Retail is changing and embracing a multichannel format that belnds the high street, online sales, and something in-between like pop-up stores that are fully branded, but little more than a collection of computers for browsing products. If you can remember the dot com boom, you will know that the end of the high street was predicted long ago – but what happened is a lot more complex.
The smartest retailers are now working out how to combine the best of the online experience with customer service that can only be found on the high street. Customer experience is now a vital component in deciding where and when we shop.
Sometimes you want to see and touch a product before buying it, some products just can’t be bought online – ever. Perhaps it is a big investment, so you want to try it out first to see how it works. This is why camera chains like Jessops have always prided themselves on employing staff that know about the products they sell. You get great service in the store and you can ask questions about the products and get knowledgeable answers.
But what happens when a consumer goes into a store, asks a load of questions, gets great service, but then leaves and uses a price comparison website to find a better deal? Many travel agents have suffered this fate over the past few years, leading some to start charging for a consultation over a big holiday – it costs real money to provide expertise in-store and things like holidays or electronic goods can almost always be found cheaper online.
Retailers such as Argos and John Lewis are trying to combine the best of the web with a real in-store or added value experience that combines old-fashioned retail with the bulk discounts available from buying and distributing centrally. Amazon is changing the model of delivery with their idea of creating pick-up lockers where items ordered online can be securely collected.
I would certainly be prepared to pay more for good service – say from a company like John Lewis. Even if I used their website it would give me greater peace of mind to know I have a brand like that, with their reputation for customer service, ready to help me in case of any trouble.
But what is the kind of price difference that consumers will tolerate – what price customer service? If a TV can be bought 30% cheaper online, how can retailers maintain good service? It’s a fast-changing world and retailers are trying many different ways to make this work, but in the end I believe service and customer experience will win out.
Photo by Mike Behnken licensed under Creative Commons