of your store for 10 minutes, and they’ve spotted a couple of items they might want to buy. But then they put them back on the rack, and leave. Why?

“They probably don’t know the price,” says Chris Graham, product manager for the Do-It marketing delivery platform. “No ticket, no sale.”

Speaking at the Spring Gift Fair in Auckland last year, visual merchandiser Nicolle Aston identified hand-written tickets – or no tickets at all – as a key aggravator when it comes to getting a sale across the line. “Put a price on every product,” Aston says. “Customers need that information to make purchasing decisions and become really annoyed without it.”

Professional, accurate, well-appointed signage should be a given in modern retail environments, yet so many stores are still relying on hand written posters, and hastily scribbled tickets to advertise sales and special offers, or replace an original printed version that has been lost. The Ticket-It system, part of the Do-It suite of retail marketing solutions, aims to make these problems a thing of the past.

“Right now, the way many retailers work is that they ask a designer to lay out their tickets when they are needed, then they print them and – if they’re a chain – distribute them via courier or post,” says Graham.

This can take several days and introduces cost, waste and inconsistencies.

“What happens if you are sent 200 credit-card-sized tickets when actually, you need 150 of those plus 30 A3s? What happens if you are sent just the right amount of tickets and then you lose some?”

The Ticket-It system uses a set template for a customer so that tickets can be created at head office and then emailed to each store so they can print what they need. They’re consistent, professional and replicable.

Graham notes that one of their clients, Countdown, is a good example of where Ticket-It has introduced efficiencies. Before using Ticket-It, Countdown’s spreadsheet took two days to manually convert into tickets for the shelves.

“We set them up on Ticket-It and reduced the time it took to create and send the tickets from two days to 20 seconds,” says Graham. “It also means that stores only print what they need, can easily replace lost tickets and all the tickets look the same.”

“Ticketing is a pain point for a lot of retailers,” says Gina Brugh, project manager for Ticket-It. “But it should be a simple task. Ticket-It gives retailers that opportunity”.

Brugh has over 20 years experience on the front line of retail and has spent a lot of time dealing with tickets. “It’s essential for customer conversion,” she says.

While there are products on the market already, they can be quite big and complicated. The Ticket-It team wanted to design a solution that was much simpler, a solution they would want to use themselves.

“We’ve all been there. We wanted software that ticked all the boxes. Ticket-It has been designed by retailers for retailers”.

The system is capable of producing RRP tickets, but quick price changes and specials seem to be its most popular calling.

“Our clients are loving using it for promotions due to the speed and flexibility of it,” says Brugh. “Produce stores, like Farro Fresh, use it for produce that may regularly change price – fresh fruit for example”.

With costs starting from $50 per month, small retailers can now create templates and print out uniform tickets across all their stores using Ticket-It, meaning there really is no excuse for scruffy, inconsistent or non-existent tickets in store.

Pay and go

Now your customer has what they want, they need to pay. Once, this meant finding your way to the front of the store where the cash register was located and fumbling in your wallet for some cash or a cheque. Thankfully, times have changed – and New Zealanders have enjoyed the delights of Eftpos for more than 30 years. But in the 21st century, it is essential that retailers offer flexibility around payment methods.

“In August 2015 there were over 8.5m contactless transactions, compared to just 4m in August 2014,” says Pete Hansen, general manager of Eftpos New Zealand. This rise of 53 percent (compared to a 0.7 percent rise in general card payments) demonstrates two things – Kiwis are early adoptors who love technology, and retailers need to feed that need.

“Contactless is gaining popularity, it’s expected,” says Hansen. “It’s a way of saying, ‘It’s easy to shop with me’”.

Contactless payments are super-fast, and for certain stores that’s a huge win. If someone wants a coffee in the morning, chances are they’re going to grab it from the café with the shortest queue – and offering contactless can keep you moving through customers quicker.

Many smaller retailers, especially dairies, have steered clear of contactless due to the additional charges. These can be as mush as 3.5 percent per transaction depending on your bank. But this could be a false economy. With the rise of alternative payment methods like mobile wallet Semble, being flexible enough to accept a variety of different payment methods could be key to securing your business’ future.

The popularity of the pop-up shop, markets and festivals has also introduced a need for cost-efficient ways to transport digital payments, and banks have come up with systems – like ANZ Fastpay – that allow small retailers who don’t have access to mobile Eftpos the opportunity to take payments using an app on thier mobile phone or tablet. This is also reflected in some bigger flagships, like the Apple store, where the checkout has been abandoned altogether in favour of sales staff being able to process payments on their iPad on the shop floor.

If you are relying on good old Eftpos, you need to make sure that your unit suits your needs. Having a mobile unit means you are able to take payments anywhere in your store. Digitise loyalty schemes so that if your customer forgets their card they can still earn points by giving their phone number or full name. And if you are going to offer the ‘self checkout’ option, just make sure you have a highly trained and patient member of staff available to support shoppers.

That feeling of fulfillment

It would be easy to assume that your job as a retailer has ended with the close of a sale, but your brand’s relationship with the customer should continue even once they’ve left the store.

One easy way to achieve this is to integrate email marketing into your retail management system. Loyalty cards allow you to collect data on customer purchases, so you can target them with relevant promotional material. There’s no point in sending a vegan special offers about sausages, for example.

You can also contact customers to gather feedback. If they didn’t buy in your recent sale or promotional period, why not? Perhaps they haven’t made a purchase for a while – remind them you are there with a special offer. Send them a birthday card, a Christmas wish or even a hand-written thank you note after they’ve made a purchase. These little touches help.

Customer fulfillment becomes even more important after online purchases are made. It’s essential that your customer – no matter how far away they are from you geographically – is treated in the same respectful way they would be in-store. Offer free delivery options, or next day delivery, as this will encourage shoppers to move away from overseas brands who can perhaps offer product cheaper due to volume of sales. Wrap the product you are sending carefully. If you would put a bow on it in store, then do that here too.

Remember, your customer wants to feel special, and like they are in a relationship with your store.

This story originally appeared in NZRetail magazine issue 744 June / July 2016

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