Three essential beliefs for a customer-centered approach to retail

The way we're interacting with spaces is fundamentally shifting. Customers are demanding more value from their experiences in your stores. They also happen to be giving you all the data you need to pivot, simply through their own engagement with your brand. Retail leaders are listening and responding.

1. Your work is about creating meaningful experiences.

We know retail’s ancient and current task is creating an experience for customers in their stores — but an experience is only valuable when it carries meaning.

A meaningful experience is one that delivers both material and immaterial value to the customer, most often because it connects us to our personal or communal aspirations, delivering a sense of fulfillment or purpose. A meaningful store experience is valuable to us because it helps us accomplish a goal or meet a desire in our lives, enriching our existence in a small or significant way.

The retailer’s role, then, is one of curator, embodying the spirit of true service. The retailer takes a universe of products and narrows down those options into their stores, presenting a unique perspective to the consumer.

A healthy dual focus on efficiency and service design is key to competing in today’s market.

As curator, it is the retailer’s responsibility to curate not only the selection of merchandise, but the way it is displayed in order to deliver the two values of a meaningful in-store experience:

  1. Value of convenience — Creating meaning by providing expeditious service through efficient systems in order to generate more free time for the customer
  • Ex: Curbside grocery pickup; CVS Minute Clinics; smart fitting rooms; Warby Parker’s free walk-in repairs
  1. Value of connection — Creating meaning by enriching the customer’s sense of belonging through excellent service, often with an element of relationship-building or placemaking
  • Ex: Apple technology classes; Capital One Cafe; JOANN personalization stations

Both types of retail experiences, balanced at a ratio your customer demands, delivered consistently, establishes strong trust between customer and retailer.

Inversely, an inconvenient and disconnected experience can’t be meaningful in any positive way because it didn’t deliver value. Meaningless experiences put retailers out of business. That’s why a healthy dual focus on efficiency and service design is so key to competing in today’s market.

Consistent meaningful experiences are necessary for retailers to survive and thrive.

2. The way we interact with spaces is fundamentally shifting.

As of November 2018, the amount of shuttered U.S. retail space was already 16 percent higher than in 2008 during the Great Recession. In just five or 10 years, 50 to 67 percent of America’s retail space could be vacant.

Yet a 2017 Deloitte survey found that “one-third of consumers polled prefer brands that offer both a store they can visit and an online site [...] They also reported they seek more personal connections and advice — something they’re lacking from online-only retailers.”

Retail’s physical footprint is shrinking while consumers demand more from brands IRL than ever before.

The data shows that retail’s physical footprint is shrinking while consumers demand more from brands than ever before.

What’s behind this shift: A rapid series of technological developments that blindsided the industry, paired with the economic impact of those developments shaping how consumers worked, shopped and lived.

Customers no longer want or need millions of retail square footage to have a meaningful interaction with a brand in person, and retail has been reacting far too slowly.

Though brands invested in apps, new websites and better checkout systems — their currency for this new land — the store operational evolution that should’ve occurred underneath it all never happened, and the results have been evident in every splashy headline since. The US is simply overstored, and legacy giants in particular have been racing to reel in their footprints, leaving open metaphorical and literal spaces for new players to vie for meaning-hungry customers.

We believe there’s room for everyone who keeps their customer at the center of their work.

To compete, retailers must create the experiences their shoppers desire in the spaces that make those experiences profitable. Additionally, they must drive revenue in spaces that are optimized for efficiency.

3. Your customers are already telling you what they want. Listen.

We expect brands to contribute to the quality of our lives. Is the way you staff, manage and market your spaces in line with this expectation? Do your customers care whether or not you disappear?

You don’t have to guess at the answer. Your customer is already telling you.

With their feet, customers “vote” for and against brands. They’re voting for convenience, for great service, for a seamless experience, and against brands with poorly optimized space that take them for granted.

Customers are voting for convenience, for great service, for a seamless experience, and against brands with poorly optimized space that take them for granted.

Understanding the “vote” your employees and customers cast through their actions is crucial to building a more effective business and ultimately designing an environment that aligns with your organization's goals.

The question then becomes, how can you effectively listen to your customers' and employees' "votes" so you can make the best decisions for your organization?

We believe you need accurate customer counts — your customer’s votes — in order to deliver a consistent, meaningful experience.

Listen in on our latest conversation about using tech to measure store success >