Nisch explains how the pandemic has prompted new needs for the non-essential retail experience.
A broadcast selling area, like this conceptual rendering by JGA, can accommodate consumers’ desire for consultative service without an enclosed office.
By Ken Nisch
No matter what industry you’re in, COVID is having an impact on your business. You’ve already had to adapt quickly – whether it’s taking the steps to make your space cleaner and safer or ramping up technology or other shopping mechanisms to address customer concerns and keep commerce moving as much as possible. Now it’s time to prepare for longer-term implications.
Smaller window of opportunity
No economist could have predicted a year ago that we’d be where we are today. Retail has had its share of ebbs and flows, always recovering and evolving. This is more than a hiccup. This wave of disruption has caused critical shifts in behaviors that will be here to stay for quite some time. Operating hours are shorter, and that in-person visit is shorter, more focused, and quite different than it was six months ago. People are going to stores less and making more conscious, calculated decisions about where they shop and what they buy. Now you have only one chance to get the customer experience right. Many customers are eager to get back to shopping. However, the shopping they are craving goes beyond the transaction. It entails a personal connection between the brand and the consumer. The difference is that customers — not brands — are now driving what that connection means. It’s up to retailers to exceed those expectations.
Retailers will have to accommodate not only safety concerns, but also a shift in the way that customers want to interact. For non-essentials, this includes building store hours around customer convenience instead of forcing their hours on customers. It might mean companies will have to take one-on-one appointments outside of traditional operating hours. They’ll have to adjust to flexible selling, accommodating customers who want to transact in person and those that prefer a virtual option. It requires more planning for more engagement with associates.
Luxury and specialty goods stores will need to become both a showroom and a sample space where both experiences are more curated for each individual. Whereas coffee bars and complimentary pastries were once a nice way to make customers feel welcome and relaxed, retailers will have to find new, more bespoke ways to create hospitality. They will also need to convey “we’re glad you’re here,” so that consumers don’t feel like a burden.
Broadcast selling in a third place
Customers might not want to walk around the entire store nor meet in an enclosed office. One idea is to build a new platform for unique selling opportunities and engaging one-on-one interactions, a concept we term broadcast selling. This is a dedicated area of your space where you can host both in-person and online appointments.
This open, neutral ground where the associate and the customer can meet and lay out merchandise becomes the third place. While intentional, it shouldn’t appear too formal. Instead, it feels more welcome and personal, and of course, safe. Just as most of us have moved our offices into our kitchens or dining rooms, this shift in selling becomes more natural and friendly, but also more tailored to the individual.
Luxury and specialty goods stores will need to become both showroom and sample space, like this conceptual rendering by JGA.
The concept of the third place is not new. However, it is even more important now as consumers are looking to connect with brands on their terms. People are craving a respite from their world, which has been turned upside down, and this is an opportunity for retailers to create that respite. When people can feel calm in an environment, they’re more likely to feel confident in their purchase decisions.
We can also leverage spaces that were originally hospitality areas and alter tools for virtual appointments. This next generation of hospitality thoughtfully done with the right lighting, technology, and atmosphere should be fluid and configurable. For example, lighting that can be altered for daytime vs. nighttime appointments can change the mood. A backdrop that can be changed based on pre-determined customer criteria has the potential to resonate more. All elements must be carefully curated, including the highly adept associate. Associates are the glue to this experience. When they are highly trained in your products and/or services — as well as your brand — they can become your key differentiator.
This new idea of hospitality means equipping your best salespeople with tools that are relevant in today’s market. For your new broadcast studio to be successful, it involves the right setting, the right technology, and the right salespeople. In today’s world, cultivating that relationship with your customer is just as important as cultivating your bottom line. It is your bottom line.