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Sir Stuart Rose,
Chairman of Marks & Spencer plc

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The Cross Channel Ferry


It should be so refreshing to get out into the High Street and look at real, physical selling space. These days I spend so much of my time theorising about on line vs off line, arguing about the role of face to face in the channel mix that it should be a relief to spend time in store.

Stores are the cross channel ferry of the consumer’s world.  Shoppers might view a product on line, check the reviews and compare the prices but sooner or later, if they are going to buy, then four out of five of them will “take the ferry” i.e. go to store to fulfil their purchase.

For most retailers, the in store experience ought to be the simplest part of their mix to manage, after all they’ve been doing it for far longer than their presence in digital space. But my many years of retail safaris suggest otherwise with many opportunities to enhance the shopper’s journey and increase basket size overlooked or simply ignored.

I walk the store as a customer would. I start with the car parking and the way-find to the store. What mood will I be in as I reach the entrance? Does the inside appeal match the enticing window display? And how has the “landing strip”, the area of the store just inside the doors where shoppers slow down to browsing speed been handled? Is it cluttered with irrelevant nonsense or do baskets and way-finding signage fall naturally into my line of site?

Browsing areas are key, enough space to manoeuvre and for other shoppers to get past me whilst I look.

So much for the basics. But what about in store service delivery? This is the big opportunity to justify a store visit and to differentiate from other “value” brands. How well do most retailers handle it?

Are there staff on hand to assist me with my purchase selection or if I can’t find my size? How are the other areas where I would require service to be available? For instance, if I want to try on a pair of shoes or go to the fitting rooms to try a suit for size?

Familiarity with the digital world has made the customer less tolerant of in store waits. At any one time roughly one in five customers is ready to leave the store without buying because of perceived poor service. The correct management strategy of shopper perception during these critical times will make difference between, on the one hand, customers leaving the store without buying and tweeting about poor service and on the other tolerating a wait and happily purchasing their desired items.

Access to service in store is one of the most common areas of customer complaint and yet it is so easy to fix, if only retailers would be prepared to embrace appropriate technology and innovate. For example, Qmatic now have a mobile app allowing customers to reserve their turn for service even before they get to store, making the in store experience far stickier.  The arrival of ibeacons will significantly enhance the scope of this solution, delivering context specific customer flow management just where the customer needs it.

Tilling strategies are still suboptimal delivering a disappointing experience for customers and an inefficient process for retailers.  Payment is the last point in the customer journey which the store can influence before they leave. Every opportunity needs to be taken to enhance the experience until the deal is done and the customer is leaving with their chosen goods.

Everywhere I go, I see badly managed linear queues, inappropriate and badly presented impulse merchandising and either too many or too few staff. Best practice in this area has been established for a long time and should by now have been adopted everywhere. A well organised wait, scalable staffing and well presented impulse items deliver an efficient solution which reduces cost whilst maximising customer perception and basket size.

Self checkout remains a nonsense. Retailers were sold the promise of productivity savings which have never been delivered. When compared to a conventional high activity till, capital and maintenance costs are significantly higher, basket size is typically 20% smaller and transaction times 20% slower. Shrinkage is higher. The retailer gives up the ability to impulse merchandise the queue (as shoppers waiting to pay are so focussed on and anxious about spotting which till to move to and no longer paying any attention to their surroundings) and the coup de grace is that 84% of shoppers would prefer to be served by a person. There has been some discussion that the rise in shrinkage is viewed by customers as justifiable payback to the store for reducing the service level at this critical point in the in store journey. Frankly, I am amazed that the majority of retailers persist in this ostrich like approach to the use of a failed solution.

And click and collect. Most retailers seem to have no obvious strategy for the placing or use of their click and collect process within store as part of a unified shopping experience. The lack of intelligence applied in this area is breathtaking.  Best practice shows that if thought through and implemented correctly basket size can be increased by as much as 30% when customers come into store to collect. I see few deployments that have anything like that potential.

So my cross channel ferry looks more like a storm tossed hovercraft in turbulent seas. Far from being the elegant solution that seamlessly bridge the digital with the real world it is far too often the poor relation in the channel mix.

Retailers, you need to become more thoughtful, more responsive and more vocal. You need to stand up to the digital teams in your business and demand equal share of voice. On behalf of your companies and your customers. Be prepared to take risks and to acknowledge that you are not always right.  Real Customer Experience isn’t measured by how many customers every week can be hoodwinked into completing an NPS score. The only measure that counts is what your real customer think, every day.

After all, in retail you are only as good as your last sale.