What can you do to create multipurpose and multi-interpretational shopping environments?
Begin by considering how different customer segments think and how they shop, giving consideration to those who shop the whole store as well as destination-oriented customers. What do your different customer segments really want from your store? Are there products and services you should add or discard? Benchmark your delivery of customer needs against the rest of the shopping possibilities in your area.
Businesses have very detailed information on what customers do online. They know what areas of the site customers visit. They know how often customers don’t check out their shopping carts. But within the four walls of a store, they have had very little insight into how customers shop. Enter technology.
In January 2002, Brickstream, an Arlington, Virginia–based company, launched its Brickstream System, which links a company’s software to computer hardware and in-store cameras that provide a view of in-store browsing and buying behaviors. Through software algorithms, the company’s applications analyze factors including the busiest parts of a store, paths through the store, what customers are doing after interacting with a display, how long customers wait in line, and how many customers abandon a line. The solution is transparent to the customer yet yields a wealth of information and customer insight for the retailer.
Another source for learning how customers think and how they shop is a company called Envirosell. Envirosell’s Paco Underhill has been called the Sherlock Holmes for retailers based on hard data he has developed in thousands of hours of field research in shopping malls, department stores, and supermarkets. In his entertaining book, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (Touchstone Books, 2000), Underhill describes the process,
Trackers are the field researchers of the science of shopping, the scholars of shopping, or, more precisely, of shoppers. Essentially, trackers stealthily make their way through stores following shoppers and noting everything they do. Usually a tracker begins by loitering inconspicuously near a store’s entrance, waiting for a shopper to enter, at which point the ‘track’ starts. The tracker will stick with the unsuspecting individual (or individuals) as long as the shopper is in the store (excluding trips to the dressing room or the restroom) and will record on a track sheet virtually everything he or she does. Sometimes, when the store is large, trackers will work in teams in order to be less intrusive.
Underhill gives us a perfect example of how this kind of sleuthing can help a retailer allow customers to shape the shopping experience. In a study Envirosell conducted for a dog food manufacturer, they noticed that whereas adults bought the dog food, the dog treats—liver-flavored biscuits and such—were often being picked out by children or senior citizens. Because no one had ever noticed who exactly was buying (or lobbying for the purchase of) pet treats, they were typically stocked near the top of supermarket shelves. Trackers saw children climbing the shelving to reach the treats, and even noticed an elderly woman using a box of aluminum foil to knock down her brand of dog biscuits. When Envirosell’s client moved the treats to where kids and older individuals could more easily reach them, in effect letting customers customize the shopping experience, sales went up overnight.
Remind yourself that customers are not all alike. Think about what you are doing now. Does it make sense to the customer? Start small. Pick an area of your business to re-think. Make sure it’s important to the customer and relevant to your business. Start by correcting deficiencies at opportunity stores. Compare current store layout with what your customers are telling you they want. Develop action plans to correct deficiencies in selection, adjacencies, and placement within schematics. In many cases categories can be reset to reflect what the customer comes to the store for. Look for opportunities to create narrow assortment areas for destination-oriented shoppers.
One of our client stores is trying to do this. Our reward came in a letter from a customer who said, “Your store is my family’s favorite place to shop because you have a way of meeting our needs before we know there is a need.”
It’s not enough just to make changes. To make the changes work it is critical to communicate the reasons for your changes to your people on the firing line in the stores and provide the customer data they need to understand the changes.
One of the more aggressive examples of a company redesigning a store and its services based on how customers think and how they shop is the Prada Epicenter that opened at the corner of Prince Street and Broadway in New York in January 2002. Prada calls it a laboratory where the company can experiment with new forms of customer interaction. It is worth a detailed study.
The store carries Prada’s current collections for men and women in ready-to-wear, sportswear, handbags, shoes, accessories, and beauty items. Limited edition vintage pieces from the collections of the 1980s and early 1990s, including women’s clothing, handbags, and shoes are also exclusive to this store. The store provides locations of concentrated creativity, spanning a spectrum from the public to the ultra-private, allowing these boundaries to constantly shift.
The space is designed to support new forms of customer service, merchandising, and programming. It is a space that enables change: change in the configuration of the store itself, its surfaces, its function, the content on the display devices, and the way customers are serviced. It is a place, ultimately, where Prada can experiment with new conditions and constantly reinvent itself.
The merchandise throughout the ground floor is displayed in moveable volumes. This “hanging city” consists of a series of aluminum-mesh cages suspended from the ceiling which are configured to include hanging bars, shelving, and space for mannequins and other displays. The units are mounted on motorized tracks that allow them to be positioned differently throughout the store.
The cylindrical glass elevator that provides access to the lower floor contains a display of Prada handbags, allowing customers to shop as they descend to the lounge and accessory area downstairs. In the lounge, customers can browse bags and leather goods while seated on banquettes covered with gel pads. The lower level also includes a cosmetic display area, more shoe displays, and a series of rooms formed by customized compact shelving units of the type used in libraries. These units can be combined or separated to create different special conditions depending on the volume of merchandise. They provide the sense that the customer is shopping behind-the-scenes in an environment that is part storage, part display.
At the start of the design, a number of key concepts were established: be unobtrusive, integrated, and functional; support, rather than change, existing ways of working; help provide better service the way the customer wants it; and build on interactions and relationships in the real world.
At the center of the technology-based service scenario is the handheld wireless store database terminal giving the sales associate up-to-date access to inventory and customer information. In addition, the sales associate’s service device serves as an interface for other elements of service—reading radio frequency identification (RFID) tags that identify products, staff, and customers via a personalized customer card. The device also controls video displays throughout the store.
Information from the staff device can be displayed on any of the various screens in the store and so shared with the customer. When not employed as service terminals, those screens (called ubiquitous displays) exhibit other content—video, graphic material, computational information—and can be placed with merchandise on hang bars, on table tops, or in display furniture—creating changing contexts for the products, supporting and challenging them. A unique database system allows such content to be extremely diverse, easily changed or reprogrammed.
In the dressing rooms service information is directly accessible to the customer. Any article the customer places into the closet is registered automatically and displayed on the closet touch screen. From that screen, the customer can access product specifications, and alternative and complimentary items that then may be stored in a personal Web account.
The dressing rooms also contain a video-based “magic mirror” that not only shows the customer’s back but also displays a delayed playback when the customer turns, a mirror that works in time as well as in space. In addition, multiple lighting scenarios allow the customer to change the atmosphere of the dressing room and consider choices in several light environments. Dressing room doors even transform from translucent to transparent with a simple switch, to afford waiting companions a quick look.
Prada’s Web presence is the first phase of the service section of a larger website aimed at extending the relationships formed in the store into the virtual. To maintain an exclusive and personal relationship, only products that have been tried on in the store or recommended by a sales associate can be investigated on the Web. Personalized customer care that is provided by sales associates in-store can continue online with the store having its own small fulfillment center and customer care center.
Wow! How far can you go in reinventing a store to make the shopping experience what the customer wants? We’ll watch this with interest.
Not all companies are ready to go as far as Prada has. You don’t have to have motorized tracks, cylindrical glass elevators, handheld wireless database terminals, or magic mirrors. There are smaller steps you can take to redesign your store and its services to empower customers by giving them more control of their shopping experience.
Sears, for example, has taken steps to make customers’ lives easier by allowing them to search for items and order them directly through in-store kiosks. They also allow customers to pick up or return purchases to their nearest Sears store, regardless of the channel that was used to purchase the item. With forty-five contact centers and 3,000 retail locations, such integration and changes to the pre-existing workflow involved enormous amounts of logistical technology and culture change, but Sears is putting the customer first.
Because they are listening to customers, Sears is giving them the power to go to Sears.com and plug in their zip code to find the nearest store, even to find out what is on sale this week at their local store. No need for a newspaper circular—a customer can use a computer to virtually leaf through the retailer’s product offerings and click through to order on the spot. In the company’s 2001 annual report, CEO Alan J. Lacy talked of four corporate-wide priorities. The company becoming “truly customer-centric” was one of them.
There are lots of options. You can use Brickstream. You can use Envirosell. You can take the big plunge like Prada, or start with the basics like Sears. The important thing is to find the best way to empower your customers and let them define the shopping experience.
Paco Underhill, Why We Buy: The Science of Shopping (New York: Simon & Schuster Books, May 1999), Chapter 1. Reprinted with the permission of Simon & Schuster Adult Publishing Group. Copyright 1999 by Obat, Inc.
Don Peppers, “Putting the “E” in Sears,” 1to1.com/inside1to1, February 17, 2002, pp. 6–8.