Everyone knows eCommerce is shaping what customers expect to be available in product, expediency, price and service. A physical space with real people interactions cannot compete with a virtual/digital space on many of these elements, so it is critical to find/create and then focus (relentlessly) on the differentiators.
Everyone knows the answer to sustainable differentiation lies in delivering great retail experiences.
Everyone talks about (the importance) experiences and even the experience economy.
But no one seems to know how exactly to do that.
Tell the staff to smile more? Crank up the music? Then what? Few people seem to agree or even understand what the ‘experience’ is, never mind how to go about creating it. That is why we need to find an answer that is practicable.
(The phrase 10x - pronounced ten ex - is buzzword originating from the tech startups obsessing about rapidly scaling their growth. Young people in a hurry are not interested in incremental improvement.)
WHAT IS THE NATURE OF EXPERIENCE?
It appears that the idea of retail experience is much like the definition of pornography: I can’t define it but I know it when I see it.
It may seem obscure to start the search for a practicable solution with a dictionary definition but you can’t create something (an experience) if you don’t know what it is you are trying to create.
That may be true, but it is unhelpful. So I looked it up.
I found that ‘experience’ comes from the late Middle English, via Old French from Latin experientia, from experiri ‘try’. (Compare with experiment and expert.)
This does not seem to be useful in creating a practical framework for creating experiences, so I choose to define the retail (consumer) experience as -- the positive emotional consequences of value consumption.
Experience must be Positive:
Experiences may be positive and negative.
But it is obvious that negative experiences are not what we aim for when we talk retail. Positive implies that we know what positive is and what that means for the consumer, but let’s take it as a given that we know what customers need.
Experience is primarily Emotional:
Experiences may be functional and emotional.
Any experience also has a rational element, but the functional dimension of the interaction/ transaction addresses those rational needs.
Example: When you buy a loaf of bread the functional needs are addressed by receiving and consuming a loaf of bread that satisfies the hunger.
The smells, the friendly staff etc create the emotional dimension of the experience of that we seek to create.
In the context of retail experience, the functional element is addressed by virtue of the retail store enabling the transaction - people receive the food, the clothing and so forth, and that component of the interaction exists adequately. It may be improved by reducing friction, but that in itself is won’t make people flock to a store.
We really want to focus on creating and improving the emotional dimension of the experience.
Experience must have intrinsic Value:
The value of a product or a service is that which the consumer/patron is prepared to pay for/ invest in or sacrifice for.
The dollar value of the investment is merely one manifestation of value, but value could also be the time invested to acquire, the risk tolerated (for getting it wrong) and the opportunity cost.
The value of the t-shirt is not $30; it lies in the fact that it clothes me, allows me to be socially accepted, be thought of in a certain way, helps me hide the man boobs and does not require me to mortgage the house.
(Note: Value has many dimensions - there are six categories of consumption value, to be exact. The emotional dimension is a critical one and the hardest to get right.)
HOW TO CREATE EXPERIENCES
If retail experiences are about creating positive emotional consequences that have value, the next obvious question is what the drivers of those experiences might be.
Experiences are created by inanimate drivers that are found in the environment in which the value is created. The sights and sounds and textures and colours all contribute to an experience.
Experiences are created via animate drivers; the human interactions that occur in that environment and that effect and affect the transaction: People interacting with people.
It turns out that this human interaction is really the most important aspect of an experience of value. No surprise there.
There are two steps to creating the experience:
Step 1: Removing Experiential Inhibitors
There are always elements in the environment that will conspire to disrupt the positive emotional value you are trying to create.
Things like bags that break, parking spaces that are unavailable, staff who are absent and so forth are the elements that conspire to inhibit the experience.
But merely being able to find a park or having a shopping bag that doesn’t break won’t contribute to the overall (positive) experience of value, but their absence/presence will inhibit the delivery of a positive retail experience.
To create an environment that is free from experiential inhibitors requires that we identify them, evaluate them, minimise, change or remove depending on the need.
Reducing friction at POS is an example of reducing experiential inhibitors. Retailers are currently trialling technology that allows perfectly frictionless POS - where consumers will simply pick an item and leave the store.
Step 2: Creating Experiential Outcomes
The next step is the art of creating the emotional interaction between human connections.
This is how you can 10x the retail experience.
The key to success has very little to do with customer.
The key to success lies with your staff. The logic is simple: staff create the experience, so make sure they enjoy that experience.
If we ensure the creation and delivery of consumer experiences is a positive, rewarding experience for STAFF, they will in turn deliver that experience which the consumer values.
Staff will create great experiences to the exact same extent as they get a kick out of doing it.
The starting point is NOT mapping a customer experience journey.
The starting point is employee engagement. The challenge we must address is how to make the delivery of the desired experiences a positive experience for our staff.
So, how do we 10X the retail experience?
I said earlier that the dictionary definition did not appear to be very helpful, but it turns out it is. To recap: experience comes from Latin experientia, from experiri ‘try’ - compare with experiment and expert.
It seems to suggest that creating great experiences is about becoming expert at experimentation.
It is not hard because we don’t know what to do. Itis hard to do for different reasons:
One: People start at the wrong place. (Think about the customer instead of the employee.)
Two: There is no recipe, no blueprint and especially no silver bullet.
Three: To make the experience of delivering positive experiences a positive experience for the staff, and allowing and encouraging them to experiment (and fail and learn) takes courageous leadership. It requires some long-term commitment to a complex change management process with unquantifiable short-term benefits.
Start in the right place. Have courage to experiment and fail. Have the discipline to continue. Be committed in the absence of short-term gain. That is why it is hard. That is why it calls for leadership.
And that is why it will remain an important differentiator.
And that is why it is worth pursuing.
Dr. Dennis Price