Blog post

Elevating the shopping experience beyond the expectations

What can Good Will Hunting and the Sistine Chapel teach us about physical retail? Quite a lot as it turns out.

  • Topic
    Customer experience, Unified Commerce

A trip down memory lane

Sometimes the past is the best place to look to prepare for the future. So let's take a short trip back in time…

The year is 1994. A young student has been tasked with writing a one-act play as the final assignment for a playwriting class he’s taking at Harvard University.

Instead of writing a one-act play, he submitted a 40-page script about a young man from the bad side of Boston who just so happened to be a self-taught genius. Four years later, the student who wrote the play, one Matt Damon, would win the Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay with his fellow writer, Ben Affleck.

The script was for Good Will Hunting, the 1998 hit movie. And there’s a scene in the movie, when Robin Williams’ therapist delivers a stirring monologue to Damon’s eponymous Will, which tells us everything we need to know about the enduring importance of physical retail:

“You’ve never left Boston have you? So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that.”

The scene goes on (trust us, it’s worth watching) and the lesson we learn from it is this; we can know everything there is to know about a subject but until we feel it, until we experience it, we’ll never fully understand it.

Shopping is entertainment. Sure, your customers can head over to your website, browse through your eComm store, and get an idea of your products. But (no matter how good your online experience is), it’s not the same as walking into a store, being greeted with a smile and offered assistance, picking up the products, feeling them, soaking in the store’s atmosphere.

Physical retail is a sensory experience. It’s sights, sounds, smells, and touch. It’s where your brand comes to life. And it’s why physical retail has come roaring back stronger than ever after the events of the past few years.

Just look at the stats. Despite an increase in online spending, the majority of spending still happens in-store. For example, in the UK, since the full reopening of stores, the total of non-food physical sales makes up 78% of total sales - with the rest coming from digital channels. What’s more, footfall on UK highstreets and in downtown areas of the US is also nearly back to 2019 levels.

But, in order for the physical retail side of your business to be successful now and into the future, your stores have to be the Sistine Chapel. You don’t have to spend two years painting the ceiling but you do need to create the kind of experiences that are memorable, make your customers happy, and deliver on the promise you make to them.

Here’s how you do it:

1. Provide convenience & choice

Consumers want convenience and choice more than ever before. They crave ease and efficiency. In store, this means making it easy for them to make purchases through a range of check out options whether that’s a traditional ‘by the counter’ model, a mobile point of sale, or self-checkout.

Choice and convenience don’t stop there. You need to be where your customers are - not just your customers today, but your customers of the future. Take the automotive industry as an example. Polestar, the Swedish electrical car company, opened a store on the busiest shopping street in Stockholm. It’s a showroom, with one car in it, but every other car is offered digitally. But they are where their customers are rather than being 20 minutes outside of the city in a warehouse with 500 cars. Tesla and Ikea are now doing the same thing. They’re focusing on building smaller locations in higher footfall areas to be where their customers are.

2. Give customers a reason to visit

Your stores need to do and be more than they’ve ever been before. You need to give consumers a reason to visit. As well as convenience and choice, creating an experience in your stores - building your own Sistine Chapel - is all part of the successful physical retail package.

Your physical stores are the jewel in your crown for delivering the kind of experiences consumers increasingly want. This is why physical retail is moving towards the ‘store-as-showcase’ model where technology is combined with showcasing a small number of trending or popular items. In stores like Nike’s members-first Rise store or CDLP’s ‘kind of pop-up’ in the heart of Stockholm, technology and the physical space work in harmony to make sure the customer always gets the best possible experience.

Your store associates are crucial in making this happen and a key differentiator between physical and online retail. When your associates are ‘brand champions’ it’s a great reason for customers to visit your stores. 

In order for your associates to provide expert advice to your customers, they need to have the right tools for assisted selling where they have enhanced product information and endless aisle capabilities at their fingertips.

3. Seamlessly integrate all your sales channels

Your physical stores have to integrate seamlessly with each other and with all your online sales channels. It’s essential to the first two points. Without this, your customers won’t have choice, convenience, or a good experience.

This is a big reason why 86% of all software spending in retail is now focused on the concept of unified commerce. Unified commerce is when all sales channels exchange product, inventory, order and customer data in real time, resulting in complete accuracy and full transparency across all touchpoints. It’s hard - if not impossible - to make unified commerce a reality with older, out-dated technology. 

Your customers want all prices, stock levels, orders, and the information you hold on them to be unified. They want to be able to return eComm goods in store and, if they want an item that isn’t in stock when they visit a store, they expect to still be able to purchase it there and then, and have it delivered to their home (or an address of their choosing.) 

This requires all your systems to work together in harmony - and the best way of achieving this is through a unified commerce platform which connects to all your systems in real-time.

“The past couple of years have given us the time and the data to confirm that: omnichannel customers shop 1.7 times more than single-channel shoppers. They also spend more. The in-store customer, going forward, will be someone who is hitting all the different channels and touchpoints that a brand or retailer has. That means consistency and connectivity between all those channels will be really important.” - The In-Store Shopper of the Future, McKinsey, 2022

In short, unified commerce bridges the gap between store, and between online channel and your physical stores - and it prevents your customers having poor experiences. 

In summary

  • The flexibility of a cloud-native Point of Sale makes it much easier to provide convenience and choice to your customers while helping you maximize sales.

  • Making sure your store associates have the right tools and all the information they need will empower them to give customers a great customer experience alongside giving them a reason to visit and revisit your stores.

  • You need to analyze whether your store locations are in the right place and if pop-up stores could be an alternative or complement your existing offering. 

  • To ensure your physical offering delivers a best-in-class experience for your customers, your physical and online sales channels need to be connected in real time to enable the same information everywhere.

  • Investing in a unified commerce platform should be viewed as a necessity rather than a ‘nice to have.’

Online and mobile shopping will continue to grow but physical stores are still where the majority of the action takes place. Combining digital and physical with a unified commerce platform is what the best brands are already doing and will continue to do into the future. The best brands understand their stores need to be Sistine Chapel’s levels of good.   

Many still believe making unified commerce a reality is complicated and costly. It isn’t. Learn more about how to build a superior unified commerce strategy.

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