News & Views

Opinion / Retail heaven. I haven't got there yet

by Contagious Contributor
Anything less than an effortless, personal experience that leaves customers with positive emotions falls short of what a brand should be, argues R/GA London's experience design director, Mark Lloyd Ruck. Loyalty to a brand can mean customers will pretend a poor experience didn’t happen to keep the relationship healthy. But the question is, how long for?

I love my royal blue corduroy trousers, probably more than is entirely healthy. And being a creature of habit, I’ve bought more than one pair. In fact I’ve bought quite a few. Thanks to online shopping, I usually save myself the bother of going to the physical store. I just head to their site, find the trousers in my purchase history and buy another pair. But since I was passing by a few weeks ago I figured I’d go and pick up some in-store. Big mistake.

As I hunted round for my cords, a very polite sales assistant resembling a young hipster version of Paul Weller à la the Style Council years came to help. He enthusiastically told me that as I’d bought some before, he could find my size on their system and take them to the till.

But the details they had for me were old, and the only item they had on record was a pair of skinny jeans long since handed down to my younger brother. I spent the next five minutes updating my details so it matched what they had on their apparently aloof online system. I did walk out with the cords I wanted, but I definitely didn’t walk out with the experience I needed.

Not getting the service I expected from a brand that I’m emotionally invested in left a negative memory on an otherwise beautiful relationship. When I put on my royal blue cords I’m happy. But every time I think about having to go buy another pair I’ll put it off. Anything to spare having that branded bubble of mine burst.

That poor experience was one of many missed opportunities. I’ve lost count of the amount of times I’ve visited their site on my mobile, browsed next seasons collection on my laptop or viewed the designers social media posts. With each visit, the experience hasn’t changed one bit. No acknowledgement of my purchase history, no understanding of what touchpoints I use and no tailored experience. Loving this brand really is becoming hard work. Customers don’t know or care how good experiences happen, all they know is that they just should.

When brands provide poor experiences, they sometimes have the luxury of their loyal customer base turning a blind eye. 47% of UK millenials feel it is important to stay loyal to a brand and the intent can be hard to shake, even when it is really tested. Brands that customers are invested in are given get out of jail free cards, at least for a while. Eventually those disconnected, poor experiences will become nails in the coffin for a customers loyalty.

Omnichannel and personalised CRM are seen as the panacea. Employing this strategy would certainly have given me a better purchase experience and the brand an opportunity to build on our relationship. As the amount of ways a customer can interact with a brand and its product has grown, the opportunity to strengthen loyalty has grown with it. Customers see the brand, not the touchpoint. App, web, social media and in-store are one thing in their eyes, not separate services.

CRM strategy that uses touchpoints such as self service applications isn’t rocket science. Utilities that are trusted services provided by the brand can serve other personalised content such as product suggestions and experiences. It needs to know where I am in my customer journey, with any products suggested to me relative to my previous purchase history, any reward given equal to my loyalty, and any conversation had with me relate to my history and relationship with the brand.

So, back to my trousers. I’ve bought enough of them for the brand to know what I like, but when will I get the experience I need?

To predict a future clothing retail experience, you need only look back to before superstores and global chains. The model to aim for is the retail experiences where the store knew you, what you wanted and what kind of an experience you liked. Places that will hold stock for you until you can come in or even get items tailored for you for that perfect fit. These places still exist, but now we can create this experience on a different scale.

I want a personal shopper with me wherever or however I shop. A self-service native app that I control and is my utility for investing and interacting with the brand. It needs to be smart enough to know what to show me and when to show it, giving me my experience, not everyone elses. As well as data like purchase history, it should use context to personalise the experience with time, day, cultural calendar and location to add value. And most of all, it needs to be seamlessly connected to all other touchpoints.

Retail is seeing a move towards digital personal shopping, with Topman offering sessions in Google Hangouts, and it could be that Uber co-founder Garret Camp and Robin Chan are going to set the benchmark with Operator. There are plenty of clothing retailers that are working on being the brand that gets this right, but I’m still waiting for that experience that tells me it has truly arrived.