Business | Retail

Bringing a sense of intimacy to selling

Brands wrestle with multiple formats to connect with shoppers

  • By James Tracy-Inglis , Special to Gulf News
  • Published: 13:21 January 7, 2013
  • Gulf News

Shopping should make us feel good, whether we are on a quest to stock up on groceries or hitting fashion stores for some retail therapy. However, with the ever-expanding modern trade, the diversification of shopping channels and more savvy value-driven shoppers, the intimacy in the relationship between retailers and their shoppers is weakening.

Yet, this emotional bond is so important to create an enjoyable shopping experience and nurture customer loyalty.

Traditionally, the customer-centric approach to selling is in the DNA of the region, and connecting with customers emotionally has been vital. Today, with the advance of hypermarkets and mall culture, such a personalised approach has been retained by only a few types of channels in the region — luxury retail, high-frequency convenience stores and the souks. For example, entering a jewellery store you are very likely to be offered a seat, a glass of water and spend a good half an hour engaged in a conversation “dreaming” about your purchase and all the choices available.

Naturally, stores of larger formats have to put a lot of effort into superior convenience, product variety and best value, which unavoidably comes at the cost of customer intimacy. The result is minimal human interaction that often sends shoppers into nostalgic recollections about the old-time traditional butchers and bakeries, when shop owners knew and greeted their customers by name, knew their favourite cuts, could deliver goods or accommodate delayed payments.

I am not suggesting that this trend should or can be reversed, but there is certainly room to improve the shopper journey by enhancing the intimacy of the experience. Retailers need to consider that shoppers come to their stores with three basic types of stress ultimately affecting purchase — time, budget and frustration.

Making shopping easier and more convenient is, no doubt, important. But what shoppers are missing the most today is a one-on-one customer relationship that creates additional motivation to shop, optimises the shopping trip and just makes them feel good.

There are a number of ways modern retailers can enhance the shopper experience. Staff training equips sales teams with better customer profiling techniques and styles of interaction with shoppers.

Category management and category reinvention solutions optimise shopper journey and reduce stress. Loyalty programmes reward with extra value or create a feeling of being special. But successful execution is not always easy and requires thoughtful investments in people and store design.

One tool that brands and retailers seem to shy away from is technology, and this comes with no surprise. Regrettably, on numerous occasions we’ve experienced technology that disrupts and slows down the in-store shopping experience. Yet, globally there are quite a few examples to prove that if used within an insightful strategic framework, technology can bring the intimacy back into the relationship between the customer and the retailer and offer a personalised experience while catering to the masses.

A recent example of technology enhancing in-store experience and strengthening one-on-one customer relationship is Hellmann’s idea to print recipes on customers’ receipts. Special software was installed in 100 locations of the supermarket chain St. Marche that recognised when a Hellmann’s product was scanned at the checkout. The software then looked at other items customers purchase and immediately printed out a customised recipe on the sales receipt featuring those items.

This and many other examples prove how technology is opening up channels for personalised communications in-store. By placing the shoppers at the centre of an idea and using technology to complement their emotional state while shopping, brands generate the ‘return on involvement’ and grow business in the new age of the shopper at a relatively low cost.

— The writer is with Saatchi and Saatchi X.

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