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Retailers need to do more to draw in customers

Nigel Crunden, business specialist at Office Depot tells Talk Retail how retailers and suppliers need to communicate to draw in and engage customers in their stores.

The popularity of online shopping is at an all time high as retailers battle to create engaging digital stores that more closely fit the ‘anywhere, anytime’ consumer buying preferences of today.

However, it is important not to forget that there are still shoppers who want the experience of shopping in store, either to make a product purchase there and then or to verify a purchase they will make online later. Retailers, therefore, have to work harder than ever to draw customers into physical outlets. This means there is an ever-increasing need to create engaging store layouts that enhance the customer experience rather than just facilitate it and give them that added reason to visit them.

How suppliers can add value

Within retail outlets there needs to be clear internal responsibility for store layout so retail operators must identify who this best sits with. It might be that there are several suppliers servicing the store that operate in silos. The capabilities of these suppliers must be closely assessed by those responsible for designing store layout in terms of immediate needs. For example, it may be decided to hold a last minute in store sale to take advantage of increased demand meaning that suppliers would be called upon to provide labels, POS materials, cash till rolls and shopping bags swiftly. To ensure this is a smooth transition, retailers must consider the logistical capabilities of all their suppliers. This means assessing which supplier is best positioned to deliver on time. Furthermore, an in store sale typically means a larger volume of materials required so those vendors that can consolidate individual orders into one delivery are ideally placed.

It’s not only those working within the retail outlets that should be thinking in this way.

Suppliers should be supporting efforts to leverage the in store experience by providing expert advice and consultation to retailers and service providers, over and above the mere provision of products and services. Specialist advice around how to best organise product categories, as well as display and POS materials, can only come from an informed position. There are clear advantages of working with suppliers that have in-depth product knowledge and understand the challenges of a retailer. Underpinning this must be proactive efforts by both parties to regularly communicate. The ability to provide a value-added service becomes redundant if there isn’t enough communication to establish what the needs of a retail customer are at any given point.

Enhancing the customer experience

An enhanced customer experience is a crucial component of succeeding in a highly competitive space. Many retailers are therefore turning to technology that brings the in store experience to life. For example, through technologies that use augmented reality which works by holding a mobile handset or tablet device in front of a product to obtain additional information about it or a demonstration of how it works. Other applications (‘apps’) on smart phones or tablets allow customers to electronically store information about a product that can then be retrieved later when purchasing online. This is a prime example of how the in store experience can directly support online sales – so ignoring one channel in favour of the other simply isn’t an option.

Click-and-collect is another example of the need to create a multi-channel experience and combine off and online retail efforts. It is pointless creating a robust online ordering platform if there is not enough capability in store to meet demand. Suppliers have a major role to play here too by closely anticipating demand in order to assist retailers in avoiding potential shortfalls. The ability to forecast in this way, however, can only come from an inherent understanding of a retail customer and their day-to-day requirements. As with all aspects of the supplier-retailer relationship, regular communication is at the heart of this. 

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