Official Blog of Center10 Consulting

Retail As Storytelling

on Monday, June 9, 2014
Note: This ran in edited form in Quartz Magazine

When Fantasy Meets Retail Showrooms, Do Your Online Platforms Follow Suite?

The best retail firms have always been great at storytelling. I remember my first weekend in NYC, fifteen years ago, when I stopped dead in front of a Saks 5th Avenue display window and was enveloped by a fantasy woodland tale. Yes, they were selling the evening gown, shoes and clutch, but they were accessories to the story of luxury, confidence and power.

These days, that kind of retail story bleeds into more than a display window.

While less than 10% of US retail purchases are made online, given how many online shoppers use these sites for research and exploration, you can see why creating a compelling and cohesive experience can make financial sense.

There’s also a more porous customer experience emerging. In the increasingly ADHD world, the retail experience means being inspired around the dinner table, a quick inspired search on a mobile phone, deeper research late that evening on the website, and then possibly a visit to the store over the weekend to test it out…oh, and that may not be the end of the line. Sometimes, there’s the urge to research further and do some price comparisons, which takes the customer back online….it’s a dizzying world out there. How’s a retailer supposed to keep up?

Current research on US retail trends show that around 68% of online carts abandoned, and 25% of customers surveyed say that’s because the navigation was too complicated. Creating a sticky, productive online experience is not a simple task, but is possible if companies don’t truncate their marketing into channels, but focus on the customer story and customer needs. That clarity and designing around the customer can drive growth and innovation.

The access retailers have to customer behavior data – through cookies, loyalty programs and mobile connections can be harnessed for effective segmentation and for developing clear nuances and elements of the storyline. But the core of the story needs to be anchored to the value you provide to the customer. Around that clear sense of value, you loop around the brand, the style, the target customer’s lifestyle aspirations and the history of the retailer that resonates with the customer.

I’ve written before about Uniqlo, my favorite example of a company that achieves a consistent and differentiated storyline. Walking into the NY flagship store of this trendy retailer, you’re reminded by embedded screens everywhere that this is all about fashionable, affordable clothes and outerwear made of highly innovative fabrics. The website-like experience is underscored by the subtle use of color and space – each step takes you into a new color zone or related line of clothing.  Customer service is always a “click” or step away – the store attendants carry handhelds and can tell you where your dream Uniqlo coat is – downstairs or on the web.

Apple has perfected this as well, though their incursion into partner accessories has been a little less coordinated. There’s a sense of dependability and style that reflects the Apple product, but the coup de grace is the inspired Genius Bar. These focused problem-solvers underscore the storyline of technology first, and customer pretty close behind. All eyes are peeled to see how they will evolve their presence, now that they have hired Angela Ahrendts to lead it’s retail operations. Ahrendts was previously the CEO of Burberry, another interesting storyteller. Ahrendts was at the helm when she and her Chief Creative Officer Christopher Bailey transformed Burberry from a tired, remote brand to a compelling luxury leader, and she’s been quoted as saying that their flagship in London’s Regent Street “brings our digital world to life in a physical space.” They have used social media to round out this experience, with more than 10 million Facebook followers who they engage, entertain, and interact with around “the ultimate online luxury shopping experience.”

What would I want to see? More companies bottling what makes them special. I’d like to see Saks add their special sauce to their website – could they bottle Jasmine, the woman who got me hooked on an thorough skincare regimen 15 years ago, which almost broke the bank of the young analyst I was then? Will Ikea step up and transform their engagement with social media and their website – could they walk me through my needs the way they do so well in their stores. They are currently stuck in a search format, while their stores are arranged around clear mini-stories that help you see yourself in new formats and options of kitchen, dorm rooms, living rooms and out at picnics. C’mon, folks. Step up!


Post a Comment